While the Falcons can't advance their season beyond Sunday's game with New Orleans no matter what happens, it does have an impact on their 2022 campaign.
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A win or loss, in combination with other results across the NFL landscape, will influence who they play and where they select in the 2022 NFL draft.
Let's knock out the easy part first. Opponents are lined up years in advance, with a few unknowns. The Falcons are set to play a team from the NFC North and AFC West at home and an NFC East team on the road, from an equal place in the division standings.
For example, if the Falcons finish second in the NFC South, they would play the second-place teams in the aforementioned divisions.
Sunday's clash will determine whether the Falcons and Saints take second or third place in the division. That will impact their slate of opponents. As an aside, we'll know when the Falcons play each team this spring with the NFL schedule is released.
The Falcons could end up with the Bears or Vikings in the NFC North, Philadelphia or Washington in the NFC East or the Raiders and Chargers in the AFC West.
We won't know the full opponents until the AFC West rivals play on Sunday night.
Here are games to watch Sunday that'll impact the Falcons opponents (besides Falcons/Saints):
- Bears at Vikings, 1 p.m. (ET)
- Chargers at Raiders, 8:20 p.m. (ET)
NOTE: The Eagles and WFT are locked into the NFC East's second and third slots, respectively.
NFL first-round draft pick
We should know where the Falcons will pick in the first round after the Saints game wraps. They currently hold the No. 10 overall pick through Week 17 action, though that will fluctuate roughly anywhere between the Nos. 7 and 14 picks.
There are currently three other teams currently equal to the Falcons at 7-9. There are three additional teams that could also equal the Falcons at 7-10 should they lose to the Saints.
There are several who could equal the Falcons if they beat the Saints and end up 8-9.
Strength of schedule is one thing the Falcons have in their corner regarding their draft slot that will keep them from moving too dramatically one way or the other.
It's the primary tiebreaker after season record, and the Falcons currently have the second-lowest strength of schedule (.459) among contenders for a pick the Falcons may have. While the Saints outcome will impact their strength of schedule, it's tough to see how many, if any, additional teams could dip below the Falcons mark. The Dolphins (8-8) are the only team in this cluster with a strength of schedule worse than the Falcons – their pick is earmarked for the Eagles – and the Broncos (7-9) have a strength of schedule is a smidge above them.
That puts the Falcons in good position to have the best first-round pick among teams with records equal to them.
Teams currently at:
Washington Football Team
New York Giants
New York Jets
New Orleans Saints
Here's the full Week 18 schedule, which details matchups for each of the teams listed above. Keep an eye on AtlantaFalcons.com for stories updating the Falcons opponents and some solidified NFL draft slots on Sunday afternoon and evening.