With the end of the season nearing, it's time to begin looking at the playoff contenders and determine who's in, who's out and who to root for. AtlantaFalcons.com contributing writer Daniel Cox takes a look at the outside teams that could influence where the Falcons will play at the end of the regular season.
In looking at each week's matchups, two things need to be considered in terms of the playoffs:
The Falcons' record against team in contention. This comes into play should a tie-breaker be needed to determine a spot in the playoffs or home field advantage. * Conference games vs. out of conference games. Tie-breakers lean heavily on conference records, so if a team is playing out of conference, the game's significance is lessened.
Falcons at Bucs: It's somewhat obvious that the Falcons need to win this game. A win by the Falcons could help put away the Bucs' playoff hopes. A Tampa loss would drop them to 5-3 in the conference and improve Atlanta's NFC record to 7-1. A win over the Bucs would also secure a tie-breaker for Atlanta over their NFC South foe.
Texans at Eagles: There won't be a lot riding on this game for the remainder of the NFC since it's a cross-conference game.
Redskins at Giants: The Redskins could get into the playoff mix with a win over the Giants, but at 4-4 in the conference, their chances will still be slim. The Giants will need a win here to hang onto their thin hold on the sixth seed in the NFC playoffs. A Giants loss will push the Eagles further ahead in the NFC East and help the causes of the Packers and the Saints, both teams the Falcons have defeated head-to-head. The Redskins take cheering priority.
49ers at Packers: A San Francisco win would be an upset and the underdog 49ers could help muddy the playoffs in the NFC. All but out of the playoff race, San Francisco can play the role of spoiler for some teams down the stretch. The Falcons shouldn't mind seeing the Packers win this game since they hold the tie-breaker over them, and a win by Green Bay with a Bears loss would even things up in the NFC North.
Saints at Bengals: This game doesn't have a lot of impact on the NFC, but as an NFC South rival, it's never a bad thing to see the Saints go down.
Bears at Lions: This is a key game for the playoff picture as it relates to the Falcons. As it stands currently, the Falcons and the Bears hold the top two seeds in the conference. The tie-breaker for Atlanta and Chicago will come down to the won-loss percentage in the conference. The Falcons hold the edge here right now, but all five of Atlanta's remaining games are in the conference. If the Falcons win out, it's not an issue, but some losses would help Chicago should the two meet down the road. Falcons fans should root for the Lions here.
Rams at Cardinals: The Falcons hold the tie-breaker over St. Louis, so as it stands right now, they wouldn't mind seeing the Rams continue to win. The Rams are in a 5-6 tie with the Seahawks in the NFC West, but hold the head-to-head tiebreaker. The Falcons will face Seattle in three weeks and a loss to them means they'll be in the Rams corner in full force.
Panthers at Seahawks: As explained above, the tie-breaker could be critical to home-field advantage should the Falcons face the NFC West winner. Home-field advantage will be decided by the head-to-head results and with a win over the Rams the Falcons would hold that tie-breaker. Should the Seahawks beat the Falcons in Week 15, go on to win the division and face the Falcons in the playoffs, home field would be decided by the head-to-head final. Falcons fans should root — for once — for the division rival Panthers.