We've been a bit prickly about conceding the NFC South Division race to New Orleans with still a quarter of the season left to be played and the Falcons only one game back with a rematch with the Saints waiting on December 26, but Sunday's loss to Houston combined with New Orleans' easy win over the LIons all but ended any realistic talk of the Falcons defending their division ttile.
For Atlanta to win the NFC South now, they'd need to win out (at Carolina, vs. Jacksonville, at New Orleans, vs. Tampa Bay) and have the Saints drop at least two (at Tennessee, at Minnesota, vs. Atlanta, vs. Carolina) before potential tiebreakers (dependent on division record, so it would really help if the Panthers won that last game). Barring a major (Drew Brees) injury, that seems unlikely for the surging Saints.
Here's the bright side: As bad as the loss at Houston looked, it only showed up in the division race. The Saints actually helped preserve Atlanta's spot as the current No. 6 seed in the NFC by thumping the LIons, who share the same 7-5 record as Atlanta but lose the tiebreaker because of the Falcons' win at Detroit October 23.
Falcons fans should now start pondering what first round road game best fits Atlanta. As it was last week, Atlanta is scheduled to open up at New Orleans. The only other likely options would be at Dallas, the Giants (if New York can overtake the Cowboys and win the NFC East) or if the Saints can catch the 49ers and take the No. 2 seed, at San Francisco.
What's the lesser of evils? Certainly not New Orleans. Maybe Dallas? None of these options are appealing, but that's life as a wild card.