Heading into Week 14, the Falcons were one game behind the Carolina Panthers and Seattle Seahawks for a wild card spot in the playoffs. On Thursday night, the Falcons hosted the New Orleans Saints and wound up winning 20-17 to move to 8-5 on the year. On Sunday the Panthers took on the Minnesota Vikings and the Seahawks played the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Panthers took care of business and got the victory, but the Seahawks could not pull it off and lost to the Jags. This moved the Seahawks to 8-5 on the season, but since Atlanta beat the Seahawks head-to-head, the Falcons now hold the last wild card spot in the NFC. With the Seattle loss, the Falcons now control their own destiny moving forward, but let’s break down exactly what could happen for the Falcons the rest of the way.
The term “control their own destiny” gets thrown around so much in so many different ways that it sometimes loses its meaning, but in this case it’s as simple as if the Falcons win their last three games they not only make the playoffs, but they win the NFC South. This would be because the Falcons have three division games remaining so winning all three puts them at 11-5 overall with a 5-1 division record. In this scenario, the Falcons would have to beat the Panthers and the Saints, so even if the Panthers and Saints win their other two games they would also be 11-5, but they would not have a better division record than Atlanta so they would be fighting for a wild card spot.
Another scenario that could happen is that the Falcons only win two of their three remaining games. If the Falcons were to lose to the Saints, and the Panthers win out along with the Seahawks and the Saints win their other two games the Falcons would be on the outside looking in on the playoffs. If you switch the roles of the Saints and the Panthers in this scenario the results would still be the same. If either of those scenarios happen, but Seattle loses at least one game then Atlanta would still clinch a wild card spot.
Here’s the easy way to put it, if the Falcons win the rest of their games they’re safely in the playoffs as the division winner, if they lose one or more they need to hope that they finish with the same or better record than the Seahawks, Green Bay Packers, Detroit Lions and Dallas Cowboys. It would be important for these teams to finish with the same record as the Falcons because the Falcons hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over these teams, so a tie with any of these teams for the last spot of the playoffs would result in the Falcons making the playoffs.
Obviously there is also the possibility that the Falcons lose out and go to 8-8 on the season as well. If that were to happen then the Falcons would be eliminated from the playoffs because the Packers and Lions play each other so that would mean they either have to tie or one of those teams has to win. So even if they lose every other game they would at worst be 8-7-1 or 9-7, this would give them a better record than the Falcons and the last wild card spot.
We always hear that division games are extremely important, but these last three division games are even more important than usual for the Atlanta Falcons.