Three quarters of the way through the regular season, it’s clear that one quarter of the National Football League is very, very bad. No team is 4-8 and five teams have five wins (including the two NFC South co-leaders), so I think previewing the top eight will suffice.
Most teams that want to blow themselves up and rebuild like to focus on the head coach and the starting quarterback. There are two very highly-touted quarterback prospects most likely entering next year’s draft: Marcus Mariota of Oregon and Jameis Winston of Florida State. Which of the worst eight teams in the league are best suited for drafting one of these two prospects? And which teams are more likely to fire their head coaches?
Below I have determined the draft order as it stands today. The tie-breaking procedure for the annual selection meeting, per NFL.com:
“Clubs not participating in the playoffs shall select in the first through 20th positions in reverse standings order.
If ties exist in any grouping except (2) above, such ties shall be broken by strength-of-schedule. If any ties cannot be broken by strength-of-schedule, the divisional or conference tie-breakers, if applicable, shall be applied. Any ties that still exist shall be broken by a coin flip.”
This means that head-to-head wins do not count.
1. Oakland Raiders (1-11)
Oh, Oakland. Let me address you as a city, first. What would be so bad about letting Da Raiders move on to Los Angeles or San Antonio? You aren’t losing future Lombardi Trophies. You can throw the full weight of your fandom behind the more-deserving Athletics. But wherever the Raiders are located geographically next season, there’s a very good chance they’ll be located at the top of the 2015 NFL Draft.
Chance of drafting a first-round QB: 35%
Current QBs on roster: Derek Carr, Matt McGloin, Matt Schaub
Chance of hiring a new head coach: 100%*
Current head coach: Tony Sparano*
*The Raiders fired head coach Dennis Allen after Oakland started 0-4. In the interim, Tony Sparano lost six more before his team finally got off the schnide with a 24-20 upset of Kansas City.
Derek Carr was just drafted in the second round of last year’s draft, and although he’s had trouble in his rookie year, Oakland must still see him as the future. We know Matts Schaub and McGloin are not. The reason I placed their likelihood of drafting a QB first overall as high as 35 percent is because they’ll most likely have a new head coach. We’ve seen new coaching regimes draft a quarterback before unpacking their luggage – they need to bring “their guy,” as the saying goes. And I wouldn’t blame owner Mark Davis and general manager Reggie McKenzie, either, for getting starry-eyed at the prospect of drafting Marcus Mariota or Jameis Winston to turn their team around.
2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-10)
Tampa Bay plays in the horrible NFC South, where no team is better than 5-7, which helps give the Bucs the weakest strength of schedule and the best pick among the 2-10 teams.
Chance of drafting a first-round QB: 90%
Current QBs on roster: Mike Glennon, Josh McCown
Chance of hiring a new head coach: 10%
Current head coach: Lovie Smith
I was one of the many believers in Josh McCown last spring when he signed with Tampa Bay in free agency. I figured between having some new cogs on offense, a stellar-looking defense and a new coach in Lovie Smith (who knew McCown from two years together in Chicago), the Bucs would at least be in the middle of the pack in the NFC.
But McCown is 1-6 as a starter this year, with seven touchdowns and nine interceptions. Mike Glennon isn’t much better: 1-4, 10 TDs, six picks. Maybe there’s still some hope for the second-year Glennon, but why bother holding out hope on the former third-rounder when you have two stellar quarterback prospects at your fingertips in next year’s first round?
3. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-10)
The Jaguars and the Titans have the same exact strength of schedule through 12 games. Step two is divisional record, so Tennessee wins the tiebreaker (and loses the higher draft slot) by virtue of being an overwhelming 1-3 in the AFC South (Jacksonville is 0-3). Ironically, Tennessee’s one division win came over Jacksonville, 16-14 in Week 6, making this a de facto head-to-head tiebreaker.
