This is the most consequential regular season weekend for the Falcons since December 31, 2017.
At least in terms of playoff implications.
Sitting in a five-team logjam of 6-7 teams trying to earn their way into the NFC playoffs, Atlanta has a great opportunity to push their way near the top of that pack. And make their remaining games a whole lot bigger.
Including the 7-6 San Francisco 49ers, there are really six teams vying for the final two Wild Card spots in the NFC, separated by one game. That number of candidates for those two spots means not only will the games get bigger, but there will also be a lot of scoreboard watching to do.
Don't worry. If you're a Falcons fan, we've broken down the games you should be keeping an eye on this weekend (in order of importance), who you should be rooting for, and why.
#1: Falcons (6-7) at 49ers (7-6)
Sun., 4:05 p.m. ET (CBS)
Who you should root for: The Falcons
Why: Looking at the remaining schedule, this one is clearly the one with most direct impact on the Falcons (and 49ers) playoff hopes. In fact, FiveThirtyEight gives every NFL game a playoff "importance" score determined by "how much will this game affect playoff odds?". They give this game a score of 97 (out of 100). Wowza!
Why? Well, for the Falcons, a win would mean they leap frog at least two teams (maybe three, see below) currently ahead of them, and they would have a tie-breaker over a current Wild Card holder (the 49ers). Atlanta would suddenly be a favorite to earn a Wild Card spot. A loss to the 49ers, however? Cover your eyes. It wouldn't be officially over, but you want to go with Option A here.
#2: Saints (6-7) at Buccaneers (10-3)
Sun., 8:20 p.m. ET (NBC)
Who you should root for: The Buccaneers
Why: The Buccaneers are the toughest team remaining on the Saints schedule. If this is the last, best shot for a Saints loss before the season finale in Atlanta, the Buccaneers have to be #2 on this list.
Despite five consecutive losses, the Saints win over the Jets this past weekend has kept their record even with the pack of 6-7 teams, even though they are currently ranked at the bottom of that group due to their loss to the Falcons and 3rd place standing in the NFC South. If they somehow pull off a win in Tampa, the Saints could get on a real roll. How big would that finale in Atlanta be?
#3: Vikings (6-7) at Bears (4-9)
Mon., 8:15 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Who you should root for: The Bears
Why: This is the Monday Night game. This is the Monday Night game?! The Vikings are in the big group of 6-7 teams, and they currently hold the tie-breaker over the Falcons due to their 4-4 record in the NFC (the Falcons are 3-3). It's simple, the Vikings are currently one of the teams ahead of the Falcons for the #7 seed, and a Minnesota loss is good for Atlanta. A loss to an NFC team is even better. We could have ranked this one in the #2 spot for this week, but the Vikings still have games remaining against the 9-4 Rams and at the 10-3 Packers, so there are other opportunities for losses ahead for the Vikings if they get past the Bears in Chicago.
#4: Washington Football Team (6-7) at Philadelphia Eagles (6-7)
Sun., 1 p.m. ET (FOX)
Who you should root for: The Washington Football Team ... sort of?
Why: The good news for the Falcons is one of these two teams will lose. The bad news is one of these two teams will win. These are currently the two most troublesome teams for Atlanta in the Wild Card chase because they've both beaten the Falcons earlier this season, and therefore both hold the tie-breaker over Atlanta. Mathematically, FiveThirtyEight doesn't think one team winning or the other is better or worse for the Falcons. So this one is a bit of a toss up in terms of who Falcons fans should be rooting for.
But here's why we say Washington: They both still have the Cowboys remaining on their schedule (Washington heads to Dallas on 12/26, and the Eagles host Dallas on 1/9). So the question becomes, which of these teams is more likely to get on a run and beat Dallas? You'd have to give the edge to the Eagles. So if the Eagles are more likely to pull of the upset against the Cowboys later, you might feel better about Washington handing Philadelphia a loss here.
Sounds right. Right? Yeah, that's the right answer. Probably. Either way, Dallas beating both these teams would be good for the Falcons.
Here are the current NFC Playoff Standings:
|1.||Green Bay Packers||10-3|
|2.||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||10-3|
|5.||Los Angeles Rams||9-4|
|6.||San Francisco 49ers||7-6|
|7.||Washington Football Team||6-7|
|--||New Orleans Saints||6-7|