We’re at that point in the 2015 NFL season where the chaff is being separated from the wheat. It’s only the start of week 9 and Head Coaches Joe Philbin in Miami and Ken Whisenhunt in Tennessee have already been fired. Fans of under-performing teams have reconciled to themselves that they might just as well start making quilts out the scraps and have set their sights on, at least, salvaging the 2015 season with the #1 overall pick in the 2016 NFL draft.
There are currently nine teams with only two or fewer wins on the season. Three of these teams are (believe it or not) still mathematically in the hunt for winning their division which would automatically place them in a playoff team draft slot. Two of these three teams (Tennessee and Jacksonville) both play in the AFC South and are only 1½ and ½ game out of first place respectively in their division. Jacksonville’s remaining opponents win percentage is a paltry 0.377 while Tennessee’s is 0.545. Two of the Jaguars’ remaining games are against the Titans who have, from all outward appearances, packed it in for the season. Winning either or both of those games would, in effect, eliminate Jacksonville from the #1 overall pick as it would virtually assure that Tennessee would end up with a worse record.
The third team still in the running for a divisional title is the Dallas Cowboys. They currently sit only 1½ games out of first place in the putrid NFC East. Their only two wins on the season came with Tony Romo under center before he was placed on Injured Reserve (designated to return) with a broken collar bone. If the Cowboys had to rely on the likes of Brandon Weeden and/or Matt Cassel for the rest of the year, I would keep them in the running for the #1 pick. However, by most reports, Romo is scheduled to return week 11. In the seven games that he would be eligible to start, two are against their NFC East rival Washington Redskins. A win in one or both of those games would eliminate the Cowboys from the #1 pick and could (ironically) put the Redskins back in the hunt.
So, after pruning out the Jaguars and the Cowboys, that now leaves seven teams as the front runners for the #1 overall pick. Two of these seven, the Cleveland Browns and the Baltimore Ravens, face each other in Cleveland in week 12. Frankly, looking at the remaining schedules for these two teams, I only see one game for each where they have a legitimate chance for a win other than against each other in week 12. For Baltimore, it’s in week 10 at home against the Jaguars and only then because it comes after the Ravens’ bye week and gives them a chance to get healthier. For Cleveland, it’s in week 14 at home against the San Francisco 49ers. Simply by looking at the remaining schedules for these two teams, Baltimore has the greater chance to end up with a better season record. Baltimore’s remaining opposition has a winning percentage of 0.483 while Cleveland’s remaining opponents have a winning percentage of 0.532. Cleveland ends up in last place in the AFC North again with 2 or 3 wins while Baltimore avoids the AFC North cellar with 3 or 4 wins. Scratch Baltimore from the race.
That now leaves 4 two win teams and 2 one win teams for a total field of six.
- Detroit Lions: 1-7-0 (0.125) Opponents record to date – 34-26-0 (0.567) Remaining 31-27-0 (0.534)
- Tennessee Titans: 1-6-0 (0.142) Opponents record to date – 23-30-0 (0.434) Remaining 36-30-0 (0.545)
- San Diego Chargers: 2-6-0 (0.250) Opponents record to date – 31-29-0 (0.517) Remaining 31-27-0 (0.534)
- Cleveland Browns: 2-6-0 (0.250) Opponents record to date – 30-29-0 (0.508) Remaining 33-29-0 (0.532)
- San Francisco 49ers: 2-6-0 (0.250) Opponents record to date – 35-26-0 (0.574) Remaining 32-29-0 (0.525)
- Chicago Bears: 2-5-0 (0.286) Opponents record to date – 29-24-0 (0.547) Remaining 33-33-0 (0.500)
Of these six teams, the Chicago Bears have the easiest remaining schedule. If fact, three of the Bears’ remaining opponents (San Diego, San Francisco and Detroit) are among the six teams shown in the above. Any combination of wins against these three opponents improves the Bears’ record and worsens the other team’s record. So, scratch Chicago from the race.
The 49ers and the Lions each have two of the remaining five teams on their schedule. The 49ers play Cleveland in week 14 and Detroit in week 17 and the Lions play Chicago in week 17. One win by either team in these games could take them out of the running.
The Niners have to travel to both Cleveland and Detroit in December. Both of those games will probably be un-watchable except for the fact that they could have a major impact on the draft order. Should San Francisco lose both, then the Browns and the Lions would improve their record to the point where the #1 pick is out of reach. If, however, the Niners manage to win one or both, they would remove themselves from contention and leave the either the Browns or the Lions still in the hunt. The Lions, on the other hand, face a difficult schedule all the way to week 16. It is entirely within reason that they could enter week 16 with a 1-13-0 record and their draft spot could be determined by the outcome of these final two games.
The enigma in this race, as they have been all season, are the San Diego Chargers. For them, the key week in determining their draft slot could be this coming week 9 against the Chicago Bears. They also have five division games left . . . two each against Kansas City and Denver and one against Oakland. The Chargers have a history of playing division foes tough in the second half of the season. It would almost require that the Chargers lose out to get them into the top spot of the draft and I just don’t see that happening.
The Titans have currently won only a single game this season against teams with a combined winning percentage of only 0.434. Their remaining opponents this season sport a winning percentage of 0.545. If they could muster only one win against sub 500 teams, how are they going to fare any better against the teams they have left? Add in the fact that their starting quarterback is injured for a period of time and they have already jettisoned their Head Coach and it certainly looks as if Roger Goodell will be calling on the Titans for the first pick when the 2016 NFL Draft starts.