Thus, in the eyes of Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Todd Bowles, the playoffs are kicking off Sunday against the Falcons.
"Every game we play from here on out is a playoff game," Bowles said Wednesday, via team transcript.
Tampa Bay (5-7) is looking to hand Atlanta (6-6) its first division loss, avoid a season sweep and vault into first place all in one fell swoop.
The Falcons edged the Bucs, 16-13, in Week 7 and enter Sunday at 3-0 in the division.
The winner will be atop the NFC South standings regardless of the outcome between the New Orleans Saints (5-7) and Carolina Panthers (1-11). If the Bucs come out on top, they'll be 3-1 along with the Falcons but would have the tiebreaker based on their record versus common opponents. Seeded 10th in the NFC, the Buccaneers would jump up to No. 4 with a victory, evidence of the peril the loser will be in when it comes to playoff aspirations.
Looking to win a third straight NFC South title -- and Bowles' second in a row -- the Buccaneers would be hard-pressed to recover from a loss. It would put them two back in the standings with matchups against the Green Bay Packers and Jacksonville Jaguars ahead in each of the next two games before wrapping up against the Saints and Panthers.
The division won't be won on Sunday, but their chances to do just that will take a major blow if they fall. Bowles is well aware.
"It's December football," he said. "It's December football. It's a round-robin tournament until the end. We understand the importance of this game. If we can win this one, the next game will be more important than that one. It's the biggest game this week, it's the only game this week. It's a division rival. They're one game ahead of us -- we know we've got to try to catch up, they know they've got to keep a lead."