If the Atlanta Falcons are to make the postseason for the first time since 2012 and avoid becoming the seventh NFL team since 1970 to start a season 5-0 and miss the playoffs, they almost certainly need to win their final three games and cross their fingers. Most tiebreaking scenarios do not favor the Birds.
Carolina (13-0) has clinched the NFC South, which means the Falcons (6-7) can only make the postseason by earning a wild card. They’ll need help to do that.
Seattle (8-5) and Minnesota (8-5) have two-game wild-card edges over the Falcons, Bucs, Giants and Eagles, who are all 6-7.
Tying the Vikings’ record won’t work, and tying Seattle will be tough.
Atlanta can pass the Seahawks and Vikings if Atlanta wins its last three games and Seattle and Minnesota both lose out.
But if Minnesota wins any of its last three games -- versus the Bears, Giants and Packers -- or Atlanta loses any of its last three -- at Jacksonville (5-8), versus Carolina and versus the Saints (5-8) -- the Falcons cannot pass the Vikings. If the teams finish with the same record, Minnesota owns the tiebreaker: a 20-10 win in Atlanta on Nov. 29.
Short of Atlanta sweeping out and the Vikings and Seahawks losing out, which would guarantee the Falcons a wild card, Atlanta might need help from other teams to stop Tampa Bay (6-7) from keeping pace. The Bucs, after all, beat the Falcons twice this season to capture that potential tiebreaker.
If the Falcons tie the Seahawks, a tiebreaking procedure would depend upon who each team beats in the next three weeks.
The first tiebreaker would be conference record, since the teams did not and will not meet this season. Atlanta is currently 4-6 versus the NFC, and Seattle is 6-4.
At best, the Falcons can tie the Seahawks’ NFC record if they beat the Panthers and Saints and Seattle loses to St. Louis and Arizona.
If the Falcons lose to either Carolina or New Orleans, they can’t surpass the Seahawks. That would give Atlanta seven NFC losses, and the Seahawks cannot fall to that mark even if they lose to both St. Louis (5-8) and Arizona (11-2).
So, any combination of an Atlanta loss to the Panthers or Saints or a Seahawks win over the Rams or Cardinals will give Seattle a tiebreaker edge.
Regarding potential tiebreakers with the most obvious remaining wild-card challengers other than the Vikings and Seahawks -- the Bucs, Giants, Eagles, Redskins and Packers -- Atlanta is 3-2.
The Falcons beat the Giants, Eagles and Redskins (who lead the NFC East with the same record as the Giants and Eagles) head-to-head, lost twice to the Bucs, and cannot match the Packers’ NFC record (currently 7-3) if the Vikings surpass Green Bay (9-4) to win the NFC North.