The path is much clearer now. They’re NFC South champs, which means they’ll have at least one playoff game at home. If they beat New Orleans on New Year’s Day, they’ll be the NFC’s No. 2 seed, which would mean that at-least-one-playoff-game-at-home will come after a bye. For the Atlanta Falcons, this is the merriest of Christmases.
But this isn’t just about seeding. This is also about playing. With the possible exception of Green Bay, the Falcons are playing better than anyone in the NFC. Seattle showed in its Christmas Eve home loss to Arizona what we’ve suspected for a while: That these aren’t the Seahawks of the past four years, that Earl Thomas is hugely missed, that the best thing they had going for them is CenturyLink Field. If the Falcons win on Jan. 1, they won’t see/hear the 12th Man again this season.
Detroit is 9-5 but has outscored opponents by 16 points over those 14 games. (By way of contrast, the Falcons’ margin of victory over 15 games is 128 points, second-best in the NFL to New England.) The Giants are 10-5 but looked awful against Philadelphia and have outscored opponents by 17 points.
Best-case scenario for the Falcons: They’re the No. 2 seed; Seattle is No. 3 and Green Bay shades Detroit to win the NFC Central and is No. 4. The Seahawks beat No. 6 Detroit in the wild-card round and have to come here. (Seattle has won only two of seven road games.) The Giants upset Green Bay and then pick off Dallas at Jerry World, which would render the last bit of football staged in the doomed Georgia Dome an NFC championship game.
That’s assuming the Falcons keep winning, which isn’t a given. (And they’re only 4-3 at home.) But Christmas Eve could not have worked out better for them. As noted, I’ve gone from doubting this team to believing, and belief comes easier with each passing week. This is a very good team. I think it’s the NFC’s best team. I think it will grace Super Bowl LI. Happy holidays, y’all.
From yesterday in Charlotte: All hail the ascendant Falcons, NFC South champs.
From last Sunday: There could be a trophy in the Falcons’ future.
From last Monday: Fessin’ up: I was wrong about Kyle Shanahan.