It’s do or die time in the NFL, and all eyes are squared firmly on the divisions and playoff spots which have not yet been claimed, including the NFC South. Three of the four teams in the division are all still alive, and all four teams are playing against each other head-to-head.
That includes the Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints once again renewing their absolutely bitter rivalry, with the intensity likely kicked up a notch with everything to play for. The Saints single handedly ensured both their own and the Falcons’ survival within this race by beating the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last weekend.
We’re now gearing up for the most exciting season finale in a number of years for a Falcons team which is often mathematically eliminated by this point in the season.
In what could be the final rendition of this article series this season, let’s take a look at the circumstances surrounding the Falcons if they beat the Saints in Week 18, as well as looking at the scenario if they lose. It has been a pleasure bringing you these scenarios throughout the season.
If the Falcons win
They will clinch their first NFC South title since 2016, and fifth overall, provided that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers also lose to the Carolina Panthers. This would bring them into a three-way tie with the Bucs and Panthers in terms of NFC South titles, each trailing the Saints, who have seven.
A Buccaneers victory would clinch the division automatically, however, and will leave the Falcons on the outside of the playoffs looking in no matter what. An Atlanta victory would mathematically eliminate the Saints from post season contention, however, as the team from Louisiana is still firmly in the wildcard race as well.
For whatever it’s worth, Atlanta would finish with its best record in a season since their last playoff appearance in 2017 (10-6), although this will still be yet another losing record (8-9). This would be their first sweep of the Saints in a season series since 2016 as well.
Atlanta, currently picking 9th in the NFL Draft if the season were to end today, can fall as low as 12th in the final draft order if the Bears, Raiders and Vikings all lose this weekend. There’s a very remote chance of them falling to 13th behind New Orleans as well, but only if a number of complex scenarios play out where Atlanta finishes with a harder strength of schedule than their rivals (currently at .423 vs. .430).
If the Falcons lose
Then the playoff scenarios end here, as they would be mathematically eliminated no matter what happens in Carolina. All that would be left to see is which of the Bucs or Saints will claim division supremacy — a Bucs win would see them win their third consecutive NFC South title and sixth overall, a Panthers win would see the Saints raise their first division banner since 2020 and their eighth overall.
Atlanta, meanwhile, will be doomed to suffer its sixth consecutive season missing the playoffs, which would extend the third-longest drought in franchise history.
There is also a chance that both New Orleans and Tampa make it to the playoffs — this scenario would include the Packers losing to the Bears and the Seahawks losing to the Cardinals, but if both were to happen then Atlanta would have to watch the Saints celebrate a playoff appearance (be it through the division or Wildcard).
The Falcons would play out a third consecutive 7-10 season, all under head coach Arthur Smith’s watch, and their fifth 7-win season over the past six years, making this franchise the continued poster child for “below average.” In his three seasons as coach, Smith will have never swept a single division rival.
Atlanta would be guaranteed to pick no lower than 9th, and could jump up to 8th if the New York Jets beat the New England Patriots. If that scenario plays out, this would be the third consecutive season of this team picking 8th in the draft.