The question isn’t “who will go No. 1?” but “who will be picking No. 1?” We’re into the final stretch of the 2023 NFL regular season and the race to the top of the board might look pretty clear, but scratch the surface and it’s wild.
What happens over the next five weeks won’t just determine which team is called on first in April, but could shake up every pick from No. 1 to No. 10 in some pretty drastic ways. Let’s begin with the picture as it looks right now.
2024 NFL Draft order as of Nov.29
Pick Team Record SOS Pick Team Record SOS 1 Chicago Bears (from Carolina) 1-10 0.513 2 Arizona Cardinals 2-10 0.560 3 New England Patriots 2-9 0.536 4 Chicago Bears 4-8 0.464 5 Washington Commanders 4-8 0.521 6 NY Giants 4-8 0.521 7 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 4-7 0.489 8 NY Jets 4-7 0.516 9 LA Chargers 4-7 0.528 10 Tennessee Titans 4-7 0.537
Can the Panthers win any more games?
That’s the biggest question to any scenario when discussing the top of the draft, and it’s a total crapshoot. The thing to watch here is that Carolina’s remaining schedule is pretty soft.
Five of the team’s remaining six games come against opponents with a losing record. Granted, the majority are 5-6, so they’re only barely below .500 — but it’s important to note nonetheless.
A lot will depend on how damaging Frank Reich was to the Panthers offense, and whether anyone in that building has any other ideas. For all the failure Carolina has managed in 2023 it’s interesting that four of their losses came by a single score or less — which leaves just a tiny bit of intrigue to their remaining slate, assuming there is any progress on offense.
Let’s assume for a second they’re able to win two games of their remaining six. Take it a step further and imagine they beat the Buccaneers twice. If that happens the team finishes at 3-14 on the year — and we’ll circle back to that in a bit.
What happens with Arizona?
Unlike Carolina, the Cardinals have a rough final five games in pocket.
The Bears represent the only possible win here, with the other four coming against teams with a .545 win percentage or better. Here’s where that game gets really weird: Nobody wants to win it.
Cardinals vs. Bears is a true tank-off, with the winner drastically hurting their draft opportunities. If the Cardinals win they would finish at 3-14 on the year and be at the mercy of New England because of strength of schedule. If the Bears win they move to five wins, potentially putting themselves out of the Top 10 with their own pick.
Where does New England fit into all this?
The Pats are a huge dark horse to wind up with the No. 1 overall pick. There are six games left on the schedule and many of them are losses, or tossups.
There is a very real chance New England drops all six of these games and locks themselves into No. 1 at 2-15, or win a couple and push themselves all the way down. Bill Belichick isn’t a coach who will allow this team to tank, so they’re going to fight for every win — even if the odds are slim they’ll pull it off.
What is clear though is that New England needs to be bad. They can’t more forward without getting a franchise QB, and that’s a lot trickier without one of the top three picks.
The mess at four wins
Here the picture just gets really muddy. If we look at the remaining schedule the Buccaneers are the current four win team to watch. This team has an identical slate to the Panthers, but obviously Tampa is a much better team.
If they find a way to drop all six of their remaining games, which is actually quite possible based on their inconsistent play. Then Carolina finds a miracle and wins three, and if we assume the Cardinals manage to eek out two wins, then Tampa Bay catapults to No. 1 in the NFL Draft because of their horrific .489 strength of schedule.
That SOS would change in these final weeks, but the numbers are on their side right now. This team would love to find a true franchise quarterback and the path is open if they’re willing to tank.
The Bears could wind up with either a dream, or a nightmare
Chicago really is the key to how this whole draft ticks because of their two first round picks which are almost-assured to be inside the Top 5. However, there is a weird path where this could go extremely bad.
Panthers beat Buccaneers twice, and any one other game
Bears win any two games of Browns, Cardinals, Packers on their remaining schedule
This is an unlikely, but possible scenario which would be horrific for Chicago. If this were to occur then Carolina’s pick falls to No. 4, and the Bears could be drafting as low as 15th with their own pick. They would miss on the quarterbacks, miss on Marvin Harrison Jr, and have to settle for an offensive tackle with their top pick.
Now, this could also go brilliantly for them. If the Panthers lose out (very possible) and the Bears lose out (also very possible) with the Cardinals and Patriots winning two games each, now the Bears are picking No. 1 and No. 2 — able to get a quarterback AND Harrison Jr, like they dreamed of a month ago.
The moral to this story: Nothing is set in stone
There’s been an assumption here that the top of the draft is pretty much a lock, but nothing could be further from the truth. The fact Carolina has a soft remaining schedule, including two games against the Bucs (who are also bad), really sets the table for a lot of weirdness to happen in the final games of the season.
Week 13 will go a long way to answer some of these big questions, and why it’s critical to watch if you’re a fan of these terrible teams. The Panthers play the Buccaneers in what could be a draft-defining matchup. Meanwhile Patriots vs. Chargers is a weird toss-up game because of LA’s inconsistency which could also play a big role in how this winds up.
If you’re a Bears fan you’re praying right now that everyone is right that Frank Reich wasn’t the biggest problem in Carolina. That certainly seems to be the case, but lest we forget that this was an organization who went 1-5 before firing Matt Rhule a year ago, then went on to win six of their remaining 11 games to almost be in the playoff hunt.
If nothing else we know this isn’t going to be boring, even for the worst teams in the NFL.
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