Forget talk about the Patriots' final games not meaning anything. Week 16's loss to the Bills meant something and Week 17 against the Jets is going to mean a heck of a lot.
The Patriots moved up one spot to No. 14 in the projected 2021 NFL Draft order with their Week 16 loss. Now, with one game to go, they have the chance to make it all the way into the top 10 if they can manage to lose against the suddenly surging Jets and get some help.
Here's the current draft order, starting with the teams within a game of the Patriots:
[I'll note that I'm using strength of schedule from Tankathon, which has the most accurate projection. NFL.com has a piece on the current draft order, but that seemingly does not include the Week 17 games when calculating each team's strength of schedule. That method allows for more changing in the order from week to week (exciting!) but isn't as useful for determining what the order will actually look like.]
|7. Detroit Lions||5-10||.504 SOS|
|8. New York Giants||5-10||.506 SOS|
|9. Carolina Panthers||5-10||.529 SOS|
|10. Denver Broncos||5-10||.567 SOS|
|11. Dallas Cowboys||6-9||.465 SOS|
|12. L.A. Chargers||6-9||.490 SOS|
|13. Minnesota Vikings||6-9||.508 SOS|
|14. New England Patriots||6-9||.533 SOS|
|15. San Francisco 49ers||6-9||.544 SOS|
|16. Las Vegas Raiders||7-8||.542 SOS|
|19. Washington Football Team*||6-9||.465 SOS|
As you can see, the Patriots are one of five 6-9 non-playoff teams (the Football Team, currently in line for a playoff spot, is also 6-9; I'll get to that in a bit). All but one of those teams has a lower strength of schedule than the Patriots, so the Patriots would need to finish with a better record than the Cowboys, Chargers and/or Vikings to surpass them.
The good news there? They realistically could. Look at the matchups of those teams in Week 17.
- Cowboys: at Giants. The Cowboys are favored in this game.
- Chargers: at Chiefs, who have already locked up the No. 1 seed and will rest players. Andy Reid says there's a "good chance" Chad Henne will start in place of Patrick Mahomes.
- Vikings: at Lions. Kirk Cousins will torture that defense if he wants.
So even if all those teams don't win, you can at least bet that one or two of them will, which would move the Patriots up with a loss to the Jets.
One thing to keep an eye on there, though: The Football Team would drop out of the playoffs if it lost and the Cowboys won, so Washington would be 6-10 with a worse strength of schedule than the Patriots. That would be one extra spot the Patriots wouldn't move up, so Pats fans should be rooting for both the Cowboys and the Football Team to win Sunday. They'll both be trying, as a playoff spot is on the line.
Furthermore, there is a 5-10 team with a better strength of schedule than the Patriots: the Broncos. That means that if the Patriots were to lose in Week 17 and the Broncos were to win (they play the Raiders, who were eliminated from playoff contention with last week's loss), the Broncos would fall below New England, moving the Patriots up.
So, in theory, if the Pats lost and the Broncos, Cowboys, Football Team, Chargers and Vikings all won, the Patriots would move all the way up to No. 10, putting them in position to either stand pat and get a top prospect, move up for a quarterback or move down and perhaps get a future first. Depending on how the 49ers finished, that scenario would look like this:
|10. New England Patriots||6-10|
|11. Denver Broncos||6-10|
|12. Dallas Cowboys||7-9|
|13. L.A. Chargers||7-9|
|14. Minnesota Vikings||7-9|
|15. San Francisco 49ers||7-9|
|10. New England Patriots||6-10|
|11. San Francisco 49ers||6-10|
|12. Denver Broncos||6-10|
|13. Dallas Cowboys||7-9|
|14. L.A. Chargers||7-9|
|15. Minnesota Vikings||7-9|
This is moot if the Patriots win. Should they beat the Jets, they're looking at either staying at No. 14 or falling to No. 15 or 16. The Raiders would need to lose and Vegas' strength of schedule would need to be worse than New England's for the Pats to fall to No. 16. New England's strength of schedule is currently .533 and Vegas' is .542.
So in short, here are the teams Patriots fans should be rooting for to win in Week 17: Jets, Broncos, Cowboys, Football Team, Chargers, Vikings.
The difference between the 16th pick and the 10th is significant. No. 11 or 12, which are more realistic, would also be splendid. This lost season could end up bearing gifts after all, but the Pats have to lose to the Jets.