Falcons close to clinching NFC South, suddenly have shot at bye

Falcons running back Devonta Freeman gets a pat on the back from head coach Dan Quinn after his second of three touchdown runs during the second quarter of Sunday's 41-13 win over San Francisco at the Georgia Dome. Freeman rushed for 139 yards. (Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com)

Falcons running back Devonta Freeman gets a pat on the back from head coach Dan Quinn after his second of three touchdown runs during the second quarter of Sunday’s 41-13 win over San Francisco at the Georgia Dome. Freeman rushed for 139 yards. (Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com)

At a time when the Hawks are sinking, the Braves are building for the seemingly distant future and Georgia’s and Georgia Tech’s football teams are preparing for after-thought bowl games, the Falcons have suddenly emerged as contenders in the NFL.

Welcome to the top of the Atlanta sports food chain.

It doesn’t take much to get caught up in hyperbole after something as simple as a two-game winning streak over two of the NFL’s worst teams (Los Angeles, San Francisco). But this is December, when haves and have-nots of the NFL separate themselves, and after Sunday’s 41-13 destruction of the 49ers — you can read my column on the game, linked here — this is where the Falcons find themselves.

• The win over the 49ers left the Falcons at 9-5, ensuring their first winning record since 2012. (Former coach Mike Smith followed a 13-3 season and a loss in the NFC title game with 4-12 and 6-10 seasons, getting fired,  and Dan Quinn went 8-8 in his first year after a second-half collapse.) With games remaining at Carolina (5-8) and home against New Orleans (6-8), the Falcons have a chance to finish 11-5.

• Tampa Bay’s loss to Dallas Monday night dropped the Buccaneers to 8-6, moving the Falcons close to clinching the NFC South. They have a one-game lead and own common-opponents and conference-record tiebreakers over Tampa Bay. They teams are tied in division record. The Bucs finish with games at New Orleans and home against Carolina.

• The Falcons now have a 91 percent chance of making the playoffs and a 77 percent chance of winning the division, according to the computations of FiveThirtyEight. But it goes beyond that. Finishing as a No. 3 or 4 seed in the NFC would give the Falcons a home playoff game, and they’re currently third (by virtue of common opponents tiebreaker against Detroit).

• Wait, there’s more. they’re only one-half game behind Seattle (9-4-1) for the No. 2 seed behind Dallas (12-2). The second seed would give the Falcons a first-round bye. FiveThirtyEight gives the Falcons only a 13 percent chance of getting a bye. That’s because while the Falcons play two beatable divisional opponents, Seattle does the same: home against Arizona (5-8-1-) this week, at San Francisco (1-13) in the finale.

Still, for a Falcons team that played its worst game of the season before the bye at Philadelphia, losing 24-15, they’re sitting in a nice position. As I wrote in the column, they would own a four-game winning streak since the bye if not the implausible “pick-two” after a touchdown against Kansas City.

Quinn wanted his players to have enthusiasm for the moment of the playoff stretch and they’re doing that.

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16 comments
DawgDadII
DawgDadII

The offense really is top notch, the offensive line has been a plus this season. They are going to struggle mightily to shut teams down in the playoffs, and that will (like the Chiefs game) magnify any coaching mistakes and turnovers. I hope Quinn and Ryan learned their lessons. First, they need to get there.


Overall, this has been a very entertaining team and season. Lots of big plays, spreading the ball around. Emerging speed and toughness on defense, but realistically they need one more draft and a year of development to field a true playoff-caliber defense.

DMac57
DMac57

They have a 50 year record of disappointing their fans. I expect nothing but more of the same from the Falcoons.

DawgNole
DawgNole

@DMac57

Fifty-ONE years, actually, but hey, who's counting?

GymAnalytics315
GymAnalytics315

 I'd rather be 2 or 4.  The number 4 seed would likely have to travel to Dallas (unless of course 6 beats 3).  I'd rather take my chances at Dallas than at Seattle in January.  We don't want the # 3 seed, especially if that means facing Green Bay in Rd 1.

TOJacket
TOJacket

TideDawg...6th best? Only team who has beat their opponent by more is The New England Cheaters. Did anybody noticed that "Atkinson" firearm KeKe put on their TE head!

TOJacket
TOJacket

Exactly why Brady can't win the MVP.....good point Sally

DawgNole
DawgNole

@TOJacket

But the Pats won three of their games without the Chief Cheater on the field, so that excuse/blame game won't fly. 

TOJacket
TOJacket

You're every bit as dumb as I thought you were.

TideDawg
TideDawg

The Falcons now have 9 wins. Officially they are better won/loss than last year. Still no cigar but they can score points. If you picked the top ten teams in the NFL, Atlanta would probably be number one in the second five teams, which means they may be the sixth best team in the NFL. Quite an improvement over being a dud for the last few years. I enjoyed watching the Bucs get their butts kicked by Dallas last night.....a case of class over crude and disgusting. I have to admit Winston is blessed with talent but to hear him talk about integrity was laughable. Winston got rattled in the 4th quarter and lost his cool....and the game....serves him right. When the adrenaline and the hype wear off.....you better have enough talent to make up for it. Prescott is a class quarterback....Winston would do well to model his behavior after Dak.

We_Will_Get_Fooled_Again
We_Will_Get_Fooled_Again

"They have a one-game lead and own a tie-breaker advantage over Tampa Bay (record against common opponents), effectively giving them a magic number of one to clinch."


Not necessarily. The tiebreaker would flip to the Bucs if they finish with the same record as the Falcons, because both the Falcons and Bucs have two division games to close out the year. If both teams finish 10-6, that would mean the Bucs are 5-1 in the division and the Falcons are 4-2, giving the Bucs the division title.


The Falcons are still in a bit of a tricky spot, but they don't have to worry about getting any help as long as they win the last two games.


Need to root for the Panthers to beat the Redskins tonight just in case the wild card comes into play.

PalmBeachFalcon
PalmBeachFalcon

The magic number is 2.  Falcons wins + Tampa losses