How can the Atlanta Falcons make the playoffs?
With four games to go, the Falcons still have a shot at post-season football in 2021
For the first time in four seasons, the Atlanta Falcons are four games from the end of the season, with more than just their draft position to play for. Incredibly, they enter the final stretch of the season, the Falcons find themselves truly in the race for post-season football. But they’re not alone.
No less than 6 sides head into the run-in with genuine playoff ambitions while occupying “in the hunt” status, and two more in wildcard spots will be looking over their shoulders moving forward. So, what exactly do the Falcons need to do in order or be playing playoff football? Let’s survey the landscape and find out.
Falcons control their own destiny
The most straightforward route into the playoffs for the 2021 Falcons is, simply, to win out. Over the next four weeks, they travel to the 49ers, host the Lions, travel to Buffalo, and end the season at home to New Orleans. Four wins from their final four will give them a 10-7 record, which would be enough to see them through.
The key to this path would be the victory over the San Francisco 49ers, who currently occupy the 6th seed on 7-6. Even if the 49ers were to win their 3 games following, the best they could do in this scenario is finish 10-7, and the Falcons would take precedent over them based on their head-to-head record.
Given results already settled throughout the season, the Falcons would also gain a tiebreaker over the Vikings, should they go 4-0.
If the Falcons were to go 3-1 over the course of the final stretch, things start to get a little more interesting. If that one loss came at the hands of the 49ers this weekend, San Francisco would gain a tiebreaker over the Falcons, putting Atlanta in a tough spot moving forward.
They would be relying on Washington, Philadelphia, and Minnesota each going 2-2 at best over that same stretch, in order to get in based on record alone.
The Falcons’ record against NFC teams (which includes Washington and Philadelphia) is poor, with NFC wins coming to the Giants, Panthers, and Saints. This scenario would only give them a tiebreaker over the Saints and Panthers, both of whom would likely have an inferior record to the Falcons in any case.
If it is out of Atlanta’s hands
Should the Falcons finish the season 2-2, they would be entirely at the mercy of the teams around them. Realistically, one of those wins would need to be against the Saints in order to maintain that particular tie-breaker. But they would absolutely need Washington, Philadelphia, New Orleans, and Minnesota to win no more than one game over that same stretch.
Given their respective runs, it would be difficult to imagine that being the case for those sides. With that few wins, they’d also be at the mercy of the five-win Panthers and Seahawks, both of whom would see an opportunity to pounce with the right results.
One or fewer wins will not be enough for the Falcons to make the playoffs. Washington and Philadelphia play each other twice, and both own tiebreakers over the Falcons due to early-season wins. This means the Falcons need to win more games in this stretch than both those sides in order to finish above them.
Given their respective schedules, we know that’s an impossibility.
Can the Falcons do it?
It’s not going to be easy for Atlanta. Given their own record thus far this season, and the wins they’ve left on the field, it’s fair to err on the side of caution when discussing the Falcons’ playoff chances this season.
But they at least have a shot. And that’s all you can ask for when you have not been involved in the post-season since the 2017 season.