It was a great Thursday night. Not only did the Chicago Bears win a football game, but they tallied another loss on the Carolina Panthers resumé and helped their chances at landing the always precious number one overall pick.
With that result, there are now four teams that are contenders for the top overall spot. Those teams are the aforementioned Panthers, the Arizona Cardinals, New England Patriots and the New York Giants. The Giants and Patriots sit at 2-7, the Panthers and Cardinals sit at 1-8.
Each of these teams have eight games remaining. If you have read any of my previous articles on this subject or listened to me discuss it on the podcast. I look at this as a number one pick survivor. Once you reach your fourth win on the season, you are eliminated.
Now, it is, of course, possible that a 4-13 team could be the worst team in the league, but I looked, the last season where the league’s worst record was four wins was the 2003 season so the odds that a team finished with three or less wins is highly likely.
If we throw three-win teams into the mix, we would add another six teams (the Bears included), but if we stick with the same idea of being eliminated at 4 wins, those six teams have between 7 and 9 games remaining to eke out one more win, the odds are good that each one of those teams won’t finish the season on an epic losing streak. Again, it’s possible, but we are going with probability here.
Let’s use FPI and rank the four teams' odds at landing the first overall pick.
4. New England Patriots 2-7
It’s certainly surprising to have the Patriots listed with this group but not shocking. The Patriots have been trending the wrong direction since Tom Brady left for Florida, and many feel Bill Belichick has lost his fastball.
Regardless of why the Patriots are here, they are here. But I think the odds the Patriots land this pick are pretty small. FPI has them listed with a 2.9% chance, and that seems about right. There are two things going against the Patriots, first of all, they have two wins, which means two more victories, and they are eliminated from first pick survivor. And truthfully, here’s the other thing working against them, of these four teams, they have the best strength of schedule.
SOS is used as the tiebreaker for draft position. Teams with the weaker schedule draft first. The theory being if two teams have the same record, the team that played the softer schedule is the lesser team.
So truth be told, for the Patriots to land the top spot, not only do they need to finish with the worst record, they have to do it alone, any ties with Arizona or Carolina will result in the Patriots losing that tie breaker.
I also find it hard to believe that a Belichick-led team will finish with 3 wins. I see this Patriots team getting to 5 wins before the season wraps up.
3. New York Giants 2-7
The Giants are certainly an interesting case because of what’s transpired during the season. Their QB2, Tyrod Taylor has been ruled out for several weeks, and reports are that he may miss the rest of the season. And after that occurred, QB1 Daniel Jones was injured last Sunday and tore his ACL, and he is out for the year. That means UDFA rookie Tommy DeVito and Bears legend Matt Barkley will be the QBs on the roster to finish out the year.
That’s certainly a wild card that makes it difficult to figure out where the Giants will fall by season’s end. On top of that, the Giants currently have the second softest strength of schedule of the four teams, and their remaining strength of schedule is the 6th most difficult in the NFL and the toughest remaining of these teams.
The Giants remaining strength of schedule is weighted by three impossible games for them. Two against Philadelphia and one on the road against Dallas. But there are some winnable games. They have the Commanders, Patriots, Packers and Rams remaining on the schedule. There will be an opportunity to grab another victory or two, but to do that, they will absolutely need some level of decent quarterback play.
2. Arizona Cardinals 1-8
The Cardinals are another wild card team here for the same reason as the Giants: quarterback play.
This Cardinals squad is a bad football team, there’s no doubt about that. But how much will this team be elevated with the return of Kyler Murray? He returns this week for Arizona and while he certainly isn’t an elite quarterback, he’s absolutely in the top half of the league and easily the best QB playing for these four franchises competing for this top spot.
The Cardinals have the second toughest strength of schedule overall, and they are just behind the Giants for the toughest remaining schedule. Their most winnable games remaining are against the Rams, Falcons and Bears.
When you look at what’s up against the Cardinals, a 2-15 finish is probable, but Murray is the wild card. Could he elevate this team and grab an extra win or two? 3-5 to finish the year is going to be a tall order even for Murray, so the hope here is probably that the Cardinals can steal another win, finish 3-14, and lose a tiebreaker to Carolina based on strength of schedule.
1. Carolina Panthers 1-8
Thanks to that victory last night, the Bears have pushed the Panthers back into a tie (at least for now) with the Arizona Cardinals at 1-8 and give themselves the best chances (43%) to earn the number one pick overall.
The key with the Panthers right now is their strength of schedule. They have the softest strength of schedule of the four teams by a decent margin, and their remaining strength of schedule is the 24th easiest in the NFL.
If the strength of schedule holds up, that tie breaker is going to be a massive advantage for Chicago via Carolina. Tie goes to the Panthers against these teams, while that’s subject to change, the Bears are going to be in a very good position to land the top pick because of that advantage. It’s getting closer and closer to the Bears landing in the top two spots, and that’s where the money is in this draft.
For the Panthers to really push themselves out of the top 4, they are going to have to win at least five games. Asking this team to finish the year 4-4 seems like an impossibility. Even if they finish the year 3-5, a 4-13 Panthers team still feels like it will most likely be no worse than the third overall pick with that tiebreaker.
At this point, it feels like the Panthers are about a 90% certainty to give Chicago a top 3 pick, with about a 70% likelihood of a top two pick and as stated previously, about a 40% chance at the top overall selection.
If I had to predict how things finish at the bottom, here’s what I would say at present:
1. Arizona Cardinals 2-15
2. Chicago Bears (via Carolina Panthers 3-14)
3. New York Giants 4-13
4. Chicago Bears 5-12
5. Las Vegas Raiders 5-12
6. New England Patriots 5-12
7. Green Bay Packers 6-11
8. Tampa Bay Buccaneers 6-11
9. Los Angeles Rams 6-11
10. Denver Broncos 6-11