The race is on for Caleb Willams.
With just eight weeks remaining in the NFL season, teams are jostling for position, juggling their roster, battling through injuries that could impact how they finish.
While all of those things are certainly true about the stretch run to the NFL postseason and ultimately the Super Bowl, we won't be addressing those teams. This is all about the Caleb Williams sweepstakes, and the race to the bottom for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2024 NFL Draft.
Now, while this is not the NBA, and teams are not openly tanking — just look at the Arizona Cardinals turning things back over to Kyler Murray. However, as one prominent agent suggested to FanBuzz prior to the NFL trade deadline, when discussing potential moves that could be made, "the Caleb Williams sweepstakes is very real."
The NFL Draft order, of course, is determined by final record, with the team with the worst record selecting first. However, in the event of a tie, it is the team with the lowest strength of schedule that wins that tie and gets the higher selection.
So, with eight weeks of action remaining, which teams have the best chance to be led out of the tunnel and onto the field in Week 1 of the 2024 campaign by the Heisman Trophy winner from USC?
Here's a breakdown of where things currently stand, taking into account current current record, remaining strength of schedule (according to Tankathon), and any significant injuries that could impact their second half:
1. Chicago Bears (1-7, 2-7)
The Bears remain at the top of this list for the simple fact that Chicago not only owns its own selection, but the Carolina Panthers' first-round pick. If the season ended today, the Panthers, at 1-7, would be picking No. 2 overall with the 2-7 Bears going on the clock second.
Meanwhile, Carolina faces the fifth-easiest remaining schedule, with the Panthers' remaining opponents boasting a .453 winning percentage. The teams with easier schedules than the Panthers; the Atlanta Falcons, New Orleans Saints, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Detroit Lions, and Indianapolis Colts likely won't be in the mix for the top pick.
Justin Fields' eventual return could boost the Bears' chances of winning another game, but in Carolina, Bryce Young's growing pains and an inconsistent defense don't inspire much confidence that Frank Reich's team is going to be stacking victories anytime soon ...
2. New York Giants (2-7)
The Giants have battled through myriad injuries all season, the most significant coming in Week 9 as quarterback Daniel Jones suffered a torn ACL, ending his 2023 season and perhaps his tenure as the starting quarterback in New York.
Tommy DeVito gets the start, in place of Jones, Sunday afternoon against the Giants. With Tyrod Taylor potentially lost for the season, as well, with a rib injury, it might be DeVito the rest of the way for New York. In two appearances, so far, the undrafted rookie free agent quarterback has passed for 174 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. The combination of DeVito being forced into action, injuries to key players across the board, and a team that has scored more than 10 points three times so far this season, don't paint an optimistic picture about the Giants' chances of competing the rest of the way.
Currently, the Giants would be picking fourth. However, New York's remaining schedule is the fifth toughest in the entire league. The Giants' remaining opponents include two games against the Philadelphia Eagles, Sunday's clash against the Dallas Cowboys, and a date with the New Orleans Saints. New York's remaining opponents have a .543 winning percentage. Is this team going to win another game, the rest of the season?
3. Arizona Cardinals (1-8)
The current leaders in the clubhouse.
Arizona trading quarterback Joshua Dobbs to the Minnesota Vikings left only Murray and Clayton Tune in the quarterback room. But, with Murray activated from injured reserve and returning to action, the Cardinals' offense is about to get a lot more competent than it had been through the season's first half. If the Cardinals have any identity, it is that this team competes.
The Cardinals would have the ability to draft Williams, or trade the selection, as the No. 1 overall pick if the season ended today. Wins are going to be difficult to come by, though, as Arizona faces the seventh-toughest remaining schedule against opponents with a .529 winning percentage. However, Murray gives them a much better chance to win at least one more game than the quarterback situations in New York or Carolina do the Giants or Panthers.
4. New England Patriots (2-7)
How the mighty have fallen.
The Patriot Way has been dinged and dented this season, not just by the Patriots limping to a 2-7 start, the worst of Bill Belichick's career, but Josh McDaniels' disastrous flameout in Las Vegas offers further evidence that Belichick's influence doesn't travel outside of Patriot Place.
New England could wind up crashing the Williams party, currently slated to pick fourth next April, especially if this season continues to go off the rails. Mac Jones' play hasn't inspired much confidence, but his supporting cast, particularly on offense, isn't close to competing in a loaded division. While the Patriots remaining strength of schedule is 19th, this is a team that just finds ways to lose. Just imagine if Belichick and Williams wind up on the sideline in New England next season. What an AFC East division that would be.
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