The Falcons took one step closer to a possible postseason berth Sunday. But the Buccaneers, winners of five straight games, are giving them no breathing room.
Atlanta's 42-14 win over the Rams has the 8-5 Falcons at the top of the NFC South standings right now due to a slight edge in tiebreakers. The Falcons and Buccaneers split their season series and both teams are 3-1 in divisional play, the next tiebreaker. However, the Falcons hold a 4-3 record over common opponents outside of the division, while the Buccaneers stand at 4-4.
If the Falcons win out, they will be the NFC South Champions.
However, if the Falcons lose one of their remaining divisional matchups, and end with the same record as the Buccaneers, things could get interesting. In that scenario, if the Buccaneers lose to the Cowboys this weekend, but win their two remaining divisional matchups, they would be the NFC South champions on the basis of a stronger divisional record.
On paper, Tampa Bay appears to have the tougher remaining schedule. Both teams have remaining games against the Saints and Panthers to close out the year. But the Falcons lone game outside the division is at home against the 1-12 San Francisco 49ers this Sunday. Tampa travels to Dallas this weekend to play the 11-2 Cowboys on Sunday Night Football.
Based on their performance thus far and remaining schedule, Adam Silver's FiveThirtyEight.com sees the Falcons as having a 90 percent chance to make the playoffs, with a 74 percent chance to win the division. That same site gives Tampa Bay a 53 percent chance to make the playoffs, and a 26 percent chance to win the division.
Tampa goes on the road the next two weeks, traveling to the 11-2 Cowboys followed with a trip to New Orleans (5-8). The Buccaneers close out the season at home against the 5-8 Panthers. Atlanta plays two of their remaining three games at home. Home games against 1-12 San Francisco and 5-8 New Orleans surround a Christmas Eve trip to the 5-8 Carolina Panthers.
If Tampa Bay were to win the division, the Falcons would need to finish ahead of three of the following likely NFC Wild Card contenders: New York Giants (9-4), Washington Redskins (7-5-1), Minnesota Vikings (7-6) and Green Bay Packers (7-6).