Seven weeks into the NFL season, there are 22 teams with a record of .500 or better, which means they can claim to be in the thick of the playoff race as the NFL season nears its halfway point. But none of them are in the most interesting race – the one happening way down at the bottom of the league.
Like it or not, the race for Andrew Luck – better known in most places as “Suck for Luck” – began the moment the first NFL teams hit 0-3 this season.. The Stanford quarterback will almost certainly be the prize of the 2012 draft and some scouts consider him to be as safe a bet as Peyton Manning (1998) or John Elway (1983).
What down-on-their-luck – no pun intended – NFL team wouldn’t want that?
Given the number of truly miserable, pathetic teams near the bottom of the NFL standings this season, the race for the No. 1 overall pick figures to be fierce and it likely will be won by a 2-3-win team. So if a team has two wins through the first six or seven games of the season (like Philadelphia, Jacksonville, Denver and Carolina) they’re probably already out of it.
For the five winless or one-win teams that are in it, though, the “Suck for Luck” race could get real interesting down the stretch. Here’s how the race the teams don’t want to talk about shapes up … with a projected order of finish (in draft order) and what the team will likely do with their pick:
1. Indianapolis Colts (0-7)
Anyone who witnessed their 62-7 destruction at the hands of the Saints last Sunday night knows they have the special combination of horrible defense, terrible running game and bad quarterback to make everything click towards a winless season. WR Reggie Wayne looks done. RB Joseph Addai has been hurt and aside from a couple of big plays from QB Curtis Painter to WR Pierre Garcon, the passing game has no juice.
They have five division games left, plus games against the Falcons, Ravens and Patriots. Except for their Nov. 27 home game against the Panthers, what game do you expect them to win?
The pick: There has been some recent talk that the Colts would pass on a quarterback in next year’s draft because Peyton Manning has too many theoretical good years left. I don’t see that happening. I think they’ll need about seven seconds to write Luck’s name on the card and turn it in, and they’ll never seriously consider a trade offer. Manning’s neck injury makes him a question mark for the future. Besides, he’s 35 anyway. Even if returns for a couple of years, then the second-best quarterback of this generation could have a hand in grooming the best quarterback of the next one.
2. Miami Dolphins (0-6)
Based solely on talent, this is the worst team in the NFL and their coach, Tony Sparano, has known he’s on borrowed time since the Dolphins owner, Steven Ross, made a run at Jim Harbaugh during the offseason. They just became the first team since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970 merger to blow a 15-point lead in the final three minutes of a game. They do have some winnable games, though (Washington, Oakland at home) and they’ve played some close ones. They’ll find a way to screw up getting the No. 1 overall pick.
The pick: It would be just their luck that they can’t suck enough to finally replace Dan Marino. They need a quarterback, though, and will have no choice but to use this pick on the second best one in the draft – maybe Oklahoma’s Landry Jones? Then they’ll have to keep their fingers crossed that whoever it is doesn’t turn into Akili Smith or Ryan Leaf.
3. Arizona Cardinals (1-5)
They are riding a five-game losing streak, QB Kevin Kolb is struggling to adjust to life as a starter, and RB Beanie Wells has been in and out with injuries. Their schedule also features the NFC East, where four teams may be in the race right until the end. If Wells is healthy, they should drop down this list, but without him teams can concentrate too much on Kolb and WR Larry Fitzgerald..
The pick: You want to get Kolb more comfortable as a starting quarterback? Go draft the best available offensive tackle in 2012. There should be a few good ones, and if the Cards finish third they’ll have their pick.
4. St. Louis Rams (0-6)
After nearly winning the awful NFC West last season, the Rams have fallen flat on their faces thanks to a ridiculous string of injuries that included RB Steven Jackson, QB Sam Bradford and WR Danny Amendola. Yes, they’re winless in a terrible division, but to realize how deceiving that is you have to look at whom they’ve played – all four NFC East teams, Green Bay and Baltimore. They haven’t played a single team in their crummy division yet. When they do, life gets easier. But first they need to fall to 0-7 against the Saints and resist the urge to fire Steve Spagnuolo.
The pick: Bradford has simply been getting killed when he’s been able to play and that’s a direct reflection on a bad offensive line. This is another team that needs a tackle over a quarterback. If they somehow landed the No. 1 overall pick, they could engineer one of the biggest trades in NFL history. But getting a top tackle would be fine, too.
5. Minnesota Vikings (1-6)
They’ve showed signs of life since replacing Donovan McNabb with Christian Ponder, which is exactly what you don’t want to do in the race for a top draft pick. They still have holes at every position except for running back and they still have the Packers, Falcons, Lions and Saints on their schedule. They have enough issues, though, that five wins seems to be their ceiling, which locks them into a top-five pick.
The pick: A quarterback would’ve been an intriguing option for them until Ponder started playing and looking good. Now he needs some help around him. A big receiver would be nice, so the passing game can click and take some of the enormous pressure off Peterson. Don’t be surprised, though, if Leslie Frazier looks to rebuild his defense first.
By RALPH VACCHIANO