Only three weeks remain in the 2021 NFL regular season before it's the offseason for half the league. Some teams are desperately awaiting the final whistle to blow after enduring a disappointing year filled with heartbreak and losses. If nothing else, the offseason offers the opportunity to retool rosters, coaching staffs and even entire front offices.
While playoff positioning is heating up as the season rages on, we already have a good idea of the teams competing for the No. 1 pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. Our friends at DraftKings have odds on the four teams competing for the fewest wins in 2021. These teams have at least avoided going winless but desperately need an injection of talent.
The Jacksonville Jaguars, Detroit Lions, New York Jets, and Houston Texans are offered as options. We'll handicap the race for the No. 1 pick between these teams, looking at how each team got to this position and their remaining situation to close out the year. The light at the end of the tunnel for each of these franchises features a potentially elite difference-maker from the 2022 rookie class.
4. Houston Texans (+800)
The Texans have had an ugly year largely because they've learned so little as they rack up losses. Sure, Davis Mills has shown he's at least a quality backup, and slot corner Tavierre Thomas is quite good, but the rest of the roster can be churned safely. Their rationale for wasting snaps on veterans made little sense from the start.
That all being said, Houston has squeezed some wins from those veterans. It's hard to see another win coming until Week 18 at best, though. The Chargers and 49ers are in the thick of playoff pushes and should pulverize the Texans. The Titans, if they sit starters in Week 18, may lose.
With a likely 3-14 or 4-13 season coming, I don't see much value betting on the Texans. They'd have to receive help from two teams to be in the running for the top pick and that's hard to imagine since the lack of talent across all four of these teams is stark.
3. Detroit Lions (+110)
As much as I loved how Dan Campbell had his team fighting prior to tying the Steelers in Week 10, I thought this team was destined to go winless. The Lions have since been much tougher, even logging two wins in the last three weeks. Detroit is protecting Jared Goff better and he's responded with some quality performances.
It's impossible to fully count on a team ranked 25th in pass defense and 28th in rush defense since they completely lack the personnel to be much more effective. However, recent weeks have shown the defense will bend without fully breaking, and the remaining games are somewhat promising. The Lions have winnable games against the Atlanta Falcons, Seattle Seahawks, and potentially the Green Bay Packers if they sit out players for the playoffs.
We could also see an unmotivated, playoff-eliminated Seattle team show up in Week 17 as they're currently teetering on the edge of contention.
There's no value here on the Lions with the combination of their trending upwards and remaining schedule. They're a trap bet, which is a shocking thing to say about a two-win team in Week 16.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars (+100)
The most disastrous season of all four of these teams has to be the Jaguars. The Urban Meyer experience went as poorly as it could've, with the collegiate legend failing to last until Week 15 of his first season in the NFL. The Jaguars justly gave him a shot, but Meyer proved completely inept and unaware of himself almost immediately after being brought on board.
The ramifications have been severe despite Meyer bringing in a respectable offensive coordinator to develop Trevor Lawrence. Lawrence has been awful since Week 6, throwing for just two touchdowns and six interceptions. The offense is disjointed beyond his control but the lone positive the entire unit has is their ability to run with James Robinson.
The Jags' defense is average, and can keep them in games if their offense simply does anything — but that's a lot to ask of an inept unit. And with the Patriots and Colts awaiting them in Week 17 and 18, respectively, there's no way the Jags will win more than one more game.
However, their Week 16 battle against the Jets is winnable and may determine who gets the top pick. The Jets have been worse than the Jags as a whole this season and they added 15 players and head coach Robert Saleh to the COVID-19 list Wednesday.
The Jags are my second-favorite pick to land the top pick despite being oddsmakers' favorite. I think they can beat the Jets in Week 16, though a loss solidifies their destiny. I'm willing to take that risk for a bigger payoff with another team.
1. New York Jets (+750)
My favorite pick to land the top pick is the New York Jets. The Jets were supposed to be a competitive team even if they'd lose the majority of their matchups. But with the season coming to a close, neither side of the ball performed near expectation.
It's been so ugly that it's shocking Robert Saleh hasn't been under more scrutiny. Most first-year head coaches would hear speculation about firing already, but it's possibly good the Jets are staying patient. Almost nothing has gone right for them, though.
Rookie passer Zach Wilson has been absolutely terrible, showing almost no sign of what he was the No. 2 overall pick last year. The Jets need to rebuild their offensive line before too many conclusions, especially if Mekhi Becton will be a continued non-factor in the future, but Wilson's lack of accuracy and poise are massive concerns moving forward. It feels like a good game when Wilson is anywhere close to mediocre at this point.
The Jets' only chance to win a game is this coming week against Jacksonville. Neither Tampa Bay nor Buffalo in the final two weeks will cede a game to them, and I'm more confident the Lions will gain another victory with three opportunities. Are the Jets worse than the Jaguars?
We'll find out soon. I'm putting more faith into the Jaguars' mediocre defense than anything the Jets have going for them. Plus this payoff would be excellent.
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