Atlanta Falcons' Best and Worst Case NFC Playoff Scenarios After Week 12

By Falcons Country Guest Blogger: AL BRUCE

Another week, and another close win for these 2012 Atlanta Falcons. With Sunday's gutsy 24-23 win over Tampa Bay, the Falcons can now clinch the NFC South title as early as Week 13 with a win this Thursday night over New Orleans, and a Tampa Bay loss in Denver on Sunday.

Even if the Falcons aren't able to clinch the division in Week 13, they will only need to win two of their last five games to become NFC South champs.

We all know this Falcons team will only be judged by what they do in January, so as the Falcons close in on a division title, let's have a little fun as we take a look at the Falcons' best and worst case scenarios for getting Matt Ryan, Tony Gonzalez, and Mike Smith that elusive first playoff win based on the current NFC playoff standings via

Division Leaders:
#1 Seed:  Atlanta Falcons, 10-1 (NFC South Champ)
#2 Seed:  San Francisco 49ers, 8-2-1 (NFC West Champ)
#3 Seed:  Chicago Bears, 8-3 (NFC North Champ)
#4 Seed:  New York Giants, 7-4 (NFC East Champ)

Wild Cards:
#5 Seed:  Green Bay Packers, 7-4 (NFC North)
#6 Seed:  Seattle Seahawks, 6-5 (NFC West, wins tiebreaker over Tampa Bay because of better record in NFC games)

In the Hunt:
Tampa Bay (6-5), Minnesota (6-5), Washington (5-6), Dallas (5-6), New Orleans (5-6)

Key Magic Numbers for Falcons:
As mentioned above, the Falcons need two wins in their last five games to clinch the NFC South division.  However, as far as the race for the NFC's top seed goes, the 49ers are right on the Falcons' heels at 8-2-1.
At the moment, the Falcons' magic number to secure the NFC's top seed and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs is four (this is also the Falcons' magic number to clinch a first-round bye right now).

It should be noted that the Falcons face a tougher schedule (vs. New Orleans, @ Carolina, vs. New York Giants, @ Detroit, and vs. Tampa Bay) than the 49ers (@ St. Louis, vs. Miami, @ New England, @ Seattle, and vs. Arizona) in these last five weeks of the regular season.

Best Case Scenario A:
The Falcons win enough games over the last five weeks of the regular season to secure the NFC's top seed and a sixth-seeded wild card team like Seattle, Tampa Bay or Minnesota pulls an upset in the Wild Card Round to set up a Divisional Round matchup against the Falcons.

Why this is a Best Case Scenario:
The NFC's top seed gets a first-round bye, and the right to play the lowest seeded team that advances following the Wild Card Round. Before you say it, I know that this did not work out so well for the Falcons in 2010—but fear not, Falcons fans.

Other than New Orleans and Dallas, who are both currently on the outside looking in, there are no teams in contention for the last NFC wild card spot who possess the kind of offensive firepower or championship pedigree that the Packers had in 2010.

Even the most cynical Falcons fan (or critic) would have to like the odds that the Falcons would finally get their first playoff win under this regime against the Seahawks, Bucs, or Vikings.

Best Case Scenario B:
The Falcons win the NFC's top seed, San Francisco finishes as the #2 seed, the Packers win the NFC North over the Bears and avoid a Wild Card Round upset as the #3 seed, and #5 seed Chicago upsets the Super Bowl Champion #4 seed Giants in the Wild Card Round. Chicago comes to Atlanta to play the Falcons in the Divisional Round.

Why this is a Best Case Scenario:
First off, this is not a slight on Chicago at all. We all remember what they did to the Falcons in the 2011 season opener at Soldier Field. However, if I had to choose the team that I believe gives the Falcons their best chance to exorcise their playoff demons 10 times and my choices were Green Bay, Chicago, and the New York Giants, Chicago would be my choice each time.
I know the Bears have a great defense, but somehow facing Jay Cutler in a playoff game at the Georgia Dome seems preferable to having to face Aaron Rodgers or Eli Manning again in a must-win situation.

Worst Case Scenario A:
The Falcons collapse down the stretch, winning the NFC South division but losing their hold on the NFC's top seed to San Francisco. The Falcons finish as the NFC's #2 seed, with the Giants as the NFC's #3 seed. The Giants win in the Wild Card Round and head to Atlanta for the Divisional Round.

Why this is a Worst Case Scenario:
Did you see the Falcons' offensive line trying to block the Giants' defensive front during last year's playoff game? The Giants have dominated two very good football teams this season in games against San Francisco and Green Bay.

They may be inconsistent, but coach Tom Coughlin gets the best out of his team and Eli Manning in January. I know a lot of Falcons fans may want to host the Giants in the playoffs to get revenge for last year's playoff game in New York, but the Giants are probably the conference's most difficult matchup for the Falcons because of their athletic front seven and their quarterback.

Worst Case Scenario B:
The Falcons again secure the NFC's top seed and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, the Bears win the NFC North and survive the Wild Card Round as the NFC's #3 seed, the Falcons are left to wait on the winner between #4 New York and #5 Green Bay in the Divisional Round

Why this is a Worst Case Scenario:
If the Giants won the Wild Card matchup over the Packers, then the reasoning from Worst Case Scenario A would apply here as well. However, for the sake of discussion, let's act as if Green Bay upset the reigning Super Bowl champs in the wild card round under this scenario.
Could you imagine the game week leading up to a visit from Green Bay in the Divisional Round under circumstances that would be eerily similar to 2010? All the Packers would have to do is put together two good touchdown drives and Falcons' home-field advantage would be over.

The Falcons are going to have to beat a team like the Giants, 49ers, or Packers if they want to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl, but a Divisional Round matchup with a Wild Card Green Bay team just isn't the Falcons' best path to the NFC Title game.

Atlanta Falcons

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