Here's basically how the picture looks. I'm going to concede the divison to the Panthers at this rate. Assuming they can beat Tampa Bay next week, they will have a 2-game lead on both of us (assuming we of course beat the Saints). So here's a breakdown of what the 3 teams that are our biggest obstacles for the wildcard hunt look like down the stretch.
The Bucs have 3 tough games out of their remaining 4. @. Carolina, @ New England, and then us at home. They close out the year at home vs. the Saints. But there is a good possibility that they will go 1-3 down the stretch.
The Giants finish: @ Philly, vs. KC, @ Washington, and vs. Oakland. The Cowboys are a little tougher vs: KC, @ Washington, @ Carolina, and vs. St. Louis.
We of course have: NO, @ CHI, @ TB, and vs. CAR.
So Carolina, Philly, and Washington seem to be the teams that can do the most to help the Falcons, other than ourselves.
Now let's break it down...
Assume we beat the Saints, lose to the Bears, beat the Bucs, and beat the Panthers. That means we finish with a 10-6 record. If the Bucs manage to win 2 games remaining, but lose to both us and the Panthers, we will finish 2nd place, because we'll have the better division record at 4-2, while the Bucs are 3-3.
Now lets say the Giants go 3-1 the remainder, we need the Cowboys to go 2-2. If the Cowboys managed to go 3-1 the rest of the way, we would lose to them in the tiebreaker because with our 3-1 remaining record, we'll go 7-5 in the conference, while even if the Cowboys lost to Carolina, they would wind up 8-4. Basically a 10-6 tie between the Cowboys and Falcons means the Cowboys are moving on.
Well what happens if the Giants only go 2-2 the rest of the way and finish 10-6 as well? Well we need them to lose both games to their NFC opponents (WAS & PHI) because if they win just one (again assuming we finish 3-1), they win that tiebreaker. And if that's the case, we would win the next tiebreaker against common opponents, because we would have a 4-1 record vs. their 2-3 record vs. our shared opponents (PHI, NO, MIN, and SEA).
If both the Giants and Cowboys finished 10-6, and both teams lost their remaining divison games, the Giants would win the division because they would have a tying divisonal record (3-3), but the Giants will have won their common games tiebreaker with a 8-4 record vs. the Cowboys 7-5 record against shared opponents. Of course that is dependent on the Cowboys only loss being to Washington, and beating Carolina, KC, & St. Louis, and the Giants beating both KC and Oakland, but losing to Washington & Philly. If that's the case, and the Bucs finish 10-6 under the previously mentioned conditions, we will make the playoffs as the last wildcard team.
So with all this info and speculation absorbed into your head, our best chances of making the playoffs would seem to be if the Bucs finished the year 2-2. I didn't include the Vikings (7-5) in this scenario because we hold the head 2 head tiebreaker on them, and basically they would have to finish ahead of us in order to get in over us. Meaning based on this scenario, they would have to run the table the rest of the way, which will be hard even with them hosting Pittsburgh and Chicago down the stretch.
Of course we help ourselves immensely if we win all 4 of our games, but let's say we don't. The only game we can truly afford to lose is the Bears game. It really helps us if the Panthers beat the Bucs next week. If that's the case, and the Bucs manage to beat the Patriots and Saints and lose to us, we'll win the tiebreaker. But if the Bucs somehow beat the Panthers next week, of course losing to the Pats helps a ton, but we also need them to lose to the Saints as well. They can't win more than 1 divison game the rest of the way.
So as it stands right now, our best chances of making the playoffs rest on the Bucs losing some games. So we should all be Panthers fans next week, and Patriots fans the following week.
"Vincere scis, Hannibal, victoria uti nescis" -- Maharbal, 216 B.C.E.