Atlanta Falcons face a must-win scenario against Buccaneers
After losing four in a row, the Atlanta Falcons must win against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
It has been an ugly downward spiral indeed. After Robert Alford took a Kirk Cousins overtime interception to the house to give the Atlanta Falcons a 5-0 record, it looked like smooth sailing ahead.
The city of Atlanta was jubilant; predictions of 9-0 before the bye emerged, and fans dared to dream of a No. 1 seed in the NFC for a third time in six years. At the time, nobody even found it feasable that the Falcons would eventually face a must-win situation just to keep their playoff hopes alive. But that’s what it has come to.
The Falcons have now dropped five of their last six games, and as of now, they are on the outside of the playoff picture looking in. The Seattle Seahawks have been the main beneficiaries of Atlanta’s struggles, surging into that last wild-card spot behind four wins in their last five games. Both the Seahawks and the Falcons currently sit at 6-5, with a myriad of playoff hopeful teams on their heals at 5-6: one of whom is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Yes, the same Bucs team that beat the Falcons in the Georgia Dome about a month ago. This meeting between the division rivals will serve as sort of a defacto elimination game, making it a must-win for both teams.
Now, the Falcons won’t be mathematically eliminated if they suffer their fifth consecutive defeat this Sunday, but they will end up digging a hole too big to climb out of, in such a scenario.
Atlanta’s schedule going forward is by no means the cake walk it looked like at the beginning of the season. They must play the 11-0 Carolina Panthers twice, and still have a Week 17 date with the arch rival New Orleans Saints, who have already beaten the Falcons once.
Furthermore, the Seattle Seahawks will be heavy favorites to win at least three of their remaining five games, despite being without offensive weapons Marshawn Lynch and Jimmy Graham. Sandwiched in between their two difficult matchups against the Vikings and Cardinals, are the likes of the Baltimore Ravens, Cleveland Browns, and St. Louis Rams, who have a combined record of 10-25 this season.
The Seahawks will be favored to go at least 3-2 in the final five games, which would put them at 9-7 to close out the season. Assuming the Vikings and Cardinals can do Atlanta a favor and dispatch the Super Bowl runner ups, Seattle would then finish with an in-conference record of 6-6.
If that scenario plays out the way it’s projected, then Atlanta would get into the playoffs if they finish off the season on a 4-1 run. If they go 3-2, with one of those wins being against the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Falcons would finish on a 9-7 record: 6-6 in the NFC, tied with Seattle. The Seahawks would still maintain the tiebreaker, as they would have a better record against in common opponents faced.
That’s not even taking into account any of the 5-6 teams, who could easily get hot to end the season.
Now, some people may be asking about the other wild-card spot, that’s currently occupied by the 7-4 Green Bay Packers. Atlanta could potentially overtake Aaron Rodgers‘ squad, but that looks very unlikely at this point in time. The Falcons’ best bet is to try and get in as the No. 6 seed.
However, a loss to the Bucs will probably destroy any chance Atlanta has of making the playoffs, barring an epic Seahawks collapse which would have to feature losses to the Ravens and/or Browns.
While going 4-1 to end the year would still be mathematically feasible, even with a loss in Tampa this weekend, that would require the seemingly herculean task of sweeping the Panthers: I don’t think that even the most optimistic Falcons fan sees that happening.
Another factor in play here is that if Tampa wins, they’d move to 6-6 and own the tiebreaker over what would be the 6-6 Atlanta Falcons. Meaning that even if Seattle does collapse, Tampa Bay will end up being the team with an inside track to that last wild-card spot.
The Falcons sure have gotten into a mess following the 5-0 start. If they truly want a chance to make the playoffs, they will have to treat this game in Tampa Bay as a must win game. Why? Because it’s exactly that.