Chance of drafting a first-round QB: 10%
Current QBs on roster: Blake Bortles, Chad Henne
Chance of hiring a new head coach: 40%
Current head coach: Gus Bradley
The Jags had the third overall pick last year, too, and they drafted Blake Bortles. He’s the only first-round rookie quarterback on this list, and teams don’t normally give up on the third overall pick so quickly. I think they could use another veteran on the roster – Chad Henne turns 30 next summer and, besides, when he has ever been the answer for any team? But they have to spend their first pick on the defense next year.
Speaking of defense, I like Gus Bradley, the former Seahawks defensive coordinator, but two horrible years in a row isn’t what Shad Khan signed up for. A firing wouldn’t surprise me.
4. Tennessee Titans (2-10)
I had a good feeling the Tennessee Titans would suck. After surprising me and everyone and beating the Chiefs in Week 1, they’ve lost to everyone they’ve played except Jacksonville. That’s what happens when Shonn Greene replaces Chris Johnson as your starting running back, you lose your only star defensive player in cornerback Alterraun Verner and you have the uninspiring quarterback group the Titans have.
Chance of drafting a first-round QB: 90%
Current QBs on roster: Jake Locker, Zach Mettenberger, Charlie Whitehurst
Chance of hiring a new head coach: 10%
Current head coach: Ken Whisenhunt
Whether you want to label Jake Locker a bust or just injury-prone, it’s clear the Titans are much better off moving on from their former first-round pick. Locker is in the final year of his rookie contract, and I don’t exactly foresee him getting Andy Dalton/Jay Cutler money. Tennessee will gladly let him enter free agency and then formulate their next steps. Whitehurst has hung around the league with San Diego, Seattle and Tennessee as a stellar backup (the proper title is “Clipboard Jesus”). Mettenberger was a sixth-round pick who has the most starts of any current Titan QB (five), but zero wins. In short, if I were writing a mock draft this early on, here is where I’d pencil in “Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State.”
5. New York Jets (2-10)
Here are my lowly Jets, though the Tiebreaker Gods would argue that they aren’t as bad as the teams ahead of them in the draft because they’ve had to play a much tougher strength of schedule. Ever since their Week 1 win over Oakland, the Jets have played only one team under .500, the 5-8 Chicago Bears.
Chance of drafting a first-round QB: 80%
Current QBs on roster: Matt Simms, Geno Smith, Michael Vick
Chance of hiring a new head coach: 95%
Current head coach: Rex Ryan
Let the record show that I don’t want the Jets to draft a quarterback in the first round in 2015. We just went through this with Geno Smith in 2013 right after we went through it with Mark Sanchez in 2009. I think the Jets are too talented to blow up the team and start with a new head-coach-and-starting-quarterback regime. This is an offense that didn’t have Percy Harvin, Eric Decker, Jace Amaro or Chris Johnson this time last year, after all. Then again, what am I hoping for? No proven veteran starters will be necessarily available for trade.
I wish Rex Ryan the best in his next coaching stop. He is going to make a very good defensive coordinator somewhere. Reports indicate that Ryan is expected to be shown the door at the end of the year – as will GM John Idzik and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, apparently. Sounds like wholesale change to me, which makes drafting a QB in round one a very real possibility.
6. Washington Football Club (3-9)
Washington and their division rival New York Giants have the same 3-9 record, but at this juncture in the season, the Giants have played much tougher teams, giving Washington the earlier pick. This isn’t exactly where the team figured they’d sit in the 2015 draft three years after drafting one Robert Griffin III.
Chance of drafting a first-round QB: 20%
Current QBs on roster: Kirk Cousins, Robert Griffin III, Colt McCoy
Chance of hiring a new head coach: 20%
Current head coach: Jay Gruden
I don’t know what to make of RG3 now. Ever since he won Offensive Rookie of the Year and took Washington to the playoffs in 2012, he’s been trending down ever since. Well, that’s putting it lightly. Injuries have limited him to 18 games in the past two seasons, but he’s only won four of those games and he’s thrown 18 touchdowns compared to 15 interceptions. His QBR of 26.7 in five games this year falls right between Austin Davis’s and Geno Smith’s.
