For a good portion of the 2017 NFL season, the Atlanta Falcons have looked a little hungover. Maybe not full-blown bachelor party hungover, but they've been walking around like a mid-30s dad who had six IPAs the night before. Believe me, I can smell my own. But the Falcons should be thrilled, because they are looking like a good bet to lock up a second consecutive playoff berth after beating the Buccaneers on Monday night.
There was nothing pretty about the win; Julio Jones and Matt Ryan continue to look out of sync, and without Devonta Freeman truck-sticking dudes all over the field in Tampa, the Falcons probably lose this game. Ryan ran well (?) but only went 17 for 31 with 212 passing yards. The air game just looked out of whack against a Bucs defense that was gutted by injuries, with Gerald McCoy, Lavonte David and Vernon Hargreaves all declared inactive before the game began.
The news was worse for another team, however, as the Packers are now eliminated from the playoffs. Aaron Rodgers' heroic return was more brief than anyone could have anticipated. At 7-7, the Packers can't finish better than 9-7 and they would not hold a tiebreaker over the Falcons.
Atlanta's win also puts a real damper on the playoff hopes of the Cowboys, Lions and Seahawks, who are all now a full game back of the Dirty Birds.
Dallas and Seattle play next week in a literal winner-go-home game. Whoever loses will be immediately eliminated. The winner can go 2-0 and hope for the Falcons or Panthers to go 0-2. (They play in Week 17, which means it would be a win-or-go-home game too.)
The Lions suddenly have the easiest path to the playoffs in terms of their schedule, getting the Bengals in Week 16 and the Packers, who probably won't play Rodgers, in Week 17. The bad news is they need to win out and have the Falcons lose to both the Saints and Panthers over the next two weeks.
This is because the Falcons beat the Cowboys, Seahawks and Lions in head-to-head matchups during the regular season. If they are in any kind of tiebreaker -- two- or three-team, doesn't matter -- they win.
We got a lot of clarity on Monday night with Atlanta's win in the NFC, but don't sleep on chaos taking hold in Week 16.
Here's how the rest of the NFL playoff picture looks, as well as a snapshot of some games that could impact what it looks like after Week 15 and beyond.
AFC: Who's in
1. (y) New England Patriots (11-3)
A wild ending tosets up the Pats on a path to secure home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Beat the Bills and Jets and the No. 1 seed is New England's. It's hard not to see it happening.
2. (y) Pittsburgh Steelers (11-3)
The Steelers' hopes of hosting the AFC Championship Game likely went up in smoke on Jesse James touchdown catch, allowing the Patriots to win. The Steelers need a miracle to get home field now and have to win out to not get caught by Jacksonville, who owns the tiebreaker with them.that took away a
3. (x) Jacksonville Jaguars (10-4)
Another dominating and impressive effort from the Jacksonville Jaguars featured Blake Bortles playing some really good football, even without Leonard Fournette, and Jacksonville manhandling the Houston Texans to secure a playoff berth for the first time since 2007. Jacksonville is a legitimate threat to the AFC contenders.
4. Kansas City Chiefs (8-6)
Saturday night saved the Chiefs' season, with Kansas City thumping the Chargers at home and likely setting up a division title for Andy Reid, whose team has now won two straight games and looks much more explosive on offense than it did for several weeks in the middle of the season.
5. Tennessee Titans (8-6)
The Titans let Jimmy Garoppolo steal a victory from them and now are in very dangerous position to miss the playoffs, with games against the Rams and Jaguars remaining on the schedule.
6. Buffalo Bills (8-6)
The Buffalo Bills do not seem inclined to go away and not be a thing this season, and right now they are slotted as the No. 6 team in the AFC. If they go to play the Jaguars in the first round, they are going to get dusted.
AFC: Who's out
8. Los Angeles Chargers (7-7): Everything on the line Saturday night and the Chargers played a very Chargers-like game, eventually losing to the Chiefs in Kansas City. They need a lot of help to make the playoffs (namely the Titans losing out).
10. Miami Dolphins (6-8): Not entirely dead yet but pretty close -- the Dolphins needed to win out before losing to Buffalo on Sunday. Now they would need a crazy situation to make the playoffs.
AFC: Who's Eliminated
NFC: Who's in
1. (z) Philadelphia Eagles (12-2)
2. (y) Minnesota Vikings (11-3)
They completely and utterly dominated the Bengals in Week 15. That game was over by the end of the first quarter, for the most part. The Vikings could make some serious noise en route to potentially hosting a Super Bowl they're playing in come February.
3. Los Angeles Rams (10-4)
The Rams laid wood on the Seahawks on Sunday, putting themselves in a very good position to secure a playoff berth next week and dramatically shifting the power structure in the NFC West, at least for this season.
4. New Orleans Saints (10-4)
The Saints beat the Jets, but it sure wasn't pretty. This is a New Orleans team that has been scuffling a little bit lately and battling some injuries on the offensive line.
5. Carolina Panthers (10-4)
The Panthers drew the unfortunate straw of playing against Aaron Rodgers in his first game back, but did a heck of a job against the Packers quarterback, escaping with a critical victory. At 10 wins, they should be feeling pretty good about a playoff berth. The NFC South is still on the table.
6. Atlanta Falcons (9-5)
The win against the Bucs wasn't perfect, but it keeps the Falcons in a good position to make the playoffs and potentially win the division if they can manage to win out.
NFC: Who's out
7. Detroit Lions (8-6): The Lions kept their playoff hopes alive Saturday by handling the Bears at home. Detroit needs some help but can still make a playoff push.
8. Seattle Seahawks (8-6): The Seahawks got hammered by the Rams on Sunday and it's hard to imagine them making a playoff push after that embarrassing loss.
9. Dallas Cowboys (8-6): The Cowboys gutted out a win against the Raiders on Sunday night, keeping them within striking distance of a playoff spot. They still need help
NFC: Who's Eliminated
(x) clinched playoff berth
(y) denotes division winner
(z) denotes first-round bye
(*) clinched home-field advantage