FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- The Atlanta Falcons, the defending NFC champions, don't need a miraculous combination of events to happen to return to the playoffs.
"It's good to have control of our future," Falcons center Alex Mack said.
Their plight, after a losing 23-13 to New Orleans, is rather simple. Beat the Carolina Panthers and they will earn the No. 6 seed. The Falcons' regular-season finale is essentially a "win or go home" de facto playoff game.
If the Falcons lose and Seattle (9-6) defeats Arizona (7-8) at home, the Seahawks will earn the final spot.
The Falcons and Seahawks are both favorites to win.
"For us, it's pretty clear what's in front of us," Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan said. "We have to play better than we did (against the Saints)."
The Panthers defeated the Falcons 20-17 in Charlotte. on Nov. 5. The Seahawks beat the Cardinals 22-16 on Nov. 9.
"There is nothing magical about playing football," Mack said. "It's about 11 guys doing the right thing, hopefully at the same time. That's not what we did (against the Saints)."
The Falcons are elated to have the game at home after enduring the raucous atmosphere at Mercedes-Benz Superdome, where they were mocked on the scoreboard and during the halftime show with 28-3 Super Bowl LI references.
Against the Panthers, they must elevate their level of play, show more poise and eliminate the penalties that piled up against the Saints.
"If it was an easy thing to point it out, we would," Mack said of the penalties. "But it just seemed like a bad luck game."
The Falcons gave up a season-high 201 yards rushing against the Panthers in the previous meeting. Carolina quarterback Cam Newton did most of the damage rushing for 86 yards and a touchdown.
Rookie Christian McCaffrey added 66 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries.
The Falcons' run defense has vastly improved since that game. The defense gives up 105.2 yards per game and ranks eighth in the league.
"We understood what was at stake, a chance to solidify a spot the playoffs," defensive end/linebacker Vic Beasley said. "We were unable to do that. We look forward to going against Carolina, now."
Philadelphia, Minnesota, New Orleans, the Los Angeles Rams and Carolina have wrapped up the top five seeds. Atlanta and Seattle are vying for the final spot.
"It's motivation just to be in the playoffs," Beasley said. "We understand that if we won (the Saints) game we would have been in the playoffs. We understand that we have another opportunity next week."
The Falcons need to play mistake-free football against the Panthers, who have won three consecutive games and seven of their last eight.
"You can't make mistakes," Ryan said. "We made too many of them (against the Saints.) I thought we did some good things in terms of moving the ball, but weren't consistent enough with keeping it going. That's something that we have to correct. We have to be better than that moving forward."
The Falcons must figure out a way to get running back Devonta Freeman back rolling. He had perhaps the worst game of his career against the Saints.
He had two bad 15-yard penalties, a horrible fumble and got stuffed near the goal line.
The penalties troubled coach Dan Quinn. The Falcons were called for 10 penalties for 91 yards against the Saints.
"Totally uncalled for us to have those," Quinn said. "We need to recognize that there are going to be some aggressive fouls when you are playing a thousand miles an hour. Those are part of the game.
"The ones that we can control, we know, are the pre-snap ones. That's really having our discipline and being on it. ... To play clean and to play our best, that can be a factor."