Five games Falcons fans should keep an eye on

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FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Week 13 is full of pivotal NFC matchups, and the Falcons' game against the Minnesota Vikings is among the most important.

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But while the clash between these two playoff contenders should be competitive and feature some high-caliber football, there are other games around the conference that Falcons fans should keep an eye on after the conclusion in Atlanta.

As we head down the final stretch of the season, we'll keep you informed on the key games each weekend that have playoff implications in the NFC.

Here are five Week 13 matchups that Falcons fans should pay attention to:

Lions (6-5) at Ravens (6-5) Time:Sunday, 1 p.m. ET

The Lions are currently a game behind the Seahawks and Falcons for the final wild-card spot, but both Seattle and Atlanta hold an advantage over Detroit as of right now, per the NFL's tiebreak procedure. The Falcons' Week 3 victory against the Lions give them a head-to-head advantage in the tiebreaker, while the Seahawks have a better record in conference games.

This game isn't a must-win for the Lions, as they would still be alive in the playoff hunt should they lose, but a loss would put them on the ropes and give them virtually no margin for error in their final four games.

Buccaneers (4-7) at Packers (5-6) Time:Sunday, 1 p.m. ET

Although the Packers' postseason hopes seem very slim at the moment, there is a belief that quarterback Aaron Rodgers could reportedly return to the practice field as early as Saturday. Many people are pointing to Green Bay's Week 15 matchup with the Carolina Panthers as a potential return game for Rodgers.

Until then, the Packers will try to stave off elimination in hopes that their star quarterback can push them into the playoffs. A home matchup with the Buccaneers is up first for the Packers, followed by a trip to Cleveland for a game against the winless Browns.

Panthers (8-3) at Saints (8-3) Time:Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET

The biggest game of the weekend in terms of NFC South implications will occur just after the Falcons wrap things up against the Vikings. The Panthers – currently projected in the first wild-card spot – head to New Orleans for their second meeting with the Saints – currently projected as the No. 4 seed – in a game that impacts the division and the NFC playoff picture altogether.

New Orleans won the first contest between these two teams, beating Carolina 34-13 in Charlotte, and a clean sweep against the division rival would again provide some breathing room for the Saints in the NFC South. While this game is an important one for the division standings and playoff seeding, it won't determine anything outright. With four games remaining after Week 13 and the Falcons playing the Saints twice and the Panthers once, anything is possible.

Rams (8-3) at Cardinals (5-6) Time:Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET

If the playoffs began today, the Falcons would face the No. 3 seed Rams in the first round. Los Angeles is looking to remain a game ahead of Seattle in the NFC West standings and in a playoff spot, and the Rams can achieve that goal by beating the Cardinals on the road this weekend.

The Cardinals, while not technically eliminated from the playoffs, are very much on the outside looking in at this point but they can play the role of spoiler for a division rival. With five teams who are either 8-3 or 7-4 entering this weekend, the Rams could remain in the No. 3 seed with a win or potentially drop out of the projected playoff picture altogether with a loss and other circumstances playing out.  

Eagles (10-1) at Seahawks (7-4) Time:Sunday, 8:30 p.m. ET

With a win at home against the projected No. 1 seed on Sunday night, the Seahawks could make a statement on national television and become one of the six projected playoff teams after Week 13. A Seattle win coupled with a Los Angeles loss would give it the top spot in the NFC West standings and give the Seahawks the chance to win out for a division crown and a first-round home game in the playoffs.

Philadelphia remains a game ahead of Minnesota in the NFC playoff race, but a loss at Seattle coupled with a Vikings win against the Falcons would drop the Eagles to the No. 2 seed. The Eagles can become the first NFC team to clinch a spot in the playoffs with a win on Sunday night against the Seahawks.

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