Prior to the start of the 2022 season, anyone who even brought up the notion of the Atlanta Falcons having a chance at the playoffs was farfetched. The team had just gone through an offseason that included the trade of franchise legend Matt Ryan, Deion Jones’ future up in the air, the largest dead cap hit in league history, and a quarterback who many cast aside as a “backup at best”.
Yet, as the Falcons prepare to travel to the hated New Orleans Saints, not only is this the official start of the “quarterback of the future” in Desmond Ridder, but the Falcons are still mathematically alive for a spot in the playoffs, as shocking as that sounds.
The hope is still there for this Atlanta Falcons team in 2022
This does have a caveat in the fact of the NFC South is labeled as either the “NFC Going South” or the “worst division in football”. However, to counter that, while it is true that every team is currently below .500, the first and last-place team are only separated by two games, meaning the Atlanta Falcons still have a chance.
Essentially, no team is “eliminated” as of right now, but it adds credence to the divisional games which still exist (ATL @NO, CAR @ TB, TB @ ATL, CAR @ NO).
Currently, the Falcons’ chances of making the playoffs, according to the incredible New York Times’ playoff simulator, sits at 5%. This doesn’t bode well, but like the old line from Jim Carrey in Dumb and Dumber, “So you’re telling me there’s a chance?”
For the Falcons, this is their current remaining schedule:
Week 15: @ Saints
Week 16: @ Ravens
Week 17: vs. Cardinals
Week 18: vs. Buccaneers
Any combination is possible for the Atlanta Falcons, and while the easiest way to earn the division is simply to win out, that’s easier said than done. The Saints, much as we hate to admit it, do play well in the Superdome, and while their season’s lost, they’d love to not only sweep the season series but also tie the lifetime series at 54-54 and put a major damper on our playoff chances. A win by ATL combined with wins by PIT and CIN bump playoff chances from 5% to 49%.
After the Saints game, the Falcons have to take on the Ravens. Right now, while there’s a small majority of Falcons fans who want the team to pursue Lamar Jackson in free agency, let’s remember one thing: Baltimore would be insane to let him walk.
However, Atlanta might’ve caught the Ravens at a lucky time because Jackson’s hurt with a PCL sprain, so while he might be able to play, there’s a major chance it could be Tyler Huntley under center. While it’s not as scary as Lamar, the Falcons will have to prioritize bottling up J.K. Dobbins and Mark Andrews to have a chance. A win by Atlanta with Week 15 results drops chances to 26%; any combination of results in DET/CAR and TB/AZ move the needle anywhere from 31% to 43%.
Week 17 is arguably the most important of the three weeks prior to Week 18, and honestly for good measure. With the Falcons staying home for the final two weeks, it would be apropos to win both in front of the best fans in the NFL. The first test is against the now less-Kyler Murray Arizona Cardinals, who will start Colt McCoy in this contest. While the Cardinals still have De’Andre Hopkins and AJ Green, Murray’s essentially like Mariota but smaller with better accuracy; defenses have to account for his elusiveness alongside his arm.
Also, a small point of note: by virtue of the Week 15 game, New Orleans could very well be eliminated from contention, leaving the only game of merit being the Buccaneers and Panthers. A win by the Atlanta Falcons, independent of TB/CAR’s result, puts their playoff chances at 61%. If Tampa wins, the chances drop to 42%; if Carolina wins, 77%.
Assuming all goes well in the above scenarios, then Week 18 will come down to both the Saints/Panthers and the Falcons/Buccaneers games. Some speculation is that, because the NFL deliberately leaves the final week games as “TBD” to get the best possible game in the Sunday Night position, otherwise known as “Game 272”. And in this scenario, despite the possibility of all four teams being alive, it’s likely that New Orleans and Carolina will be eliminated from the division race and the playoff chase before this.
If that happens, does anyone think that the NFL wouldn’t put the Buccaneers and Falcons as “Game 272”? Think about it: Tom Brady’s (potential) final regular season game. He’s never lost to the Falcons. The division is on the line; win and you’re in. The NFL and NBC would milk that cow dry in the marketing division, and honestly for good measure. We’ll prevent a playoff percentage here because it’s simple: win makes it 100%, lose and you’re going home.