A fierce battle has been raging between the Atlanta Falcons, the New Orleans Saints, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for the NFC South title. This weekend, all three NFC South teams could find themselves in a variety of playoff scenarios, depending on how they finish the regular season. Is it possible that a sub-.500 champion will emerge? Which team will fall across the line?
Playoff Chances in the NFC South for Week 18
The original version of this article was published on Jan. 7 at 8:05 a.m., a few hours before the start of the games on Sunday. Throughout the day, we will continue to update the results from this week's games.
As the No. 4 seed in the NFC, the Buccaneers have won the NFC South. The Philadelphia Eagles or Dallas Cowboys will play during Wild Card Weekend.
New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons have been eliminated from postseason play.
1:00 p.m. Eastern Time Games Update
Panthers (2-15) defeated Buccaneers (9-8)
The Saints (9-8) defeated the Falcons (7-10)
Vikings (7-10) lost to Lions (12-5)
4:00 p.m. Eastern Time Games Update
Bears (7-10) lost to Packers (9-8)
Read on to find out how the NFC South will fare in the playoffs as we enter Week 18. See how different scenarios change the playoff picture with PFN's free NFL Playoff Predictor.
Can the Falcons, Saints, and Buccaneers make it to the NFC South Playoffs?
At the beginning of Week 18, the Buccaneers control the outcome of the division. Their lead over the Saints in the NFL playoff tiebreakers is unassailable at 8-8.
Buccaneers 7-4 record against common opponents is superior to Saints' 5-6 record after head-to-head and divisional records.
With a win, the Buccaneers are guaranteed a spot in the playoffs, while a tie would also suffice if the Saints lose.
In Week 17, the Saints beat the Buccaneers, but it wasn't enough to give them the tiebreaking advantage.
The Buccaneers' scenarios for winning the NFC South are as follows:
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers defeat the Carolina Panthers
New Orleans loses to Tampa Bay, and Tampa Bay ties with Carolina
As a result, the Saints will need to better the Buccaneers' result in order to win the division. The Saints will host a playoff game regardless of whether they win or tie against the Falcons this week.
The Saints can clinch the NFC South by following these scenarios:
Tampa Bay fails to beat New Orleans, and Atlanta defeats New Orleans
The New Orleans Saints tie Atlanta and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers lose
In order to win the NFC South title, the Falcons must win. Both the Saints and Buccaneers are a game behind Atlanta, so a tie wouldn't suffice. Nevertheless, the Falcons must also lose this week to the Buccaneers. Buccaneers' winning percentage would improve if they avoided a loss.
The Falcons would win if the Buccaneers lose, giving them the NFC South title with a 4-2 record over a 3-3. Atlanta will lose out on the postseason regardless of whether they win or lose to the Buccaneers.
Here is what the Falcons would need to do to win the NFC South:
New Orleans loses to Atlanta, while Tampa Bay loses to Atlanta
NFL Playoff Scenarios for Week 18
On Wild Card Weekend, the winner of the NFC South will host the runner-up of the NFC East - either the Dallas Cowboys or Philadelphia Eagles. On Divisional Weekend, they would likely face either the No. 1, No. 2, or No. 3 seed on the road.
If the No. 2 and No. 3 seeds are eliminated on Wild Card Weekend, the NFC South champion could host multiple playoff games. The NFC South champion could potentially host the NFC Championship Game if the San Francisco 49ers lose on Divisional Weekend.
Wild Card spots are available to any NFC South team?
Saints and Buccaneers can make the postseason as Wild Card teams, but Falcons must win the NFC South to make the playoffs. It would take at least two other results to favor the Buccaneers and Saints in the Wild Card picture to make it through.
Losing prevents the Buccaneers and Saints from being Wild Card teams. For the Buccaneers to win in Week 17, they would need to tie against the Panthers, lose against the Seattle Seahawks, and lose to the Green Bay Packers. In any other scenario, they would not qualify for the postseason without a Buccaneers' win.
The Saints must win in Week 18 in order for the Packers and Seahawks to lose. To qualify for the Wild Card, New Orleans needs both the Seahawks and Packers to lose if they tie with the Falcons. It will eliminate the Saints from playoff contention if they fail to do so.
With our FREE NFL Playoff Predictor, you can predict the rest of the 2023 season. Are you looking for the most recent NFL standings? Are there any depth charts or NFL schedules available? You'll find all that and more on Pro Football Network!
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A win against the Panthers secures the NFC South crown for the Buccaneers. Against the Carolina Panthers on Sunday, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers won the NFC South for the third consecutive year.
Chase McLaughlin helped the Buccaneers secure the fourth seed in the NFC playoffs with kicks of 36, 57, and 39 yards.
RB Rachaad White tallied 75 yards rushing on 19 carries for the Buccaneers (9-8).
The Atlanta Falcons were eliminated from playoff contention with their win. If the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks lose, the New Orleans Saints will be able to earn a wild-card spot.
Mayfield gets it done
The Buccaneers' final regular season game wasn't pretty, but it was just enough. With Tom Brady's retirement, Mayfield faced a massive challenge in Tampa. In the NFC South title game and playoffs, Bucs' former No. 1 overall pick-turned-journeyman scratched and clawed his way. Although hampered by rib and ankle injuries, Mayfield delivered a gritty performance. — Mike Jones, NFL national writer
Bowles guides the ship
After last year's disappointing postseason, Todd Bowles entered this season under great pressure. The Buccaneers retooled on the fly this season, shedding aging and high-paid veterans and integrating young players. The Bucs haven't had it easy this season. Three wins, followed by four straight losses and six in a row. Yet again, the Bucs are in the postseason after a 5-1 finish. — Jones