The postseason push for many teams is just getting underway. The NFL currently boasts 18 teams with .500 records or better and with only 12 playoff spots to go around, there are going to be a lot of broken hearts in six weeks when this thing rounds the final corner and playoff spots are finalized. But on the other end of the spectrum, we're seeing a race of a different kind taking place: who can finish with the NFL's worst record?
The consolation prize for being the best worst team varies depending on the team. We can call it the "Chase For Chase (Young)" if you'd like. It works quite well for teams like the New York Giants and Washington Redskins, who recently invested in young quarterbacks. Or perhaps "Blow for Burrow" floats your boat as a fan of a quarterback hungry team like the Cincinnati Bengals or the Miami Dolphins?
Regardless of who the prize is, the prospect of a team having their pick of the litter sure does sound swell -- you're on the clock for four months and will have teams ringing your phone off the hook for weeks on end trying to throw an offer at you that's too good to turn down.
So eat your hearts out, playoff hopefuls. Only one of you will walk away with the hardware -- and you'll have to wait another 5 weeks after the end of the season to find out who. This prize is given out the moment Week 17 comes to a close. And while it offers a different kind of hope than a playoff berth, it offers hope none the less. And the race is on. With six weeks remaining in the NFL's regular season, time is running out to jump up the draft boards. But there's plenty left to shake out thanks to some "heavyweight" matchups left on the remaining schedule.
Here are the NFL's 5 most pivotal games yet to be played for the 2020 NFL Draft order next spring.
Week 12 - Detroit Lions (3-6-1) @ Washington Redskins (1-9)
The Lions currently sit on the fringe of the top-10 overall picks, owning the 10th pick in the 2020 NFL Draft as things currently stand. But things aren't great in the Motor City -- the Lions are 1-6 in their last seven games and the only win came against the 2-8 New York Giants back in Week 8. And with QB Matt Stafford's health keeping him off the field, this looms large as a winnable game for the Washington Redskins.
Washington? They can't buy a win. Their only victory this season came against the 2-8 Miami Dolphins -- a game in South Florida that saw the Dolphins score with seconds left and go for a 2-point conversion and the win despite having all the momentum on their side and home field advantage at the end of regulation.
A Washington win throws the next few spots in the order for a loop and drop Washington to 4th in the order behind the two win Giants and Dolphins -- and it would simultaneously strengthen the Bengals' chokehold on being the biggest, baddest bad in football.
This game is stoppable force meets moveable object: Washington's pitiful offense against Detroit's porous defense -- but Detroit doesn't give up a lot of action on the ground, having yielded 81 or less yards rushing to opposing offenses in 3 of their last 4 games. That's bad news for Washington.
Prediction: Detroit wins, no matter whether Matt Stafford plays or not
Week 13 - New York Jets (3-7) @ Cincinnati Bengals (0-10)
Don't look now but the New York Jets are on a two-game win streak. They're one of two teams currently picking in the top-5 to recently sport a 2-game win streak (Miami is the other, but that ended in Week 11) -- and the Jets' wins are as cheap as they'll come. They defeated the New York Giants (2-8) and the Washington Redskins (1-9) in consecutive weeks and after a home date with the Raiders in Week 12, the Jets draw the Bengals and Dolphins in consecutive weeks. It's the kind of stretch that will skew expectations and spare coach Adam Gase from added pressure regarding his job security...unless they botch the layups against Cincinnati and Miami of course.
The Jets are the kind of outfit that could very easily drop a game to Cincinnati: they're poorly coached, they're sloppy, they're injured and the team doesn't travel well.
You know how many road wins the Jets have since the start of 2017? Four. They're 4-17 in road games over that stretch.
The Bengals happen to be 0-10 in their last 10 games no matter where they've been played though, so there's that. If this team could stop turning the damn ball over, they might have a puncher's chance, too. The Bengals have a -11 turnover differential in the NFL with 20 giveaways. I'll give you one guess how many times the Bengals have won the turnover battle in 10 games.
Zero. Week 13 feels like the right matchup with the right team (the Jets have 19 turnovers) to get the Bengals off the schneid.
Prediction: The Bengals shock the world
Week 15 - Miami Dolphins (2-8) @ New York Giants (2-8)
This will be Miami's second consecutive game at MetLife Stadium -- they play the Jets in Week 14. The Dolphins are a tough, disciplined group who aren't particularly talented but play the game with the right kind of energy. And they take joy in playing spoiler and dispelling the "Tanking" narrative.
How much so, you ask? So much so that Dolphins head coach apparently told his players 'F*$# the Draft' head of their Week 11 contest...which would make coach Herm Edwards proud. #YouPlayToWinTheGame
The Giants? While their team's Twitter account is dunking on fans for disliking the Daniel Jones pick in April, the offense (led by Jones) is busy dunking themselves into the dunk tank each week with self inflicted damage. New York hasn't gone a single game this season without a turnover and has 14 turnovers during their 6 game losing streak while failing to surpass 285 yards of offense in five of those six games.
If we're calling a spade a spade, the Giants stink. But all the places the Giants struggle, the Dolphins aren't necessarily a team that's built to exploit the weaknesses. The pass rush is bad. The secondary is banged up and without their best player. The Giants have enough talent to wear out the Dolphins offensive front and with this being the second consecutive December game in frigid north Jersey, the Giants have enough in their corner to nab a win.
Prediction: The Giants outlast the Dolphins
Week 16 - New York Giants (2-8) @ Washington Redskins (1-9)
We really don't deserve to see this game twice. And I don't mean that in any other way that there's nothing any one of us has done to deserve getting this matchup on our television twice in four months. And yet here we are. The first time these two teams played, the Giants dominated and won 24-3. Washington had less than 200 yards of offense, 8 first downs and 4 turnovers.
We've seen this story play out before our eyes already -- and therefore we know how this one is going to end. An interim head coach and the presence of Dwayne Haskins isn't going to turn this ship around the second time out versus the Giants.
Prediction: Washington's "damn good" culture doesn't help a lick -- and Washington finishes 1-15
Week 16 - Cincinnati Bengals (0-10) @ Miami Dolphins (2-8)
This game has lost some of the "sex appeal" with the recent news that Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa has suffered a hip injury, which has left his status as a 2020 NFL Draft prospect up in the air. But if the Bengals steal a win ahead of this matchup the Dolphins are likely to be entering the game just one game ahead in the standings -- Miami's got tough draws with consecutive games in New York against the bad Jets and Giants in Weeks 14 and 15. Their games before that? A road game against a playoff desperate Cleveland team and a home game against a playoff desperate Philadelphia team.
And so...the winner of this game may actually walk away as the loser and vice versa. Because whomever loses this game may very well end up getting their first pick of a quarterback. And the team that wins may have to call up the Washington Redskins (I'm predicting 1-15) and try to manufacture a pick swap if they want to secure the top pick and their choice of quarterback.
The Dolphins have more experience at quarterback and they're a better coached football team. Between those factors and playing at home, it's hard to imagine Cincinnati stealing this game, although it would be quite the "Bengals" thing to do.
Prediction: Miami wins and checks in with the 3rd overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft behind Washington and Cincinnati.