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Ten Thoughts on the NFL

Too early to start talking about the tank?

USC v Notre Dame Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

The Chicago Bears sit at 1-5 on the 2023 NFL season. They’ve traded away a receiver for a future late round pick swap they just spent their 2023 2nd rounder on. They haven’t had their defensive coordinator since Week 1 because... well, we don’t officially know why but it isn’t good. They lost their dynamic starting quarterback for at least some amount of time due to a thumb injury suffered during a game where the offense seemed to revert back to a bad high school football offense that had never seen a blitz before.


So, I ask you dear friends, is it too early to think about the tank? In other words, do we start looking at those precious draft picks in next year’s draft and dream about what could be? We haven’t even celebrated Halloween yet but I do think it’s fair to start taking a look at what this all means. For those of you new to watching draft order, your best resource is Tankathon. One of those websites that if I was a smart person, which I’m obviously not, I would’ve invented years ago instead of creating spreadsheets off to the side.

NFL draft order is determined by your record and then strength of schedule - but it’s the reverse of what you might think of with strength of schedule. The team with the weaker strength of schedule gets the higher draft selection than the team with the stronger strength of schedule. Generally that’s all the further you need to go to determine tie breakers. With the Bears owning the Carolina Panthers (0-6) first round selection as well as their own, they currently sit 1-2 in the draft order. Today’s column will rank the threats to the Bears losing out on the top selection by ranking teams with two or fewer wins. If a team already has three wins, I’m not currently worried about them challenging for the number one pick, but that is always subject to change.

10. The Los Angeles Chargers (2-3). Yes, the Chargers are doing their thing where they come into a season with high expectations only to fizzle out. They are a frustrating team to watch with talent up and down the roster that can never seem to pull it together. The Chargers fan base is so... modest, that when ESPN focused in on a passionate fan, many thought she was a paid actor. Somehow, this isn’t the weirdest story from the NFL.

The Chargers are too talented to be a threat to a top draft pick, plus they already had their bye week. After traveling to Kansas City this weekend, the Chargers should have an opportunity to start stacking some wins.

Games against other teams on this list: vs Bears, at Packers, at Patriots, vs Broncos, at Broncos

9. Green Bay Packers (2-3). Another team that already had their bye week, the Packers have a late comeback win against the Saints after they lost their QB and against the Bears on opening week. The first nightmare scenario for the Packers was avoided when Aaron Rodgers was lost for the season, shifting the compensation from a 2024 first rounder to a second rounder. Now Bears fans only have to worry about the Packers own first round pick.

The Packers are definitely a team resetting a year after Rodgers left town. They clearly weren’t incredibly committed to Jordan Love, but wanted to give him the year to audition. The stats are not particularly encouraging for Love early, which will likely limit their ceiling. However, just how low is the floor? The Packers look like a run of the mill bad team, not one epically challenged to be a threat to a top pick. I can see them winning 5-7. They may be bad enough to lose to someone like Carolina or Chicago, which would impact the Bears picks.

Games against other teams on this list: at Broncos, vs Vikings, vs Chargers, at Giants, at Panthers, at Vikings, vs Bears.

8. Minnesota Vikings (2-4). Assuming the Vikings aren’t going to trade Kirk Cousins, they will win more football games. As fun as it has been to watch Vikings fans finally realize just how charmed the 11-0 mark in one-score games was a year ago, some of this bad luck will turn eventually. Justin Jefferson should make his return at some point, which will be a boon to their offense. After this week’s game against the 49ers, the schedule opens up with a lot of winnable games.

Games against other teams on this list: at Packers, at Broncos, vs Bears, vs Packers

7. Tennessee Titans (2-4). I think we change the threat level color to a slightly different hue on the Titans. The Titans continue to be a fascinating team to watch. They are clearly not as talented as many NFL teams but they compete. This is a team that will be in most games late with a chance to win almost every week under Mike Vrabel. They, like Pittsburgh, are a team that is more than happy to get into a rock fight.

Why I start to at least worry just a bit about the Titans is that Ryan Tannehill suffered an injury in last week’s loss against the Ravens. The backup, Malik Willis, looked pretty rough in game action. Rookie Will Levis may not be ready to see real action. With a stretch of competent opponents, the Titans may be staring down the barrel of a losing streak after their bye week (Falcons, at Steelers, at Bucs, at Jaguars).

