The Atlanta Falcons held off the New Orleans Saints Thursday evening, intercepting Drew Brees in the red zone to secure a 20-17 victory. The win improved them to 8-5, and moves them to a half game back of the Carolina Panthers and Seattle Seahawks in the wild card race.
None of that has any bearing on the San Francisco 49ers, but the Falcons win does push us a little closer to securing one of the 49ers opponents for 2018. The NFL has a formula for determining opponents each year. For next season, the formula breaks down as follows for the 49ers.
1. NFC West - 6 games
2. NFC North - 4 games
3. AFC West - 4 games
4. NFC South - 1 game
5. NFC East - 1 game
The NFC South and NFC East games come against the teams that finish in the same position in the standings as the 49ers. Right now, those teams are the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New York Giants.
The Bucs are 4-8, and with the Falcons win, are now 3.5 games behind Atlanta. If the Bucs lose or tie on Sunday, they will be locked into last place. If they win, they will be three games back with three to play, and the tiebreaker (first head-to-head, then divisional record) will still be uncertain. The Bucs lost one game to the Falcons, and have one to go. If the Bucs win out, they could win the divisional tiebreaker, as they would finish 3-3, and the Falcons would finish 2-4.
The Giants are 2-10, and sit three games back of Washington. In the same manner as the Bucs, the Giants lost one game to Washington and have one game remaining. If New York wins out, they can still surpass Washington. It is unlikely, but technically still possible.
It is worth noting, the 49ers are three games back of Arizona with four games left. If Arizona wins OR the 49ers lose on Sunday, San Francisco clinches last place as Arizona swept the head-to-head matchup.
For now, here is what the 49ers list of opponents would look like as the final quarter of the season starts.
Home opponents: Arizona, LA Rams, Seattle, Chicago, Detroit, Denver, Oakland, NFC East (NY Giants)
Away opponents: Arizona, LA Rams, Seattle, Green Bay, Minnesota, LA Chargers, Kansas City, NFC South (Tampa Bay)