The NFL regular season has just four weeks left, and teams can now be neatly grouped into three classes: contenders, teams with a shot at a top-five draft pick and teams that have a chance to win the sixth seed in the AFC.
Although it's widely expected that Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater will be the No. 1 pick in the draft, draftniks consider this to be a fairly deep class and South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney was thought of as a probable No. 1 pick heading into the year.
Which teams are in the best position to land one of these players, and what is standing in their way? Let's take a look at our standings projections and the upcoming schedule to suss out which team has the best chance to end up with the first pick.
1. Houston Texans (2-10)
Chance of first overall pick: 59.7 percent
Chance of top-three pick: 84.6 percent
Remaining schedule (weighted DVOA rankings): at Jacksonville (-40.1%), at Indianapolis (-3.1%), vs. Denver (28.3%), at Tennessee (-9.0%)
Although the biggest game for determining the top pick will take place Thursday night in Jacksonville, Fla., it should be noted that the Texans have a few things going against them. Playing three AFC South games, even if they are all road games, hurts because our weighted rankings don't fully account for things such as Reggie Wayne's injury, Jake Locker's injury and the utter regression that has happened to Indianapolis' pass defense while Greg Toler has been out. The division is in shambles right now, and Tennessee very well could have nothing to play for in Week 17. If Kansas City continues its slide, Denver might not have anything to play for in Week 16, either.
The other problem is that the Texans have yet to even come close to actual tank mode. Gary Kubiak and Rick Smith are fighting for their jobs. Kareem Jackson and Ben Tate are playing through broken ribs. And, although the Texans have lost 10 straight, they also haven't lost by more than a touchdown since Week 6. Andre Johnson and J.J. Watt are the types of players who can carry even bad teams to a few wins on their own.
2. Atlanta Falcons (3-9)
Chance of first overall pick: 9.8 percent
Chance of top-three pick: 43.4 percent
Remaining schedule: at Green Bay (-9.1%), vs. Washington (-21.7%), at San Francisco (17.6%), vs. Carolina (32.1%)
The Falcons have a couple of luxuries most teams on this list don't: endorsements for the coaching staff and front office despite the poor season, and a franchise quarterback. Roddy White finally looked healthy for the first time all season in Atlanta's win over Buffalo this past weekend, and, although Julio Jones isn't coming back and the defense is a mess, the White improvement alone could be enough to push Atlanta past a Packers team that still isn't sure it'll have Aaron Rodgers, as well as the tail-spinning Redskins, in the next couple of weeks.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars (3-9)
Chance of first overall pick: 8.9 percent
Chance of top-three pick: 32.1 percent
Remaining schedule: vs. Houston (-25.6%), vs. Buffalo (-7.1%), vs. Tennessee (-9.0%), at Indianapolis (-3.1%)
The Jaguars run into almost the same problem the Texans do: Their end-of-season schedule is Charmin soft, with three AFC South squads and a middling Bills team that has shown an ability to play up-and-down. Additionally, Indianapolis could have nothing to play for by Week 17.
Where our numbers support the Jaguars is in their minus-40.1 percent weighted DVOA ranking, worst in the league. (DVOA is Football Outsiders' defense-adjusted value over average metric, explained here.) However, since Jacksonville ditched Blaine Gabbert for Chad Henne, the numbers have moved into the "acceptably bad" range instead of "horrible." The Jaguars had three games of minus-85.9 percent DVOA or worse with Gabbert under center but have none worse than minus-65.2 percent with Henne.
In the event they win the No. 1 pick, the Jaguars would have zero hesitation in selecting Bridgewater and ending the Henne-Gabbert saga, as well as most residual shouts for Tim Tebow by the vocal minority in the area.
4. Washington Redskins (pick owned by St. Louis Rams) (3-9)
Chance of first overall pick: 8.0 percent
Chance of top-three pick: 35.3 percent
Remaining schedule: vs. Kansas City (7.8%), at Atlanta (-13.3%), vs. Dallas (1.7%), at New York Giants (-7.8%)
Here's where the Robert Griffin III trade rears its ugly head, and why you don't judge a trade after one season. The Rams have compiled two extra first-round picks and a second-round pick for Griffin so far, and they also have this pick, which, as of today, would be the No. 2 pick in the draft.
Washington's weakest opponent, Atlanta, gets to play the Redskins in the Georgia Dome. The Skins have wrapped up with Philadelphia, but that's about the only portion of the schedule not in favor of them tanking. If Griffin gets shut down, which could be a possibility given how poorly he has played of late, it would only further the cause.
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-9)
Chance of first overall pick: 6.4 percent
Chance of top-three pick: 32.4 percent
Remaining schedule: vs. Buffalo (-7.1%), vs. San Francisco (17.6%), at St. Louis (8.6%), at New Orleans (20.9%)
The Bucs had fired off four consecutive quality games before getting spanked by Carolina last week, and, even before that, our numbers thought they were the best 0-5 team ever. The schedule down the stretch is the fourth-toughest in the league, but the Bucs are probably the best team on this list. It would not be surprising at all to see them wind up with four or five wins.
6. Minnesota Vikings (3-8-1)
Chance of first overall pick: 4.3 percent
Chance of top-three pick: 28.8 percent
Remaining schedule: at Baltimore (-6.6%), vs. Philadelphia (13.4%), at Cincinnati (16.6%), vs. Detroit (4.4%)
Minnesota has started to look … "feisty" isn't the right word, but perhaps "less dead" than the rest of the NFC North of late, picking up a pair of non-losses against the Bears and Packers. The tie really puts the Vikings in poor position compared with the rest of the teams on this list, but where they make up for it is on the schedule: Minnesota has the ninth-toughest remaining schedule, and no other team on this list boasts four potential playoff teams in its last four games.