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Which NFL team could steal the No. 1 draft pick from the Dolphins?

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Miami is clearly in tank mode, but it may have some competition in the race to the bottom. We debate the chances of another team finishing worse than the Dolphins.

Cincinatti Bengals v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

The Dolphins’ plans for 2019 have been clear since the offseason; this team had no interest in contending.

Miami has been selling off valuable parts and accumulating young players and draft assets throughout the year. Out went players like Ryan Tannehill, Ja’Wuan James, Cameron Wake, Danny Amendola, Frank Gore, Laremy Tunsil, Kenny Stills, and Minkah Fitzpatrick. In came cap space — an estimated $117 million and counting — and draft picks, six of which are currently slated to fall in the top 65 next spring.

This has all but guaranteed the Dolphins a spot near the top of the 2020 NFL Draft, but they still have competition if they want to snag their quarterback of the future at No. 1 overall. The 2019 season has provided fertile ground for bad teams. Six remain winless through four weeks of the season. Miami will play three of those teams — including two dates against the 0-3 Jets — before their race to the bottom is finished.

Who could usurp the Dolphins’ claim for the top pick of next year’s draft? There are a handful of candidates, but maybe none as sad as ...

Which is the saddest non-Dolphins team through four weeks of 2019?

Christian D’Andrea: The Bengals, who are a cauldron of regret. Cincinnati was supposed to change its culture after firing Marvin Lewis after 16 years and zero playoff wins. Then the franchise set new coach Zac Taylor up for success by ... re-signing shaky Lewis holdovers like Bobby Hart, C.J. Uzomah, and the oft-injured Tyler Eifert. The Bengals have few positives along an offense that’s been torturous to watch in 2019. Joe Mixon has run for a mere 3.2 yards per carry, Cincinnati has turned only three of its 11 trips to the red zone into touchdowns, and Andy Dalton currently has his lowest quarterback rating since his 2011 rookie campaign.

Three of the team’s 10 drives in a Monday Night Football showcase against the Steelers ended in negative yardage. Dalton was sacked eight times for -69 yards that night, leaving him with an average net gain of 2.26 yards per dropback. Dalton is not that bad, but his offensive line, hoooo boy, certainly is.

The defense isn’t appreciably better. In the past two weeks. the Bengals have given up 48 total points to teams quarterbacked by Josh Allen and Mason Rudolph.

Morgan Moriarty: The Arizona Cardinals, who we were hoping would be more fun than this. The Kliff Kingsbury experiment is, well, not off to a great start. Despite showing promise in an opening-week tie against the Detroit Lions, Arizona has lost its last three games by a combined 41 points.

The defense ranks 29th in the league, and the Cardinals are giving up a whopping 418 yards per game. Even the veterans are underperforming, as Revenge of the Birds pointed out after last week’s loss vs Seattle:

The defensive line has been pushed around all season: Corey Peters and Rodney Gunter have been as absent from the stat sheet as the highlight reels, and Andy Isabella has the same number of tackles as Brooks Reed (2). At linebacker, Jordan Hicks actually leads the leads the league in tackles with 48, but too many of them have been downfield and he’s been absolutely useless in pass coverage. Tramaine Brock has been another disappointment in the secondary, especially with his ridiculous penalty last week. Finally, two younger veterans—Budda Baker and Haason Reddick—haven’t made the leaps we need them to.

Sure, having a first-year head coach and franchise quarterback means there will be some growing pains, but there hasn’t been much to feel good about, especially now that the Cardinals have gone winless in September for the second year in a row.

Adam Stites: Washington, which is a mess. The quarterback disaster for the team was summed up by coach Jay Gruden when he answered a question about the plan for Week 5.

There’s Case Keenum, who had 37 whole passing yards and an interception when he was yanked in the middle of the second quarter in Week 4. He also threw three interceptions in the week prior and is dealing with a foot injury.

Rookie Dwayne Haskins replaced Keenum when he left, but threw three interceptions and looked lost.

