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Playoff forecast: New playoff path opens for Falcons
December 18, 2017 12:22 AM | Staff
The field didn't shift a lot on Sunday, but there were big implications for the Falcons. Here's the biggest thing Falcons fans need to know about what happened today: because of Seattle's blowout loss to the Rams, the Falcons can now afford to lose one of their final three games and still guarantee themselves a playoff berth. But because the five teams above Atlanta all won on Sunday, anything other than a perfect final three weeks likely means the Falcons will be playing for a #6 seed.

Despite wins by the Saints and Panthers on Sunday, the Falcons find themselves basically in the same position they were in entering the day, as it relates to the NFC South race: Win their final three games against Tampa Bay, New Orleans and Carolina, and they will be the NFC South champions, and at a minimum Atlanta would host a playoff game as the #4 seed.

But their chances of making the playoffs got a little more breathing room on Sunday with Seattle's loss.A win against the Buccaneers on Monday would essentially give the Falcons a two-game lead over the Seahawks and Lions.

Here's a snapshot of where each NFC contender stands after Sunday's games:

No. 1 Seed: Philadelphia Eagles (12-2) - 1stplace, NFC East

*Odds of making playoffs: Clinched
*Odds of winning division: Clinched NFC East

Synopsis:Nick Foles' performance in New York probably allowed a lot of Eagles fans to take a deep breath. His four touchdown passes and 115.8 passer rating against the Giants didn't give much indication of a steep drop off from Carson Wentz. They have now clinched a first round bye when the playoffs start.

Remaining schedule:
Week 16:vs. Oakland
Week 17:vs. Dallas

No. 2 Seed: Minnesota Vikings (11-3) - 1stplace, NFC North

*Odds of making playoffs: Clinched
*Odds of winning division: Clinched NFC North

Synopsis:With their annihilation of the Bengals, the Vikings clinched the NFC North and moved a big step closer to a first-round bye. A win in Green Bay next week, and the Vikings will most likely be the #2 seed in the NFC when the playoffs start.

Remaining schedule:
Week 16:at Green Bay
Week 17:vs. Chicago

No. 3 Seed: Los Angeles Rams (10-4) - 1stplace, NFC West

*Odds of making playoffs: 99 percent
*Odds of winning division: 98 percent

Synopsis:The Rams stunning display in Seattle just about guaranteed them a playoff berth, likely as the NFC West champions. It's an incredible turnaround for a team that went 4-12 last season. Their 7-4 conference record makes passing the Vikings for a first round bye a longshot, but they are still in good shape to host the first playoff game held in Los Angeles in 24 years. (The Los Angeles Raiders beat the Denver Broncos in the Wild Card round at the Los Angeles Coliseum on January 9th, 1994).

Remaining schedule:
Week 16:at Tennessee
Week 17:vs. San Francisco

No. 4 Seed: New Orleans Saints (10-4) - 1stplace, NFC South

*Odds of making playoffs: 95 percent
*Odds of winning division: 61 percent

Synopsis:The Jets made them earn it, but the Saints win on Sunday puts them one win away from clinching a playoff berth. Carolina's win over the Packers means New Orleans may still need to win out to earn an NFC South championship. Next week's showdown with Atlanta is the biggest game remaining in a three-team race for the NFC South division. A New Orleans victory would put them a win over Tampa Bay away from being the division champs.

Remaining schedule:
Week 16:vs. Atlanta
Week 17:at Tampa Bay

No. 5 Seed: Carolina Panthers (10-4) - 2ndplace, NFC South

*Odds of making playoffs: 95 percent
*Odds of winning division: 19 percent

Synopsis:The return of Aaron Rodgers probably made for a few nervous Panthers fans in the week leading up to this game, but Carolina's win over the Packers just about puts them in the playoffs. But even though they are still in second place in the NFC South standings, the analytics site fivethirtyeight.com sees them as the third-most likely team to win the division, behind the Saints and Falcons. Panthers fans will be rooting for the Falcons to knock off the Saints next weekend to set up a possible NFC South title game in Atlanta on the final Sunday of the year.

