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
The NFL is a difficult league to understand around this time of the year, and it gets even more difficult as information around clinching scenarios for playoff teams floods the super highway.
After surveying a series of possible results from Sunday's games through the end of the season, a Falcons win against the Panthers with certain outcomes in other games will result in Atlanta clinching a playoff spot.
There are scenarios out there where the Falcons win Sunday and lose out and miss the playoffs entirely.
Atlanta's playoff clinching scenarios:
Atlanta wins and both the Giants and Eagles lose. * Atlanta wins and both the Giants and Packers lose. * Atlanta wins and both the Packers and Eagles lose. * Atlanta tie and Giants, Eagles, Packers lose and Tampa Bay loses or ties.
One other thing to remember when examining these scenarios is where the Falcons stand at the end of the season. If they're the top seed in the NFC, they'll have home-field advantage regardless.
These scenarios become really important should Atlanta fall out of the top spot.
Falcons at Panthers:No question who to root for here. The Falcons need to continue to win and hope teams like the Packers and Bears and Giants and Eagles beat up on each other to help lessen the distance between Atlanta and everyone else.
Buccaneers at Redskins:A Buccaneers loss would not mathematically eliminate them from the playoffs, but would make their chances extremely slim. Root for the Redskins in this one.
Giants at Vikings:This game carries a close relationship with the Eagles-Cowboys game. The Falcons will not play the Giants during the regular season so should a tie-breaking scenario be needed, it would come down to the two team's record in the division and there's a good chance Atlanta would hold the edge over the Giants.
Also, if the Giants win, Green Bay wins and the Eagles lose, Philadelphia will be on the outside looking in after 14 weeks, which is idea since the Eagles hold a head-to-head tie-breaker over Atlanta. Though a Giants loss (in the scenario explained above) with other losses means the Falcons clinch a playoff spot, it's still not a bad idea to root for the Giants here.
Packers at Lions:Much like the Giants-Vikings, this game is closely related to the Eagles-Cowboys game. The Falcons will hold head-to-head tie-breaker scenarios over the Packers so they won't mind facing them in the playoffs. The Packers can lose, but still maintain the sixth seed if the Eagles lose.
However, if the Eagles lose, Green Bay will be out after Week 14 regardless of their outcome. Future weeks' games can change that however. With Atlanta holding the tie-breaker, root for the Packers, though Green Bay losing with the Giants or Eagles losing--however unlikely--means Atlanta clinches a playoff spot.
Rams at Saints:A win by the Rams would be monumental. Not only would it keep St. Louis in the fourth seed, it could potentially put the Saints out of the playoffs after 14 weeks. With wins by St. Louis, Green Bay, Philadelphia and the Giants, the Saints will be out and the Falcons will have some serious breathing room in the NFC South.
Seahawks at 49ers:Before Week 15's head-to-head with Seattle, it's hard for the Falcons to know who they'd rather have win this game. If St. Louis wins, a win by Seattle won't get them back in the playoffs. If St. Louis loses and Seattle wins, they'll flip flop. If both lose, the Rams maintain the fourth seed. A 49ers win will keep the Falcons well-positioned.
Patriots at Bears:This game doesn't have a lot of consequence. The Bears can lose and maintain their second seed in the NFC. There's really no rooting interest here.
Eagles at Cowboys:As mentioned above, this is the key game of the week. The Eagles are dangerous to the Falcons should they fall out of the top seed because they hold a head-to-head edge over Atlanta.
If Falcons fans have never rooted for the Cowboys, this is the week to do so. If the Cowboys win, the only scenario that keeps the Eagles in the playoffs through 14 weeks is if Detroit beats Green Bay and Minnesota beats the Giants. Both have to happen if the Eagles lose to keep them in the playoffs.
This week, you're a part-time Dallas fan if you normally bleed red and black.