FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – The Falcons remain in control of their playoff destiny, and a win on Sunday in New Orleans will clinch a spot in the postseason and keep Atlanta alive in the NFC South race heading into the final game of the season.
While the simplest path to the playoffs for the Falcons (9-5) is to win, there are several other ways to reach the postseason. Three teams remain at the Falcons' heels, two of which play each other this weekend, and if the Cowboys, Lions or Seahawks lose one of their final two games, Atlanta will secure a playoff spot.
Here are six* *games that Falcons fans need to keep an eye on this weekend:
Vikings (11-3) at Packers (7-7) Time:Saturday, 8:30 p.m. ET (NBC)
The Vikings can wrap up the No. 2 seed in the playoffs and a first-round bye with a win on Saturday night against the Packers and a Panthers' loss against the Buccaneers on Sunday. While the Falcons aren't in play for the No. 2 seed, there are a couple scenarios where the Vikings and Falcons could square off in the first round as a 3-6 matchup. The simplest scenario for that to happen would be the Panthers winning their final two games and the Vikings and Rams splitting their remaining games.
Buccaneers (4-10) at Panthers (10-4) Time:Sunday, 1 p.m. ET (FOX)
After giving the Falcons a scare on Monday night, the Bucs can try to play spoiler once again in the division with a trip up to Charlotte to face the Panthers. If Carolina loses to Tampa Bay and Atlanta beats New Orleans, the Falcons would move into the No. 4 seed heading into the final weekend due to their better head-to-head record among the three NFC South playoff contenders: The Falcons would be 2-1 against the Panthers and Saints; the Panthers would be 1-2 against the Falcons and Saints; the Saints would be 2-2 against the Falcons and Panthers.
Lions (8-6) at Bengals (5-9) Time:Sunday, 1 p.m. ET (FOX)
The exhilarating last-second win for the Falcons against the Lions in Week 3 continues to be an important one. That victory gave Atlanta the head-to-head tiebreaker over Detroit, which now has the Lions fighting for their playoff lives. A win against the Bengals coupled with a loss by the Falcons would keep the Lions in the hunt heading into Week 17. A loss, however, ends the Lions' postseason dreams.
Rams (10-4) at Titans (8-6) Time:Sunday, 1 p.m. ET (FOX)
If the Falcons win their remaining two games, and the Rams lose one of their final two, Atlanta can slide into the No. 3 seed for the postseason. That means hosting a home playoff game in the first round and possibly avoiding a trip to Philadelphia if the Falcons make it to the second round.
Seahawks (8-6) at Cowboys (8-6) Time:Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET (FOX)
Ezekiel Elliott's return could not come at a better time for the Cowboys, who need to win out in order to have a shot at the postseason. This late-afternoon matchup is an elimination game between the Seahawks and Cowboys, with the loser getting booted from the playoff hunt. While this game will remove one playoff contender for the Falcons, it's worth noting that the Seahawks will host the Cardinals in Week 17 and the Cowboys will travel to play the Eagles. If the Falcons need both of these teams to lose a game, it would be best to see the Seahawks knocked out this weekend as the Cowboys have a tougher challenge next weekend.
Raiders (6-8) at Eagles (12-2) Time:Monday, 8:30 p.m. ET (ESPN) Philadelphia can clinch the No. 1 seed and homefield advantage throughout the playoffs with a win on Monday night or a loss by the Vikings on Saturday.