Here’s Other Big Variable To Watch With Patriots’ NFL Draft Hopes

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On the surface, the Patriots’ quest for a top pick in the 2024 NFL Draft isn’t all that complicated.

If they lose the rest of their games, the Patriots will finish with at least the No. 3 overall selection, which they currently have. And that would be a potentially significant outcome, as New England would be guaranteed an opportunity to land Caleb Williams, Drake Maye or Marvin Harrison Jr. — the consensus top prospects in the draft.

It’s simple for fans who’ve given up on the 2023 season and aren’t concerned with the embarrassment of bottoming out: Root for the Patriots to lose, and for the other teams atop the draft board to win.

But there’s much more to it than that, especially if 2-8 New England picks up a win or two the rest of the way. In reality, Patriots fans have a bunch of teams to root for and against every weekend.

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Strength of schedule is the first tiebreaker in determining draft position. If two teams finish with the same record, the team with the lower opponents’ winning percentage gets the higher draft pick.

It might sound backward, but the logic works: If you finish with a bad record against an easy schedule, you probably are worse than the team that faced a tougher slate.

So, while the Patriots’ hopes for a top pick would get a huge boost with a loss to the 3-8 New York Giants on Sunday, other results from around the NFL could impact their draft standing. Fans should want each team on New England’s 2023 schedule to lose each weekend, as it would cause the Patriots’ strength of schedule to gradually decrease.

Those teams are:

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Philadelphia Eagles
Miami Dolphins
New York Jets
Dallas Cowboys
New Orleans Saints
Las Vegas Raiders
Buffalo Bills
Washington Commanders
Indianapolis Colts
New York Giants
Los Angeles Chargers
Pittsburgh Steelers
Kansas City Chiefs
Denver Broncos

Now, the number-crunching gets pretty weird if two of those opponents face each other, as the Eagles and Chiefs did Monday night. You’ll give yourself a popsicle headache trying to figure out which result would be better for the Patriots, so just don’t think about it.

But make no mistake, the strength-of-schedule stuff is a huge variable going forward. For example, after the Week 10 Sunday afternoon slate, here’s how the top of the draft looked:

1. Chicago Bears, via 1-8 Carolina Panthers (.512 SOS)
2. New York Giants, 2-8 (.522 SOS)
3. Arizona Cardinals, 2-8 (.544 SOS)
4. New England Patriots, 2-8 (.555 SOS)

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And here’s where the order stood after the Raiders beat the Jets on “Sunday Night Football”:

1. Chicago Bears, via 1-8 Carolina Panthers (.512 SOS)
2. New York Giants, 2-8 (.522 SOS)
3. New England Patriots, 2-8 (.541)
4. Arizona Cardinals, 2-8 (.544 SOS)

If the season ended that night, the four-point Vegas win could’ve been a franchise-altering result for the Patriots.

It’s important to note that Tankathon, which is the best and most consistently updated draft-order site, includes future opponents in determining strength of schedule. That means the Patriots’ SOS includes teams like the Broncos, whom New England won’t face until later in the season. So, it wasn’t productive to focus on league-wide results earlier in the campaign.

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But now we’re in Week 12, and this stuff is becoming increasingly relevant. Playoff positioning might be out of the picture, but Patriots fans still should be scoreboard-watching every weekend.

So long, path math. Hello, tank math.

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