Games against other teams on the list: vs Panthers

6. Carolina Panthers (0-6). The Bears own this pick, so Bears fans want to continue cheering for Panthers losses. The threat, in this case, is the Panthers winning games to cost the Bears the top pick. The good news is that the Panthers are doing a great job of losing their early season games. They have only been within one score of their opponent twice so far this season, play a rookie quarterback who hasn’t performed well in the early going, and have a coach on the hot seat in his first season at the helm. Good!

The reason why they aren’t higher on the list is that I think they are a good bet to finish the year out as the team with the worst record in the league, netting the Bears that coveted pick. They do have a bye week to get right and prepare for the Texans, which will be a must-see game for Bears fans to keep the hope alive. Let’s hope they’re still flat after the break.

Games against other teams on the list: at Bears, at Titans, vs Packers

5. Arizona Cardinals (1-5). On to the one win teams! These are the teams that Bears fans need to start being concerned about. It may be odd to list the Cardinals this low, but they’ve been feisty! The Cardinals blew a late lead against the Giants to lose Week 2 and followed that up by knocking off the Cowboys in Week 3. Since then, the Cardinals have fallen back to earth with two score losses against the 49ers, Bengals, and Rams. So why are they ranked here?

There seems to be positive news on the return of Kyler Murray. With the new coaching staff and seemingly some fight in the red birds, I like their chances of snagging a few wins against teams like the Falcons or Steelers. However, their schedule overall is fairly tough.

Games against other teams on the list: at Chicago

4. New England Patriots (1-5). The Patriots are a mess. I admire Bill Belichick and his accomplishments in the league but the last three weeks have been a disaster for New England. After beating the Jets in a game that threatened to set back football forty years, the Patriots have been outscored 93-20. The defense, which many thought could be the best in football, has struggled and the offense looks like hot garbage. So, something Bears fans can identify with.

With Mac Jones seemingly falling out of favor in New England but with no viable backup options, this could go sideways in a hurry. The only saving grace is that Belichick is still a master at game planning. One would imagine he’ll grind out a few more wins to rise above the low water mark of a top draft pick.

Games against other teams on the list: at Giants, at Broncos

3. Chicago Bears (1-5). The Bears could absolutely be their own worst enemy with respect to a tank. The Bears had a chance late in the game against the Bucs. The Bears blew a lead against the Broncos. The Bears had a chance in a rock fight against the Vikings. Yes, this team has plenty of issues, from coaching to a lack of pass rush to the quarterback situation. Still, if Justin Fields can return to the lineup, there is enough evidence that the pieces can fit together for a few wins down the stretch. The reason I was so high on this Bears team to compete for a playoff spot entering the year (woof) was in large part due to the soft schedule. If the Bears do “earn” the first pick with this schedule, it will truly be a grand accomplishment in bad football.

Games against other teams on the list: vs Panthers, at Vikings, vs Cardinals

2. New York Giants (1-5). After getting smoked 40-0 on opening weekend against the Cowboys and coming out flat against the Cardinals, the Giants righted the ship, escaping the desert with a win against the Cardinals. And then their offense disappeared, leading to getting outscored 40-99 in their last four games.

This was a surprise playoff team a year ago but they simply looked outmatched against better teams in the last month. The good news is that the schedule does lighten up and they should have the opportunity to pull themselves out of the cellar here soon. I worry that if they don’t change things around soon, this losing streak could spin out of control and the Giants don’t have their bye week until late (Week 13). After that break, the Giants have the Packers and then a tough schedule to finish out the year (Saints, Eagles twice, Rams). Getting their act together against the Commanders and Jets, two strong defensive lines, in the next two weeks would be ideal.

Games against other teams on this list: vs Patriots, vs Packers

1. Denver Broncos (1-5). If not for the Bears epic second half collapse, we would be talking about the Broncos a lot more. This is one of the worst defensive units in the history of the game so far this season. They gave up 70 to the Dolphins, which, okay, the Dolphins are amazing. They also gave up 28 to the Bears and 31 to the Jets, who haven’t exactly lit up the rest of the league. So of course they limit the Chiefs to 19. Go figure.

The Broncos offense has been inconsistent at best. They have a new head coach in Sean Payton who said that the rules for tanking would likely need to change in the NFL because a team will do it for Caleb Williams. He’s a famous coach secure in his first year with the team. Could he have an eye on working with a talented rookie? Is Sean Payton someone we can trust will always follow the rules? Hmmmm.

Games against other teams on the list: vs Packers, vs Vikings, vs Patriots

What do you think? Will be the Bears get the first overall pick from their own pick, the Panthers pick, or will someone else swoop into the top spot?