The Oakland Raiders’ win over the Arizona Cardinals had zero impact on the NFL standings or the playoff picture, but it could prove to be one of the most important results of the 2019 offseason. With the last-second win, the Raiders improved to 2-8 and dropped the Cardinals to the same record.
Now, with six weeks left to play, there are three teams — the Raiders, Cardinals, and 49ers — tied for the rights to the No. 1 pick in the 2019 NFL Draft.
Unlike most years, the chase for the top draft pick might not be for a quarterback. Oregon’s Justin Herbert is the first passer off the board in the latest mock draft from Dan Kadar, but each of the three teams tied at the top have big investments at quarterback.
That means it could be a race for Ohio State defensive end Nick Bosa or Houston defensive tackle Ed Oliver at No. 1. It’ll just depend on how the top of the order sorts itself out.
For now, that top spot belongs to the 49ers. A tie in the draft order goes to the team with the lowest strength of schedule, and San Francisco edges Arizona and Oakland. The top 10 of the draft order through Sunday of Week 11 looks like this, with the strength of schedule for each in parentheses:
- San Francisco 49ers: 2-8 (0.509)
- Arizona Cardinals: 2-8 (0.534)
- Oakland Raiders: 2-8 (0.553)
- New York Jets: 3-7 (0.490)
- New York Giants: 3-7 (0.506)
- Buffalo Bills: 3-7 (0.519)
- Jacksonville Jaguars: 3-7 (0.5375)
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 3-7 (0.5380)
- Cleveland Browns: 3-6-1 (0.554)
- Detroit Lions: 4-6 (0.510)/Atlanta Falcons: 4-6 (0.510)
Thanks to the Raiders’ win, there are a whole lot of teams with a very real shot at the No. 1 pick — mathematically, at least. For any of the five three-win teams to actually get there, though, the trio at the top all need to find at least one win each.
It seems likely that at least one of the two-win teams finishes with six straight losses to end the year. Which of those teams has the best chance at losing out to get the No. 1 pick?
Oakland Raiders: 36 percent
Yes, the Raiders beat the Cardinals. Yes, they have the highest strength of schedule.
But good luck finding another Oakland win on the schedule. The Raiders still have two games against the Chiefs, a home matchup against the Steelers, and road games against the Bengals and Ravens.
Denver is the only team left for the Raiders that currently has a losing record. But the Broncos beat Oakland in Week 2 and have smoothed out the defensive struggles that plagued them early in the year.
The Chiefs seem like obvious losses for the Raiders too, but there’s a chance Kansas City has the division and a top seed in the AFC locked up by the time Week 17 rolls around. If that’s the case, the Raiders could have a chance at finishing the year with a win if the Chiefs rest their starters and send in the backups. Maybe.
While the 49ers have an effective running game, and the Cardinals are pretty good defensively, the Raiders aren’t really that great at anything. Only two teams score fewer points and only two teams allow more.
If any team is on a path to 2-14, it’s got to be the Raiders.
Arizona Cardinals: 32 percent
Both of the Cardinals’ wins came against the 49ers and the schedule isn’t going to lob any more softballs. They have road games against the Chargers, Packers, Falcons, and Seahawks, and home games against the Lions and Rams.
The most winnable matchups are likely against the Falcons and Lions, although Arizona also gave Seattle a run for its money in Week 4.
If there’s a reason to be optimistic about the Cardinals’ chances, it’s that the defense is No. 18 in the NFL and the offense is finally finding some rhythm. In seven games with Mike McCoy as offensive coordinator, Arizona never topped 18 first downs. In each of Byron Leftwich’s first two games in the role, the Cardinals had at least 20.
They weren’t as successful offensively against the Raiders, but don’t be surprised if the Cardinals find another win before the year is over.
San Francisco 49ers: 25 percent
Here’s the current leader in the draft order, but probably the least likely to lose out.
After a Week 11 bye, the 49ers will return with games against the Buccaneers, Seahawks, Broncos, and Seahawks again in the next four weeks. None of those teams have winning records right now, and San Francisco is probably better than the 2-8 record indicates.
The 49ers offense is No. 17 in total yards and the defense is No. 10. The problem for the team so far has been a combination of injuries, turnovers, and a tough schedule that already included matchups against the Vikings, Chiefs, Chargers, Packers, and Rams.
San Francisco still misses Jimmy Garoppolo, but Nick Mullens proved he can put points on the board. The 49ers have a good shot at getting another win soon.
New York Jets: 5 percent
In the scenario that the Raiders, Cardinals, and 49ers all win a game, most of the three-win teams would probably lose the strength of schedule tiebreaker even if they lost out. There’s still time for those numbers to change, but for now, the Jets are set up well to win that tiebreaker.
There’s a good chance they’re right there on the doorstep at 3-13 too. New York looked like a disaster in its last four games — especially in a 41-10 blowout loss to the Bills in Week 10.
The Jets finish the season with two games against the Patriots, home games against the Texans and Packers, and road games against the Titans and Bills.
The offense — led by rookie quarterback Sam Darnold — has been a turnover machine, and the defense has been inconsistent all year. The Jets could lose out, but it’d just take chaos at the top for them to get the No. 1 pick.
The field: 2 percent
It’s been a weird year so far in the NFL. Just look at the extraordinarily bizarre season the Bills are putting together.
So in a season when there’s no team like last year’s winless Browns, and when nine teams only have three wins through 11 weeks, why rule out calamity?
Is it likely that any team other than the Raiders, Cardinals, 49ers, or Jets grabs the first pick? Nope. It’s probably one of those four. But there’s always a chance for madness. We’ll put the field at just one in 50 odds here, but it’s not impossible.