Atlanta Falcons at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Monday, 8:30 p.m. ET
After Sunday’s slate of games, there are only two NFC teams that know for sure they’re in the playoffs: the Philadelphia Eagles and the Minnesota Vikings.
One of the teams hoping to join them, the defending conference champion Falcons, can go a long way toward securing their spot in the postseason on Monday night with a win over Tampa Bay.
An Atlanta win on Monday eliminates the Packers from the playoffs.
Currently, Atlanta is 8-5 and holds the second wild-card spot. But Detroit and Dallas, which both won Sunday, and Seattle, which didn’t, are just behind them at 8-6.
Getting their ninth win would certainly give the Falcons some space in the standings over the Lions, Cowboys and Seahawks, particularly with Atlanta facing its other divisional rivals, in New Orleans against the Saints and home against the Panthers over the final two weeks of the season.
But it’s not just a wild-card spot on the line for Atlanta on Monday night: it can still win the NFC South.
New Orleans and Carolina are both 10-4 after Week 15 wins, but if the Falcons win out, they’d win their second straight divisional crown.
If Atlanta wins its final three, and assuming the Panthers beat the Buccaneers in Week 16 but lose to the Falcons in the finale and the Saints beat Tampa Bay in Week 17 but lose to Atlanta next week, all three teams would finish 11-5.
But the Falcons will have beaten New Orleans in both of their meetings this season, having won on Thursday night earlier this month, and though they’d split their two meetings with the Panthers, the Falcons’ 5-1 mark in the division would best Carolina’s 3-3 mark.
As much as a win can do for Atlanta, a loss against Tampa Bay would not be a disaster: among the Falcons’ eight wins to this point are victories against Detroit, Dallas and Seattle, the three teams trying to wrest the second wildcard spot from them.
Head-to-head results are the first tiebreaker for teams not in the same division.
An Atlanta win will eliminate Green Bay from playoff contention.