The NFC South will have three playoff representatives thanks to the Falcons' 22-10 victory at home over the Panthers. Atlanta grabs the final NFC invite, joining the No. 4 seed and division champion Saints and No. 5 seed Carolina, and keeping their chances of avenging last year's Super Bowl heartbreak alive.
The Falcons' win paired with a Seattle loss at home to the Cardinals means the Seahawks will miss the playoffs for just the second time in eight seasons under coach Pete Carroll.
Further crystallizing the NFC South playoff pecking order was a late touchdown surrendered by New Orleans — a pinpoint 39-yard dart from Jameis Winston to rookie Chris Godwin — resulting in the Saints securing the South but settling for the fourth seed and home game with Carolina, not the No. 3 seed and visit from the Falcons.
Is your head spinning yet?
Frankly, none of the South clubs' offenses were particularly impressive in Week 17. The Saints lost despite forcing three Winston giveaways; the Panthers' Jekkyl and Hyde offense was abysmal with Cam Newton, like Winston, tossing three picks alongside a 38.5 (!) rating; and the Falcons converted just 1-of-5 red-zone trips, requiring Matt Bryant to bail them out with a huge game.
But there's several ways to view the playoff matchups. The Saints host the Panthers — whom they swept convincingly in the regular season — and on one hand, it's incredibly difficult to beat a division rival twice, much less three times in a single season. But on the other hand, the Saints just fell to Atlanta a few weeks ago and, although Matt Ryan is the reigning MVP, it's fair to argue that the 2015 MVP — Newton — is a more dangerous draw.
The Panthers' 'D' can play with anyone but their mistake-prone offense may struggle more vs. an opportunistic Saints secondary than it likely would in consecutive weeks vs. Atlanta. Can Newton figure things out quickly and get back on the same page with Greg Olsen and Christian McCaffrey, both virtual nonfactors Sunday?
Then there's the defending NFC champion Falcons. Their offense hasn't played menacing games like it did on a weekly basis last season in consecutive weeks all season. But their 'D,' led by Deion Jones and Grady Jarrett, may be hitting its stride at the perfect time. It better, as a trip to the NFL's No. 1 scoring offense of the Rams will result in a long day if it doesn't have solutions for slowing Todd Gurley ready.
But the Falcons just needed to get into the playoffs. They've done it. And with that two-headed backfield and Julio Jones, they'll keep us wondering for another week whether the high-flying offense can reappear and make the cross-country trip to potentially begin another Super Bowl run.