The race for the No.1 pick in the 2019 NFL Draft appears to be down to four teams. Yes, the Browns could make a real push in the second half of the season but they've already won two games and tied another, which midway through the season almost seems insurmountable for the Giants, 49ers, Cardinals and Raiders.
Football Outsiders' expected wins for each team hints at as much; the Browns "lead" the way with 5.8 wins in 2018, followed by the Giants (5.2), Raiders (4.6), 49ers (4.4) and Cardinals (3.5). The Raiders and Cardinals have among the NFL's toughest schedules over the second half of the season while the the 49ers' is middle of the road (16th) and the Giants is, relatively speaking, pretty easy (26th). The Browns schedule, it turns out, is second-toughest behind only Oakland's.
Put another way: For different reasons, these teams have been very, very bad, and they're currently on course to all have top-five picks. We may be just eight weeks into the season, but we've written Oregon's Justin Herbert doesn't declare -- and it's unclear if he will -- New York will have to look elsewhere for Eli Manning's replacement. : Joe Flacco.about the Giants' plight. They desperately need a quarterback but if
So yeah, that's how far off the rails the Giants are.
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The Cardinals are predicted to have the fewest wins -- 3.5 -- which is 4.5 fewer than they had last season when Carson Palmer, Blaine Gabbert and Drew Stanton all started games and David Johnson missed all but one game. And while that offense was among the worst in the league, that defense ranked fourth overall; this season, rookie Josh Rosen has struggled (understandable), but Johnson has been grossly misused (inexplicable) and the defense has slipped to 11th. Other than quarterback, Arizona needs help up and down the roster and that may include first-year head coach Steve Wilks.
The Raiders won 12 games in 2016 and Derek Carr was a legit MVP candidate. They limped to six wins last season and they'll be lucking to sniff that in 2018. It helps explain Jon Gruden's everything-must-go yard sale. And if sending Khalil Mack to Chicago for two first-rounders was problematic, duping the Cowboys into giving up a first-round pick for Amari Cooper was the highlight of Gruden's otherwise forgettable season. Now the question becomes: What will Oakland do with three 2019 first-rounders? we had them taking the top defensive linemen, a new franchise quarterback, and a big-play wideout.
The 49ers might be in the best position of the group; they lost Jerick McKinnon and Jimmy Garoppolo for the season to ACL injuries and it's realistic to think that the offense will see a huge leap in production when they're healthy in 2019. And much like Deshaun Watson enjoys playing with the likes of J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney, who lead the Texans' top-flight defense, Nick Bosa in the draft, it could transform their defense from replacement-level to top-10.
These are the four teams in the race to the bottom. Others could get into the mix -- the Browns and Bills chief among them. And while it's one thing to earn the No. 1 pick, it's something else entirely to nail free agency and the draft to insure you're not on this list a year from now.
(Note: In the table below, the teams are sorted from "most likely to have the No. 1 pick in the 2019 NFL Draft" to "least likely" using two different methods. The "Current record" column does what the name suggests: Teams are first sorted by their '18 records, strength of schedule, via Tankathon. The other column is sorted by the "SportsLine's preseason projected draft order." Finally, here's if you'd like to see who we have each team taking.)
SportsLine preseason projected draft order
New York Giants (1-6)
San Francisco (1-6)
Oakland (via Cowboys)* (3-4)
New York Jets (3-4)
Chicago (to Oakland) (3-3)**
Tampa Bay (3-3)
Green Bay (3-2-1)
Los Angeles Chargers (5-2)
New England (5-2)
New Orleans (to Green Bay) (5-1)***
Kansas City (6-1)
Los Angeles Rams (7-0)
* Dallas sent its 2019 first-round pick to Oakland as part of the Amari Cooper trade.
** Chicago sent its 2019 first-round pick to Oakland as part of the Khalil Mack trade.
*** New Orleans sent its 2019 first-round pick to Green Bay to draft Marcus Davenport in 2018.
Washington at N.Y. Giants
The Redskins are in first place in the division and the Giants are not only in last, but at 1-6, they're one of the NFL's worst teams. And after losing five straight in this matchup from December 2013 to September 2015, the Redskins have won three of the last five. A win on Sunday would take them to 5-2 while a loss would get the Giants one step closer to the first-overall pick and Eli Manning's successor.
San Francisco at Arizona
There isn't a lot to say about this game other than it looked a lot more intriguing over the summer, back when Jimmy Garoppolo was still healthy and the Cardinals had their rookie franchise quarterback and looked to be a much better team than the group that went 8-8 a season ago. As it stands they are a combined 2-12 and together have a negative point differential of minus-152. By contrast, the Rams -- who lead both teams by six games in the division -- have a point differential of 107.
New England at Buffalo
The good news is that the Bills have one of the league's best defenses. The bad news is, well, everything else, starting with a historically inept offense that currently "features" Derek Anderson at quarterback. Some of New England's most lopsided losses have in fact come at the hands of Buffalo. There was the 31-0 stomping back in 2003 and the 16-0 thumping as recently as 2016. But in between those two games the Bills are 3-23 against the Pats, and they're currently on another three-game losing streak. If Anderson and this offense finds a way to beat a Tom Brady-led team, it should go down as one of the biggest upsets in professional sports.
Indianapolis at Oakland
Oakland traded away Amari Cooper during the bye week lending further evidence that this team is in full-on rebuild mode under Jon Gruden. The Colts, meanwhile, are playing better than their 2-5 record indicates; in fact, according to Football Outsiders, this unit ranks 14th among all teams just behind the Steelers and Texans and just ahead of the Packers. Oakland, meanwhile, ranks ahead of only the 49ers, Cardinals and Bills -- and that was before they shipped their No. 1 receiver out of town.
Cleveland at Pittsburgh
These teams appear to be going in different directions. We're guessing Hue Jackson's decision to get more involved in the offense won't change things -- at least for the better -- though we don't expect the Browns to get blown out. They have a knack for playing the Steelers close, and even managed to tie them in their Week 1 meeting (Cleveland should have won in overtime.) Pittsburgh, meanwhile, went from third to first in the AFC North last week -- while on their bye. They have a chance to maintain, and possibly widen, that lead with a win over a pesky Browns team that still doesn't appear quite ready for primetime.