Before this past weekend, the Falcons had the toughest remaining schedule based on opponents winning percentage. The Thursday Night Football matchup between the Colts and the Titans swayed the SOS (strength of schedule) rankings slightly, propelling the Jaguars to the top-ranked remaining SOS.
The Falcons remaining opponents (7) had a combined winning percentage of .661, while the Jaguars opponents (8) had a .672 combined winning percentage. The most notable difference between the two remaining schedules is the number of divisional games left. The Jaguars play (2) the Colts and Titans each once, while the Falcons play (4) both the Saints and Buccaneers twice.
I have written two articles recently in which I discuss the plausibility of the Falcons competing for a playoff spot next year. I gave my opinion on what a perfect offseason would comprise and a not so overreaction Tuesday insinuating Matt Ryan could bring a Super Bowl to Atlanta. How the Falcons finish out this season will be a telltale sign of whether those opinions are achievable.
The Chargers game is the only one left on the schedule the Falcons could be favored in. Atlanta, finishing out their matchups in the AFC West, plays against the Raiders and Chiefs. Both of those teams will be valuable benchmarks for the Falcons to see how much personnel turnover is needed — both are playoff-caliber teams.
The easiest way to make the NFL playoffs is to win the division, and the rest (outside the AFC West) of the Falcons’ games will be between division rivals. If the Falcons can win two out of the four games between the Bucs and Saints, there are grounds to mostly keep the roster intact. Since 2014, the Falcons are 10-4 (including this year) against the Panthers, 8-4 against the Bucs, and 6-6 against the Saints. Regardless of how well the Falcons play outside of the division, they always seem to compete within the division.
Last year, Atlanta did something spectacular in the second half of the season. The likelihood something equally sensational happens this year is slim to none, but I would not put anything past this team. The rest of the season is essentially a glimpse into the future. If they perform well, regardless of the outcome, against the Saints, Bucs, and Chiefs, I would almost guarantee that the next regime will try a one-offseason retool to reach the 2021 playoffs. If they perform poorly, then it is evident the Falcons are not as close as I think, and they are likely headed for a total rebuild.