Remaining schedule:
Week 16:vs. Tampa Bay
Week 17:at Atlanta

No. 6 Seed:Atlanta Falcons (8-5) - 3rdplace, NFC South

*Odds of making playoffs: 70 percent
*Odds of winning division: 20 percent

Synopsis:The Seahawks fall from grace is a big aid to the Falcons playoff possibilities. It means that the Falcons would still get into the playoffs if they lose one of their final three games of the year. A win over Tampa Bay on Monday night essentially creates a two-game lead on the teams chasing Atlanta, since the Falcons have the head-to-head tie-breaker over Seattle, Detroit and Dallas. More importantly, it sets up a huge showdown against the Saints next week that could ultimately decide the NFC South race. The Falcons will win the division, and guarantee themselves no worse than the #4 seed in the NFC, if they are able to defeat Tampa Bay, New Orleans and Carolina in their final three games. That said, the five teams above the Falcons all won on Sunday, so anything other than winning their three remaining games means that Atlanta will likely be playing for the #6 seed. Atlanta was also eliminated from contention for a first-round bye on Sunday.

Remaining schedule:
Week 15: at Tampa Bay
Week 16:
at New Orleans
Week 17:vs. Carolina

STILL IN THE HUNT

Detroit Lions (8-6) - 2nd place, NFC North

*Odds of making playoffs: 21 percent
*Odds of winning division: Eliminated from contention

Synopsis:The Lions can only impact the Falcons chances of getting into the playoffs if Atlanta loses two of their last three. And if the Falcons lose two of their last three, they probably weren't getting in anyways. A lot has to happen for the Lions get in, but the win over the Bears keeps them alive and their remaining schedule is less than daunting. Green Bay will almost assuredly be eliminated by the time the play the Lions in Week 17. Would they still start Aaron Rodgers?

Remaining schedule:
Week 16:at Cincinnati
Week 17:vs. Green Bay

Seattle Seahawks (8-6) - 2ndplace, NFC West

*Odds of making playoffs: 13 percent
*Odds of winning division: 2 percent

Synopsis:This was the biggest game of the day for Atlanta. The Falcons got a big favor from Seattle's no-show for what was close to an NFC West Championship game against the Rams. The Seahawks blow-out loss means that Atlanta will get into the playoffs even if they lose one of their final three games. For Seattle, the loss puts them one defeat away from being out of the playoffs this year, just two weeks after being a heavy favorite to make the field. Now they will head to Dallas to face a Cowboys team that will have Ezekiel Elliott in the lineup. Uh oh.

Remaining schedule:
Week 16:at Dallas
Week 17:vs. Arizona

Dallas Cowboys (8-6) - 2nd place, NFC East

*Odds of making playoffs: 8 percent
*Odds of winning division: Eliminated from contention

Synopsis: Dallas came into Sunday as a longshot, but their win over Oakland makes them an interesting player in the NFC race. With Ezekiel Elliott coming back, they host a beat up Seahawks team that seems to be fading, and then close out the regular season in Philadelphia against an Eagles team that may have nothing to play for. The Cowboys would still need the Falcons to lose two of their final three, but Sunday went about as well as it could have for Dallas.

Remaining schedule:
Week 16:vs. Seattle
Week 17:at Philadelphia

Green Bay Packers (7-7) - 3rdplace, NFC North

*Odds of making playoffs: 1 percent
*Odds of winning division: Eliminated from contention

Synopsis:Apparently there's still a path, but you have to believe in conspiracy theories. Green Bay's loss at Carolina all but eliminated them from playoff contention. But their loss, coupled with Seattle's loss to the Rams, makes it feasible for the Falcons to get into the playoffs with two losses in their final three games. If Seattle and Detroit each lose one of their final two, and Dallas loses one of their final three, Atlanta could get in with two losses in their final three games. At this point, the Packers are playing spoilers against the Vikings and Lions in their final two games. Will they allow Aaron Rodgers to keep suiting up?

Remaining schedule:
Week 16:vs. Minnesota
Week 17:at Detroit

* - Odds via fivethirtyeight.com

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