There is still plenty left to play for, even if it means playing spoiler.
The Atlanta Falcons were mathematically eliminated from playoff contention with their Week 17 defeat against the Bills in Buffalo. That was always going to be an incredibly difficult game for the Birds to win, but they held their own and even led at halftime. A Kyle Pitts hamstring injury right before the half and the Bills settling into their offense kept the Falcons from keeping their season alive, however.
Sitting at 7-9, Atlanta moves into the NFL’s inaugural Week 18 with a rivalry matchup on tap against the New Orleans Saints Saints. And while they are no longer in the playoff picture, there is still everything to play for.
Let’s take a look at the circumstances surrounding the Falcons if they beat the New Orleans Saints in Week 18, as well as looking at the scenario if they lose.
If the Falcons win
They will officially mathematically eliminate New Orleans from playoff contention. The scenario for the Saints is simple — they will sneak into the final NFC Wildcard spot with a win in Atlanta and a San Francisco 49ers loss against the Los Angeles Rams, who still have the NFC West to play for. The Falcons can make sure that their most hated rival does not see post-season football for the first time since 2016.
Atlanta would sweep the Saints for the first time since the 2016 season, and they would move their all time record in this series to 55-51, ensuring that New Orleans won’t be able to catch up in this series for at least two more seasons. Arthur Smith would become the first Falcons head coach to sweep the Saints in his first season since Dan Reeves did it in 1997.
From the draft side of things, the Birds — who would be picking 10th if the season were to end today — could fall to as low as the 14th pick in a worst case scenario. This would happen if the Broncos, Vikings, Browns and Dolphins all lose this weekend and if the scores around the NFL shake out to a point where the Dolphins’ strength of schedule (currently at .467) ends up being weaker than Atlanta’s (currently at .461).
If the Falcons lose
The Saints will earn a split in this year’s rendition of the series, and will win in Atlanta for the fourth consecutive year, moving their record at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium to 4-1. They would also clinch a playoff berth and celebrate on Atlanta’s field if the 49ers (who are kicking their game off at the exact same time) lose to the Rams.
The all time series would be 54-52 in favor of the Falcons, and will mean that the Birds will have to get at least another split next year to ensure that they stay ahead.
The Falcons will solidify at least the 10th pick in the draft at the very worst, and will be able to climb up to the seventh pick in a best case scenario, if the Seahawks, Bears and Washington Football Team all win this weekend.