Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan is sacked by Dallas Cowboys defensive end Demarcus Lawrence during the second quarter in a NFL football game on Sunday, Nov. 18, 2018, in Atlanta. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

Falcons’ playoff chances better than zero

Atlanta’s microscopic hopes hang on result of Thursday’s game in New Orleans

For all the gloom and doom surrounding the Falcons and their playoff chances, there may a little more light above the clouds hovering over the team than one might think.

Various computer projections suggest that Atlanta has between a 6 percent and 9 percent chance to make the postseason. That’s better than zero.

First, the easy-to-understand part:

At 4-6 after Sunday’s 22-19 loss to the Cowboys, Atlanta today will begin preparing for Thursday night’s game at New Orleans (9-1) with a microscopic chance of catching and passing the Saints for the NFC South title. They’re five games back, and a loss Thursday would wipe out the last sliver of that shot.

A wildcard spot remains more in play, although the Falcons didn’t much want to talk about that after the Cowboys beat them on a field goal as time expired in Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

“Right now, I’m just looking at the next game on Thanksgiving night,” said wide receiver Calvin Ridley. “We have to get us a big one.”

A win in New Orleans would be big, alright, but pretty much as a step toward moving into one of the two NFC wildcard spots.

The Falcons trail Carolina (6-4) for the first wildcard with a win over the Panthers in hand and a road game coming against them.

They trail Minnesota (5-4-1) by a game and a half, but they have company between themselves and the Vikings.

Without getting into who holds what tiebreakers, Atlanta also trails Seattle (5-5), Dallas (5-5) and Green Bay (4-5-1) with a road game coming against the Packers. The Lions (4-6) are even with the Falcons.

The toughest game of the six remaining is on deck in New Orleans (9-1). After that, the Falcons will play Baltimore (5-5) at home, at Green Bay (4-5-1), home against the Cardinals (2-8), at Carolina (6-4) and at Tampa Bay (3-7).

Head coach Dan Quinn wasn’t in a mood to speculate.

“Honestly, for us, the only thing on our minds is getting ready to go fight and play on Thursday night,” he said. “And that's where our focus will lie heading into this week for the preparation to get ready to go play a game . . . 

“For sure it's uphill. We know that . . . Honestly, all our focus, all our energy, and intent are right into this week's preparation. That's the best thing we can do right now.”

There is speculation generated by computers that simulate all games remaining to be played.

The New York Times’ NFL Playoff Machine pegs the Falcons’ playoff chances at 9 percent with less than a 1 percent chance of them winning the division.

 Football Outsiders gives Atlanta a 6.3 percent chance to earn a wildcard.

 At Playoff Status, the computer gives Atlanta a 4 percent chance to earn the second wild card and a 2 percent chance to capture the first.

 FiveThirtyEight says the Falcons have a 9 percent shot at making the playoffs via wildcard.

The Falcons don’t want to hear about computers.

“Ain’t nothing to say. Some times we talk too much,” said defensive tackle Grady Jarrett. “It ain’t nothing to say, but go back to work.”

If the Falcons can win five of their final six games to finish 9-7, chances are pretty good they’ll be right in the mix for one of the wildcard spots because their competitors have stiff schedules remaining

The Panthers’ remaining slate: Seattle, at Tampa Bay, at Cleveland, New Orleans, Atlanta, at New Orleans.

The Packers’: at Minnesota, Arizona, Atlanta, at Chicago, at N.Y. Jets, Detroit.

The Seahawks’: at Carolina, San Francisco, Minnesota, at San Francisco, Kansas City, Arizona.

The Cowboys’: Washington, New Orleans, Philadelphia, at Indianapolis, Tampa Bay, at N.Y. Giants.

The Lions’: Chicago, L.A. Rams, at Arizona, at Buffalo, Minnesota, at Green Bay.

It may be prudent to keep the Redskins (6-4) in mind. They lead the NFC East by a game over Dallas, but lost starting quarterback Alex Smith on Sunday to a season-ending leg injury. 

If they slip from atop their division and into wildcard competition, the Falcons would have the head-to-head edge over Washington with their win against the Redskins. 

“At the end of the day, it’s about the next game . . . “ said cornerback Robert Alford. “We have to take it one game at a time. The thing that gets you to the playoffs is (wins) and that’s our main focus.”

Yeah, the goal is to get in

The Packers in 2010 had a slew of players on injured reserve, and limped to a 3-3 finish on the way to capturing the second wildcard spot. They clinched that berth with a sluggish 10-3 win at home over the Bears.

Then, they blitzed through the postseason – including a 48-21 win in Atlanta -- and beat the Steelers in the Super Bowl.

“Stranger things have happened,” said left tackle Jake Matthews. “I can say that we’re going to work hard. We’ll be ready to go. That’s where we are at right now.”

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