The third option is Colt McCoy, a longtime backup who was 0-2 when thrust into starting duty last year. McCoy, who missed the first part of the season with an injury, will get the call in Week 5 — against, gulp, the Patriots and their No. 1 defense.

It’s a bad situation no matter what, because no quarterback fixes this. It averages 2.9 yards per rushing attempts, it’s still without left tackle Trent Williams, and the defense has allowed the second-most points in the NFL.

Washington is getting worse and could easily lose to the Dolphins in Week 6.

Sarah Hardy: Somehow, Washington’s quarterback situation could be even worse behind the scenes. The latest report is that Jay Gruden never even wanted to draft Haskins, something that’s not lost on the rookies.

In the early part of the season, there’s a lot of bleakness to go around. Sam Darnold is a walking Zoloft blob — he has mono! he hope he doesn’t die! — but once his spleen is good to go, the Jets should at least be able to compete again.

The Broncos could easily be 2-2 if not for blowing two games (with the help of some questionable roughing the passer calls) — and that was before they lost their promising young pass rusher, Bradley Chubb, for the season.

At the moment, though, it’s hard to beat the clown show that is the Washington franchise, though.

Is there any hope these teams could be just average bad instead of catastrophically awful?

Hardy: On the other hand, just because Washington has been ... let’s just say, the football equivalent of the political center of our country ... doesn’t mean the team is completely hopeless. Rookie wideout Terry McLaurin was out there setting records until a hamstring injury kept him out of Week 4 (which also cost his former Ohio State teammate, Haskins, a safety blanket to throw to).

Even if Haskins doesn’t play another snap this season, it’s too early to give up on a talented, but raw, quarterback after one half of football — especially when Gruden is likely out the door soon.

Maybe McCoy will give them a spark, or at least give them a little more competent play at quarterback. Keenum wasn’t even that bad through the first two weeks. Washington took early leads against the Eagles and Cowboys before losing by five and 10 points, respectively.

That gives them a sliiiiiightly better scoring differential than the Bengals.

D’Andrea: There have been some bright spots for the Bengals, but they’re only flash bulbs in a darkened arena. Cincinnati’s ability to find useful wideouts has only been rivaled by its ability to lose them. A.J. Green has yet to play this season due to an ankle injury and will likely take his time before returning for the tail end of his contract year. John Ross, who finally showed signs of life after two unproductive seasons in Cincinnati, is now on injured reserve with a shoulder injury. Auden Tate has emerged as a useful option, which means he’s got about two weeks before his teeth explode or something similarly depressing happens.

The defense hasn’t provided much more room for optimism. Any progress Sam Hubbard, Carlos Dunlap, and Geno Atkins have made on the defensive line have been wiped out by an ineffective linebacking corps and secondary. The Bengals have given up 6.7 yards per play since their season opener against the Seahawks, a mark only bested by the suddenly porous Ravens’ 7.8. Opposing quarterbacks — half of which, again, were Allen and Rudolph — have averaged a 116.0 passer rating against them, or the rough equivalent of Dak Prescott so far this fall.

If there’s any hope for the Bengals the rest of the season, it’ll probably have to come from his offense, which as been surprisingly lackluster under Taylor.

Moriarty: Kyler Murray and the Cards’ offense hasn’t been abysmal, (putting up 27 on Detroit seemed like a decent start), but it’s clear that there is some work to be done. Murray leads the league in sacks (20), but he’s been able to throw for 300 yards passing twice this season, and is on pace for 4,200-yard season.

Perhaps the most concerning fact about the Cardinals’ offense is how it’s been struggling to score late in games. In the last three weeks, Arizona has trailed in the first half and come out averaging just 10 points in the second half. You can’t expect to win many games like that.

D’Andrea: I’m not on the Kliff Kingsbury bandwagon by any means, but I think there’s more fight to the Cardinals than they’ve shown the past three weeks. That Week 1 tie against the Lions looks a little better each week, and it was a display of what Murray’s capable of as an NFL passer. If he can up his red zone efficiency — his team has just five touchdowns to show for 13 trips inside the 20 — he can provide enough to outshoot foes en route to a slight improvement over 2018’s lost season.

