Playoff picture: Door wide open for Falcons playoff push

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Falcons fans need to get ready for big December games.

Matchups between 5-7 teams don't typically have major playoff implications, but the Falcons win over the Panthers gave them a clear opportunity to crack the NFC's seven-team playoff field. They also need some help, and got some on Sunday as well.

Entering Sunday's Week 14 games, fivethirtyeight.com deemed the Falcons playoff chances at just five percent. But Atlanta's win, coupled with Washington's dramatic loss to the Cowboys, more than doubled the Falcons playoff chances to 12%.

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And they have a chance to earn a much bigger swing in a week. Big wins create bigger games, and that is certainly the case for the Falcons. Although Atlanta has the 3rd-easiest remaining schedule in the NFL (based on the winning percentage of their four remaining opponents), Atlanta's playoff fate may be riding on their upcoming game in San Francisco.

A win would put the Falcons in the middle of what is likely to be a pile-up of 7-win teams vying for a Wild Card spot, and give them a crucial tie-breaker over one of those (the 49ers). However, a loss would put the Falcons at least a game back with losses against three of the teams ahead of them in the wild card race (Eagles, Washington and 49ers).

So yeah, next week's game in San Francisco is huge for the Falcons. And that's probably just fine for an Atlanta team that was sitting at 5-7 coming into Week 14.

Here's how the NFC playoff picture shapes up after Sunday's games:

No. 1 Seed: Arizona Cardinals (10-2) – 1st place, NFC West

*Odds of making playoffs: >99%
*Odds of winning division: 97%

Synopsis: They're essentially in the playoffs, and a win tomorrow night would pretty much put the finishing touches on wrapping up the NFC West title. With Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins back in the line up, they're fighting to make the NFC's road to the Super Bowl run through Phoenix.

Upcoming schedule:
Week 14: vs. LA Rams
Week 15: at Detroit

No. 2 Seed: Green Bay Packers (10-3) – 1st place, NFC North

*Odds of making playoffs: >99%
*Odds of winning division: >99%

Synopsis: They'll be the NFC North Champions. The only real question is, can they catch the Cardinals, and stay ahead of Tampa Bay, to take over the NFC's No. 1 seed? How big does that earlier win over the Cardinals look right now? And they may be catching the Ravens at exactly the right time next week in Baltimore. P.S. How is Lamar Jackson's ankle?

Upcoming schedule:
Week 15: at Baltimore
Week 16: vs. Cleveland

No. 3 Seed: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (10-3) – 1st place, NFC South

*Odds of making playoffs: >99%
*Odds of winning division: >99%

Synopsis: The Bills made it more interesting than it probably had to be, but the Buccaneers just keep rolling. With two upcoming games against division rivals (Saints and Panthers) each trying to figure out what they have at quarterback, Tampa Bay is likely going to be in a dog fight until the end of the year for the #1 seed against the Cardinals and Packers.

Upcoming schedule:
Week 15: vs. New Orleans
Week 16: at Carolina

No. 4 Seed: Dallas Cowboys (9-4) – 1st place, NFC North

*Odds of making playoffs: >99%
*Odds of winning division: 95%

Synopsis: Well, that was interesting. It was unnecessarily dramatic, but the Cowboys win over Washington did help crack the door open a little wider for the Falcons. And it solidified Dallas' grip on the NFC East. They'll be in the playoffs, but the Cowboys don't give you the same confidence as the three teams ahead of them.

Upcoming schedule:
Week 15: at NY Giants
Week 16: vs. Washington

No. 5 Seed: Los Angeles Rams (8-4) – 2nd place, NFC West

*Odds of making playoffs: 87%
*Odds of winning division: 3%

Synopsis: They'll likely make the playoffs either way, but how different would you feel about the Rams if they are able to knock off the Cardinals in Phoenix, on Monday Night Football? But, if they lose to Arizona, it's not exactly a cake walk ahead with Seahawks, Vikings, Ravens and 49ers waiting on their schedule.

