While the New England Patriots have already been eliminated from playoff contention, the team will still keep a close eye on the standings heading into this week’s regular season finale versus the New York Jets. While they are in virtual no-man’s land due to their 6-9 record, there is a chance that they still significantly move up the board depending on how Week 17 plays out not just versus the Jets but elsewhere in the league.
The NFL draft order, after all, is not quite determined like the playoff picture. Head-to-head contests are not the deciding tiebreaker, for example, but rather strength of schedule followed by division, conference and interconference tiebreakers as well as eventually a coin toss. Given that, there is a chance that the Patriots move up quite a bit from their current draft slot of number 14.
Before getting into potential scenarios, however, let’s take a look at the NFL’s current draft order with team records and strengths of schedule in parentheses:
- Jacksonville Jaguars (1-14/.548)*
- New York Jets (2-13/.592)*
- Miami Dolphins via Houston Texans (4-11/.540)
- Atlanta Falcons (4-11/.550)
- Cincinnati Bengals (4-10-1/.527)
- Philadelphia Eagles (4-10-1/.531)
- Detroit Lions (5-10/.504)
- New York Giants (5-10/.506)
- Carolina Panthers (5-10/.529)
- Denver Broncos (5-10/.567)
- Dallas Cowboys (6-9/.465)
- Los Angeles Chargers (6-9/.490)
- Minnesota Vikings (6-9/.508)
- New England Patriots (6-9/.533)
- San Francisco 49ers (6-9/.544)
- Las Vegas Raiders (7-8/.542)
As can be seen, New England currently holds the 14th spot but finds itself in a five-team tie with the Cowboys, Chargers, Vikings and 49ers. With the Raiders, current owners of selection No. 16, unable to leap-frog the Patriots based on strength of schedule, the worst spot for Bill Belichick and company is therefore the 15th: if they beat the Jets and the 49ers lose against the Seattle Seahawks, that will be their position.
However, there also is a scenario in which the team climbs up the draft board quite a bit — possibly all the way up to the 10th overall pick. However, a lot would have to happen for that to take place as the following games would all have to go as follows this week on top of the Patriots dropping theirs to the 2-13 Jets as calculated by Jeff Howe of The Athletic:
- Minnesota Vikings (13/6-9/.508) beat Detroit Lions (7/5-10/.504)
- Carolina Panthers (9/5-10/.529) beat New Orleans Saints (29/11-4/.465)
- Dallas Cowboys (11/6-9/.465) beat New York Giants (8/5-10/.506)
- Denver Broncos (10/5-10/.567) beat Las Vegas Raiders (16/7-8/.542)
- Los Angeles Chargers (6-9/.490) beat Kansas City Chiefs (32/14-1/.458)
If all those games plus Patriots-Jets go according to plan, New England would find itself at 6-10 and in a three-way tie with the Panthers and Broncos between picks Nos. 9 and 11. While Carolina’s comparatively weak strength of schedule would prevent the Patriots from jumping ahead, New England does have a worse SOS than Denver and would thus secure the 10th overall selection.
Of course, all those games going like that seems rather unlikely but there is a path nonetheless. And don’t ever forget the old “Any given Sunday.”
No matter what happens, though, the Patriots will end up with a higher selection than they have had in a long time: they have not drafted in the teens since picking Nate Solder 17th overall back in 2011. Their 2021 selection will therefore be the highest since 2008, when Jerod Mayo was drafted 10th overall. Both those selections worked out well for the organization, and the hope is that the same happens with the one next spring — especially if it turns out to be a quarterback.