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Saints' loss to Falcons disrupts NFC playoff picture

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Eleven yards away from burying his biggest rival in the NFC South race, Saints quarterback Drew Brees threw a pass that might haunt him until he faces the Falcons again. Luckily for him and NFL fans, that rematch is only two weeks away.

Falcons linebacker Deion Jones' interception was one of those plays that can change the shape of an entire season in an instant. Here are a few of the quick playoff picture ramifications from Atlanta's 20-17 victory:

The No. 1 seed in the NFC is all but out for New Orleans: A win over Atlanta on Thursday night would have put the Saints in truly commanding position to win the NFC South, considering they have already swept the Carolina Panthers. The Saints could have started to set their sights on home-field advantage in the NFC or a playoff bye. That's going to be a lot more difficult now with four losses, two more than the Vikings and Eagles. A head-to-head loss to the Rams also could hurt the Saints in seeding.

Even if the Saints do still win the division, it's likely now they will be playing on Wild Card Weekend.

The NFC South could come down to the Falcons-Saints rematch: Now 8-5, Falcons go on the road to Tampa in Week 15. If they can win that game, Atlanta will head to New Orleans for a pivotal Week 16 matchup with a chance to take over first place in the NFC South. The team started 7-5 last season, so they know how a hot finish can translate to playoff success. Thursday night's win over New Orleans, at the very least, gives the Falcons some breathing room in the wild-card race. Speaking of which ...

The road for the Packers, Cowboys and Lions just got tougher: The three pack of 6-6 NFC wild-card hopefuls need the Falcons, Panthers or Seahawks to slip up down the stretch. It's still quite possible that happens because of the difficult schedule all three teams face, but this win by Atlanta makes the path less likely.

The Panthers should be smiling too: Carolina has plenty of issues to worry about with their inconsistent passing game and the visiting Minnesota Vikings on Sunday. But the Panthers now join the Falcons and Saints in the "control their fate" NFC South party. The Falcons-Panthers game in Week 17 is going to be ripe with playoff implications. All three teams in the best division in football can win the division if they just win out. Deion Jones made sure of it.

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