Upcoming schedule:
Week 14: at Arizona
Week 15: vs. Seattle

No. 6 Seed: San Francisco 49ers (7-6) – 3rd place place, NFC West

*Odds of making playoffs: 75%
*Odds of winning division: <0.1%

Synopsis: The 49ers might be the hottest team in the race for the NFC's three Wild Card spots. The 49ers have looked pretty good outside a surprise loss to a struggling Seahawks team in Seattle last week. And a win in Cincinnati is a solid win, even if the 49ers did temporarily let a 14-point fourth quarter lead slip away. They have a suddenly big game looming against a Falcons team that seems to be finding their identity in the run game as the season progresses. Could this one be as thrilling as Atlanta's last visit to San Francisco?

Upcoming schedule:
Week 15: vs. Atlanta
Week 16: at Tennessee (TNF)

No. 7 Seed: Washington Football Team (6-7) – 2nd place, NFC East

*Odds of making playoffs: 28%
*Odds of winning division: 3%

Synopsis: They're still sitting in the seventh and final spot in the NFC, but they suddenly seem like a long shot after the loss to Dallas and injuries to quarterback Taylor Heinicke and leading receiver Terry McLaurin. Now they go on the road for consecutive games against division rivals Philadelphia and a rematch against the Cowboys, both of whom are jockeying for playoff positions. The Falcons won't mind if Washington fades away, since their earlier win over the Falcons gives them the playoff tie-breaker.

Upcoming schedule:
Week 15: at Philadelphia
Week 16: at Dallas

IN CONTENTION:

Minnesota Vikings (6-7) – 2nd place, NFC North

*Odds of making playoffs: 33%
*Odds of winning division: 0.5%

Synopsis: Does anyone have any idea what the Vikings are going to do from here? Kirk Cousins' numbers are great, but they may be the most unpredictable team in the NFL. They're going to have to get hot, and knock off at least one of the current top 5 teams in the NFC. They have two games remaining against the Bears, sandwiched around contests against the Rams and at Green Bay.

Upcoming schedule:
Week 15: at Chicago
Week 16: vs. LA Rams

Philadelphia Eagles (6-7) – 3rd place, NFC East

*Odds of making playoffs:38%
*Odds of winning division: 2%

Synopsis: Philadelphia's position got a little better while they were enjoying their bye week. Washington's loss to Dallas makes both teams even with 6-7 records, and they have two games remaining against Washington. All of Philadelphia's remaining games are against NFC East opponents, as they also have a game each against the Giants and Dallas. Think they'll remember that loss to the Giants two weeks ago when New York visits Philadelphia?

Upcoming schedule:
Week 15: vs. Washington
Week 16: vs. NY Giants

Atlanta Falcons (6-7) – 2nd place, NFC South

*Odds of making playoffs: 12%
*Odds of winning division: <0.1%

Synopsis: The win over the Panthers was big. Now next week's game in San Francisco is huge. As bleak as things might have looked after ugly back-to-back losses to the Cowboys and Patriots a few weeks ago, everything seems to be lining up for the Falcons. Now they just need to take care of business. Their 6-7 record puts them in a five-team logjam for the NFC's seventh and final playoff spot. And Atlanta's remaining schedule is the third-easiest in the NFL, based on their opponents' winning percentage. But a loss in San Francisco next week would be a brutal blow, giving the Falcons losses on the season to San Francisco, Washington and Philadelphia, three teams currently ahead of them in the race for Wild Card spots.

Upcoming schedule:
Week 15: at San Francisco
Week 16: vs. Detroit

New Orleans Saints (6-7) – 3rd place, NFC South

*Odds of making playoffs: 20%
*Odds of winning division: <0.1%

Synopsis: Anyone remember the last time a team had lost five in a row, but were still essentially tied for a playoff spot heading into Week 15? Welcome to the now seven-seed NFL playoffs. The win against the Jets was pretty mandatory for the Saints to stay alive. Their reward? A trip to Tampa Bay to face the 10-3 Buccaneers. They've still got a shot though. Other than Tampa, their remaining games are against the Dolphins, Panthers and Falcons. And Alvin Kamara made his return to the line up against the Jets after missing the last four games.

Upcoming schedule:
Week 15: at Tampa Bay
Week 16: vs. Miami

*Odds via fivethirtyeight.com

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