The bigger question is whether a defense that ranks 31st in the league in yards allowed can deliver Kingsbury the chance to turn his air raid approach into wins. Those opportunities will be limited, but still more plentiful that what we’ll see in Miami or Cincinnati.

James Brady: Dalton has has some high highs in his career, and we know he can make the big throws. Is he on his way out as the franchise quarterback? I honestly am not sure, but the Bengals have faced some tough teams.

While the 27-3 loss to the Steelers likely confirmed a lot of Bengals fans’ fears that the team won’t be good this year, they still lost to both the Bills (who are good??) and Seahawks by a single score, and played close against the undefeated 49ers early until things got out of hand in the second half. There are still pieces of a good team here, certainly not one that should lose every game remaining on its schedule.

Speaking of its schedule, Cincinnati will play the Cardinals next. The Arizona roster is just a mess and the offense feels like it needs an entire season of tweaking before it approaches viability on a weekly basis.

That said, the Bengals don’t have the easiest schedule. If “average team” means 8-8 or close to it, then maybe they can’t get there. But they’re better than 0-4, and could be the source of an upset or two down the line.

Which games are winnable on their schedule?

D’Andrea: Like the Dolphins, the Bengals have a handful of games remaining against currently winless teams. They were the Steelers’ first win of the season in Week 4, and now they can be the Cardinals’ first win in Week 5. If Monday night’s Sylvia Plath poem come to football life is any indication, they’ll throw a detour in the Cardinals’ road to the top of next year’s draft with another nigh-unwatchable performance.

Moriarty: Looking ahead at the schedule, there really isn’t a clear game the Cardinals should definitely win. But their upcoming game against winless (and banged up) Cincinnati is their best opportunity yet.

D’Andrea: Arizona has to fight through a very tough NFC West, but the rest of its schedule will provide plenty of soft defenses for Murray and Kingsbury to exploit. In their next three weeks, they’ll face teams that rank 27th (Giants) and 28th (Bengals) in yards allowed per play, along with a Falcons team that’s been unable to get out of its own way to start the season.

Brady: Washington already played pretty close to Philadelphia and Dallas, and an upset against any team in their divisional rematches wouldn’t be that surprising.

The Dolphins are coming up in Week 6 and that should be as trash as it sounds. There’s also the 49ers (we’re still not quite sure how good they are), and Minnesota (who can’t seem to find an offense).

Washington still faces some poor passing defenses on their schedule, including the Dolphins, Jets, and Giants. Finally, the running game, which has been among the worst in the league, could see boosts against the Dolphins, Packers, and Panthers, all of whom have lacking run defenses.

So what are your odds on the recipient of 2020’s first overall pick?

D’Andrea: Miami remains awful, but the 2019 season leaves no wont for bad teams. While Washington and Arizona can improve around young quarterbacks and provide some semblance of optimism, Cincinnati looks entirely screwed. Even the brief flash of excitement created by Andy Dalton throwing for 300+ yards per game appears to be snuffed out with few hopes of being reignited.

The Bengals are a bad, bad team. Bad enough to challenge a Miami squad that isn’t even trying in 2019.

The No. 1 pick is still the Dolphins’ to lose, though:

55 percent Dolphins
20 percent Bengals
15 percent Washington
5 percent Cardinals
4 percent Broncos (until they take Adam Stites’ suggestion and start selling)
1 percent Jets

Brady: The Dolphins are bad, and are clearly tanking, but they’re likely going to accidentally win some games on the back of having some young playmakers and extremely low expectations. Washington went from Alex Smith to Case Keenum to Dwayne Haskins to Colt McCoy, which should be enough of an argument for an 0-16 season. The Cardinals are in somewhat of a similar situation to the Dolphins in that there’s enough potential for big plays and upset wins. But not for Washington. I just don’t see it.

Let’s go with ...

65 percent Washington
30 percent Dolphins
3 percent Cardinals
1 percent Bengals
1 percent Broncos
0 percent Jets