FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – We're heading into Week 16 and everything is still on the table for the Falcons – a playoff berth and the NFC South crown.
Unlike a few teams, the Falcons control their own fate. The Seahawks, Cowboys and Lions are all still alive in the NFC playoff race, but must finish 2-0 and get some help along the way. Seattle also has an outside chance of winning the NFC West, but would have to finish 2-0 and hope the Rams go 0-2 over the next two weeks.
Back to Atlanta. The most the Falcons can do this week is secure a spot in the postseason. And they can accomplish that two different ways.
- Option A: Beat the Saints. Win and they're in. It's that simple. Plus, the Falcons would keep their chances of winning the NFC South alive.
- Option B: The Falcons would have to tie the Saints, plus the Cowboys and Seahawks would have to tie and the Lions would have to lose or tie the Bengals.
And if we're being totally honest here, Option B is very unlikely.
So, what happens if the Falcons should lose to the Saints? Obviously, repeating as NFC South champions is out the window. But can they still make the playoffs? Yes. If the Falcons win one of their final two games, they will clinch a playoff berth.
If the Falcons should finish 0-2
But what if the Falcons should stumble two weeks in a row? Can they still make the playoffs going 0-2 over the next two weeks? Believe it or not, yes. But they'll need some help.
Based on that scenario – two losses by the Falcons – three teams could end up leapfrogging Atlanta into the playoffs: the Seahawks, Cowboys or the Lions. This is who you should be rooting for in Week 16 (with an eye on Week 17):
Falcons (9-5) at Saints (10-4)
*Sun., 1 p.m. ET (FOX) *
Who you should root for: The Falcons.
Why: As outlined above, the Falcons secure a playoff berth with a win, regardless of any other results. A win also keeps Atlanta's chances of repeating as NFC South champions.
Seahawks (8-6) at Cowboys (8-6)
*Sun., 4:25 p.m. ET (FOX) *
Who you should root for: The Cowboys.
Why: This is an elimination game for each of these teams. If the Cowboys beat the Seahawks, the Falcons' chances of clinching a playoff berth are at 43 percent, according to FiveThirtyEight. But if the Seahawks were to win, those chances drop down to 14 percent. Why? Well, the Cowboys' Week 17 opponent (Philadelphia) is considerably tougher than the Seahawks' opponent (Arizona). The Falcons need the Cowboys-Seahawks winner to split and, in a perfect world, the loser would go 0-2. So, pulling for the Cowboys here makes sense. One other note: If the Cowboys were to win their final two games (again, assuming the Falcons lost to the Saints and Panthers), they could possibly steal that final spot. It would depend on what the Lions do. See below.
Lions (8-6) at Bengals (5-9)
*Sun., 1 p.m. ET (FOX) *
Who you should root for: The Bengals.
Why: If the Falcons drop their final two games and both the Cowboys and Lions win out, Detroit would end up in the playoffs. But if the Lions split and the Cowboys go 2-0, Dallas would get in. However, if both the Lions and Cowboys split, the Falcons would get in – even after losing their final two games. That's why a Bengals win would be big this weekend.