The Atlanta Falcons kept their post season hopes alive with a resounding and very complete win against a very solid Indianapolis Colts team in their final home game of the regular season, last weekend. That was the last time the Falcons will play in Mercedes-Benz Stadium until next September, unless they are able to pull off a late season turnaround to win the NFC South.
The calculus at this point is pretty simple for Atlanta — you have to win each of the last two games, taking care of your own business, and hope to get some help along the way. No longer is your fate in your own hands, as this team sacrificed that privilege in the stormy terrain of Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, two weeks ago.
Their next opponent, the Chicago Bears, are currently playing their best football of the season. They’ve won three of their last four games and are still alive for a postseason berth of their own, albeit with the odds stacked completely against them. This will be their last home game of the season.
Let’s take a look at the circumstances surrounding the Falcons if they beat the Bears in Week 17, as well as looking at the scenario if they lose.
If the Falcons win
They will keep their hopes for an NFC South title alive, provided that the New Orleans Saints beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this weekend. If the Bucs win, they will clinch the division. A Saints victory would give the Falcons a chance to win the South in Week 18, with a victory in New Orleans for the Falcons combined with a Bucs defeat against Carolina.
If the division is off the table, Atlanta’s final hope will be the Wildcard race. Unfortunately for them, they are on the complete back foot in that race as well, currently sitting at a game behind the 6-seed Rams and 7-seed Seahawks but losing the tiebreaker to each due to their inferior conference record. Even a Seahawks defeat to the Cardinals next week, combined with Atlanta winning out, which would see both teams have the same overall as well as conference record won’t be enough as Seattle has a superior record in games against common opponents.
As a result, if both the Seahawks and Rams win this weekend, the Falcons will be eliminated from Wildcard contention. Combine that with a Buccaneers victory, and Atlanta could feasibly beat the Bears and still be eliminated from playoff contention entirely.
Looking at the draft order, the Falcons currently occupy the 10th spot, same as last week. They stand to drop in the order down to the 14th spot if the Saints, Raiders and Broncos all suffer defeats this weekend, and at best will fall to 11th since the Packers and Vikings (who have identical 7-8 records as Atlanta) go head-to-head as well.
If the Falcons lose
*Edit: The Falcons will have a mathematical opportunity at still making the post season even if they lose, as long as they beat the Saints and the Bucs lose out. They would own the tiebreaker over both Tampa and New Orleans in such a scenario with a 4-2 division record vs. a 3-3 one for each of the other two teams, giving them enough juice in a three-way tie at 8-9. I originally made a mistake in saying a loss would equal definite elimination.
If Tampa does win and Atlanta misses the playoffs, it would officially be their sixth consecutive year missing the post season, which would be their longest drought since they missed out on the playoffs eight consecutive years between 1983-1990. Their current run is already the third-longest drought in franchise history.
There seems to be a seesaw going on regarding Arthur Blank’s decision on whether or not to retain head coach Arthur Smith for a fourth season. If the Falcons win out, it’s very likely that that decision will be in the affirmative. A loss this weekend coupled with a potential loss in New Orleans in Week 18 would make it much more difficult to justify retention.
The Falcons aren’t able to jump up too much from their current draft slot right now, but they would at the very least move up to the 9th spot, leapfrogging this Bears team.