Falcons Retain Grip On NFC South

[UPDATED: 12/18/16 - 11:48PM]

The Falcons had one mission at the start of the day: Maintain control of the NFC South.

Outside of that, not much changed. Forget the Buccaneers loss to the Cowboys. It changes little for Atlanta. The Falcons (9-5) will need to match or better Tampa Bay (8-5) in the final two weeks of the season. That's basically the same boat they were in to start the day, and the same boat they were in before Tampa fell in Dallas.

But make no mistake, Atlanta's win over the 49ers is big. Not because a win dramatically improved their chances of securing a playoff spot, but instead because a loss would have significantly damaged their chances.

With the win over the 49ers, the Falcons can now only lose the division if they end up with a worse division record than Tampa Bay. Both Atlanta and Tampa Bay are currently 3-1 in NFC South games this season, and finish with games against Carolina and New Orleans.

Regardless of their loss tonight, the Buccaneers need to end with a better record than the Falcons in the final two games to prevent Atlanta from winning the NFC South crown.

According to FiveThirtyEight.com, the Falcons started the day with a 91 percent chance of earning a playoff bid. Their win against the 49ers only slightly improved their chances (92 percent).

But the alternative would have had a more dramatic impact.

One element of the playoff picture did improve slightly for the Falcons today. Detroit's (9-5) loss to the Giants has moved the Falcons into the third seed in the NFC, just a half game behind the Seattle Seahawks (9-4-1) for the second seed and a first round bye. Seattle hosts the Arizona Cardinals (5-8-1) next week, before traveling to San Francisco (1-13) to close out the regular season.

The Falcons can clinch the NFC South title next week if they beat the Panthers and the Buccaneers lose in New Orleans.

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