Going into week 7, the NFL playoff race is already starting to take shape. Division winners and wildcards won’t be decided for weeks, but the current standings and future schedules give us a sense which teams will be playing in January. And it’s many of the usual suspects.
But who cares?
Other teams are playing for something far more important: the right to dream about that one player who, once drafted, will deliver them to the Promised Land next season and beyond. That’s right, many of the NFL’s bottom feeders, having blown this season already, are looking ahead to the 2015 NFL Draft. At least their fans are. Because without hope, there’s nothing.
Here are five teams playing like they want the first pick in the next draft:
1. Jacksonville Jaguars (0-6)
Go ahead and name all the teams in the AFC… I’ll wait. I bet you forgot the Jaguars. Everybody forgets the Jaguars. Heck, time forgot the Jaguars. The Jags lose lots of games almost every season, but unlike other teams on this list, they lose quietly. So nobody cares. That’s life for a small-market team with mostly middling talent. Rookie quarterback Blake Bortles has been solid under center and could return the team to the Mark Brunell glory days. (Maybe that should be glory day. It’s hard remember so far back.) The Jags brought in Toby Gerhart — Adrian Peterson’s backup in Minnesota — to move the ball on the ground. But five games and 123 yards later, it’s safe to say that hasn’t really worked out. On the whole, the team seems to be rebuilding the right way, rather than just putting a positive spin on losing. They’re filling out the roster with draft picks and young, unproven talent. Next season’s high draft pick will definitely help.
2. New York Jets (1-6)
What a difference a day makes. Yesterday the Jets were 1-5 and going nowhere; today the Jets are 1-6 and still going nowhere. Last night’s game against the Patriots was competitive, right down to the last few minutes. But a Jets’ loss just felt inevitable. (And being a Redskins fan, I know all about about inevitable losses.) Good teams find a way to win, while bad teams find a way to lose. The Jets excel at finding new and exciting ways to lose. Geno Smith is not the answer and quarterback. A strong defensive front seven can’t hide a defensive secondary that couldn’t cover a bed with blanket. Rex Ryan, likable though he is, should be a coordinator in the NFL, not a head coach. Give the Jets management a few more losing seasons, and they might just figure this out.
3. Oakland Raiders (0-5)
The Oakland Raiders better win one of the next two games if they want to preserve their chance at a winning season (or, you know, get a win this season). Because after the Arizona Cardinals this week and the Cleveland Browns next week, the sledding gets really tough: Seattle Seahawks, Denver Broncos, San Diego Chargers. Sadly, the Raiders aren’t up to the task. This season’s overhauled roster — as opposed to every other season’s overhauled roster — isn’t getting it done. The Raiders rank last in total offense. Matt Schaub gave way to Derek Carr, as everyone who’s seen Schaub play knew he would. Offensive coordinator Greg Olson will continue to tinker around the edges, hoping to wring a little more production out of the underperforming unit. But it doesn’t matter, because the team will be all new players next season, one of whom will come high in the first round.
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-5)
What is it about Florida teams? They play good college football down there, but the three pro teams have managed a combined three wins all season, fewer than your average NFL team. The Buccaneers have played some close games, winning one of them. And they’ve been demolished twice. Who knows what team will show up each week? We only know that they’ll probably lose. The Bucs have some talent: the wide receiver pairing of Vincent Jackson and Mike Evan should scare defenses. To date, it’s just startled them a little. Blame veteran Josh McCown, who was brought in to be the answer at quarterback, as if the question “Can Josh McCown lead our team to victory” really needed to be asked. Mike Glennon, in his second year, has replaced him. The defense has underperformed at almost every position. With a bye this week, at least the Bucs can’t get any worse. And next spring they should get a little better.
5. Washington Redskins (1-5)
“This team has too much talent to be [fill in the record],” says every Redskins fan, every week, pretty much every season. Are they right? Are they delusional? Does it matter? The answers are yes, yes and no, for those taking the quiz at home. Wide receiver Pierre Garcon pulled down 113 catches last year, the most in the NFL. Running back Alfred Morris put up almost 1300 yards last year, and 1600 the year before. These and other examples in no way imply that this team will sniff the playoffs this season, as most fans thought at the outset. Quarterback remains a huge question mark, as does the offensive line. That right there is enough to doom a team, but these Skins have so many more issues on the field. The special teams resemble a mediocre Pop Warner team that was told to defend the wrong end of the field. And the defense can’t stop anyone from running the ball, or catching it. Should I go on? I could.
Norm Elrod likes sports and other sanctioned forms of craziness.