Still, I absolutely cannot see Washington parting ways with Griffin so soon. He enters a contract year in 2015, and if he’s healthy, why not give him one more chance to prove himself? If he still sucks, boot him. Meanwhile, Colt McCoy has been the best quarterback on this roster this year, but he’s on a one-year contract. The team would be smarter to re-sign McCoy than try to chase another first-rounder to battle RG3 next year.
Jay Gruden has not been a popular man in his first season as the head coach in D.C., and there is talk of him being “one-and-done.” I’m a firm believer that a head coach needs more than one year to produce results with a new squad, but I also realize that some front offices aren’t that patient. For the other two first-year head coaches, Lovie Smith and Ken Whisenhunt, I kept their chances of being fired at 10 percent, but considering the tension and the unique situation in Washington, 20 percent for Gruden is fair.
7. New York Giants (3-9)
This will be the second season in the last 18 year that both the New York Giants and the New York Jets will finish below .500, the other time being 2003 (4-12 Giants, 6-10 Jets). Though Washington has a worse strength of schedule through 12 games, the Giants have 2-10 Tennessee, Washington and 5-7 St. Louis over the next three weeks, so we’ll see how things balance out.
Chance of drafting a first-round QB: 50%
Current QBs on roster: Eli Manning, Ryan Nassib
Chance of hiring a new head coach: 60%
Current head coach: Tom Coughlin
Eli Manning is 33 years old. He turns 34 in January. He is not going to play forever. 2015 is the final year of his Giants contract. He and his Giants are on a seven-game losing streak – mostly losses to good teams till they blew a big lead against Jacksonville last week. The only other quarterback on the roster is the unproven former fourth-round selection, Ryan Nassib. So why would you, my hypothetical reader, be surprised that I put the Giants’ likelihood of taking a QB in round one at 50-50? If I’m GM Jerry Reese and Mariota or Winston fall this far, I’m taking it as both a sign and a blessing from the football gods.
Meanwhile, Tom Coughlin is on pace for the worst season of his head coaching career since 1995 – his first year with expansion Jacksonville. This is the first time he’s coached back-to-back losing teams in New York, too. If anything, this shows he’s always been a fine head coach and only recently fell on hard times. You know, a few years after those two Super Bowls he and Eli teamed up for. But there has always been an anti-Coughlin sentiment among Giants fans and New York radio hosts whenever the team loses a few games. I have to wonder how long he’ll stick around, especially if the Giants lose out the rest of the year.
8. Carolina Panthers (3-8-1)
They’re only a game and a half out of the NFC South lead. Maybe they’ll finish 6-9-1 and get the fourth seed in the conference (and ultimately the 21st pick in the draft). But for now, Carolina is the eighth-worst team in the league.
Chance of drafting a first-round QB: 25%
Current QBs on roster: Derek Anderson, Cam Newton, Joe Webb
Chance of hiring a new head coach: 15%
Current head coach: Ron Rivera
In his first year in Carolina after spending his first four with the Vikings, Joe Webb has seen action in four games, even making a 16-yard catch while lined up as a receiver, but hasn’t started a game under center yet. And then there’s the indomitable Derek Anderson, who looked good in his Week 1 start against Tampa Bay, throwing 230 yards and two TDs in a 20-14 win.
OK. It’s really all about Cam Newton in Carolina. I’m feeling that the percentage I set may be a touch too high considering Newton was a first-overall pick and is still considered a superstar QB in this league, but he just hasn’t played so well this year. His QBR and his touchdown-to-interception ratio have never been lower. A lot of blame can be rightfully placed on the defense, but everyone has already forgotten the 12-4 Panthers of yesteryear. They’re back in familiar territory, and while I don’t think that has much of an effect on head coach Ron Rivera, Cam Newton enters his contract year in 2015 on the hot seat, and maybe with a little competition.