The race for the number one pick in the 2021 NFL Draft received a shake-up in Week 15 when two of the teams in contention did something unexpected – win.
A stunning upset of the Los Angeles Rams gave the New York Jets their first victory of a campaign that had appeared destined to end in the ignominy of 0-16 and the first overall pick.
It was a win likely celebrated in the front office of the Jacksonville Jaguars as much as in the locker room of the Jets, and also handed the Cincinnati Bengals a potential route to a second successive number one pick.
But the Bengals decided there was one more shock in the offing on Monday, defeating the Pittsburgh Steelers 27-17 for only their third triumph of the year.
According to Stats Perform data, no NFL team with nine fewer wins than their opponent had prevailed in such a matchup between 2012-19. The Jets and Bengals achieved that feat in back-to-back days, significantly influencing how the top of the draft will play out come April.
Here we look at the top five as it stands with two weeks to go in the regular season.
Not going to be able to fall asleep tonight cause we’ll be watching these highlights pic.twitter.com/wHgjJ77dz6
— Cincinnati Bengals (@Bengals) December 22, 2020
1. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-13)
Have the Jets cost themselves Trevor Lawrence? Touted as a generational prospect since his high school days, the Clemson star looks a lock to be the number one overall pick and the Jets’ victory appears to have handed him to the Jags, who have a lower strength of schedule than New York, giving them the tiebreaker and the top choice.
2. New York Jets (1-13)
What now? There was fury among large sections of the Jets’ fanbase at a costly victory in terms of draft position. All is not lost, however, as Ohio State’s Justin Fields is an outstanding consolation prize, and will look to outperform Lawrence when they meet in the College Football Playoff semi-finals.
Their unlikely success has raised the question of the Jets sticking with former third overall pick Sam Darnold and putting more protection and weapons around him. A team with a litany of holes could even trade down and collect more picks. There’s intrigue aplenty in the Big Apple now.
Sam was sharp yesterday.
Watch all 22 completions from. pic.twitter.com/xyd8GONql1
— New York Jets (@nyjets) December 21, 2020
3. Cincinnati Bengals (3-10-1)
Had they not beaten the Steelers, the Bengals would have had at least a chance at the number one pick, though the odds of the Jags and Jets each winning their final two games are not great. Barring a winning streak to end the season, the Bengals appear locked into number three.
Unless the Jets make a surprise move, Oregon tackle Penei Sewell should be available at this spot to provide Joe Burrow with the improved protection he so desperately needs.
4. Carolina Panthers (4-10)
A lower strength of schedule gives the Panthers the tiebreaker over their NFC South rivals the Atlanta Falcons.
Having fired general manager Marty Hurney this week, it is time for a reset in the Carolina front office. Head coach Matt Rhule has the team seemingly going in the right direction, but they are without a quarterback of the future. Assuming Fields is off the board, Zach Wilson of BYU and North Dakota State’s Trey Lance loom as potential targets here.
5. Atlanta Falcons (4-10)
Speaking of resets, the Falcons will have a new general manager and head coach come the time of the draft, and it is not yet clear in which direction they will go.
Quarterback would seem to be off the table with Matt Ryan tied to a lucrative contract, while edge rusher and cornerback stand as more pressing concerns. Miami pass rusher Gregory Rousseau is raw but possesses incredible athletic traits. Alabama’s Patrick Surtain II, the son of a three-time Pro Bowler, looks to have gained the status of consensus top corner.