Struggling Commanders putting pressure on Cardinals’ projected No. 3 NFL Draft pick in 2024

Dec 18, 2023, 3:06 PM | Updated: 3:07 pm

TEMPE — The projected top five picks of the 2024 NFL Draft didn’t change order-wise after the bulk of Week 15’s action this weekend.

That’s not to say things didn’t get a little more interesting for the Arizona Cardinals and the teams sandwiched around them.

With the Carolina Panthers — whose pick belongs to the Chicago Bears — somehow improving to 2-12 on the season after a 9-7 win over the Atlanta Falcons, they sit just one game ahead of both the Cardinals and New England Patriots at 3-11.

But for as much as everyone is eying who’s in front of Arizona, there’s a team or two behind the Cardinals that could play major spoilers for a top-three pick in the coming weeks.

A look at the current draft order and what to watch for across the NFL in Week 16:

2024 NFL Draft order snapshot

1. Carolina Panthers *owned by Chicago* (2-12)
2. New England Patriots (3-11)
3. Arizona Cardinals (3-11)
4. Washington Commanders (4-10)
5. Chicago Bears (5-9)
6. New York Jets (5-9)
7. New York Giants (5-9)
8. Los Angeles Chargers (5-9)
9. Tennessee Titans (5-9)
10. Atlanta Falcons (6-8)

Sure, losing 45-29 at home to NFC West foe San Francisco 49ers isn’t the result head coach Jonathan Gannon or anyone else on the sideline wanted to see.

The defeat did, however, bring with it a silver lining in the form of locking the Cardinals into the No. 3 spot for at least another week, especially given how those around Arizona fared on Sunday.

Excluding the Panthers, the teams currently in the top 10 all took Ls in Week 15.

And there’s one squad in particular that Cardinals — and Patriots — fans should be keeping tabs on.

Commanders threatening the top 3

You can’t find a worse team right now than Washington.

Losers of five straight and nine of their past 11, the Commanders remain just one game back of the Cardinals and Patriots at 4-10.

Washington’s road to the finish line is far from a smooth one, too, with a formidable New York Jets defense before a pair of home games against playoff contenders in the 49ers and Dallas Cowboys.

It’s safe to say wins are going to be at a premium for a team coming off a 28-20 loss to the Los Angeles Rams that saw Jacoby Brissett replace starter Sam Howell late in the game.

Arizona doesn’t have the same type of gauntlet Washington does, with the Bears, Philadelphia Eagles and Seattle Seahawks left to face.

The Patriots’ final three games meanwhile come against the Denver Broncos, Bills and Jets, two teams the Patriots somehow already beat this season.

All it takes is a pair of wins from the Cardinals and Patriots this week and another Commanders loss to really shake up the top of the order.

If that were to happen, the Commanders would leapfrog both teams thanks to Washington’s weaker strength of schedule (.515), the metric used to break ties. Basically, a weaker SOS means a higher draft pick depending on ties.

A look at the top 5 in terms of strength of schedule:

1. Carolina Panthers: .519
2. New England Patriots: .523
3. Arizona Cardinals: .557
4. Washington Commanders: .515
5. Chicago Bears: .466

That season-opening win the Commanders had over the Joshua Dobbs-led Cardinals could come into play in a big way when it comes to draft positioning.

So could whatever happens this upcoming week in the Windy City.

With a Cardinals win and a Bears loss, Arizona would still hold a slim one-game lead over Chicago on the draft side of things. The Bears do have an easier finish than Arizona does with the Falcons and Green Bay Packers their last two regular season opponents.

Flip things around to a Cardinals loss and Bears win, though, and there’s a real chance Chicago could fall multiple spots depending on what the other five- and six-win teams do in Week 16.

Despite the what-ifs — the scenarios of four six-win teams losing and the four five-win teams earning Ws — the Bears have a built-in ace in the hole that should stop them from falling outside the top 10 even with a victory.

Of the eight teams in that win range behind the Bears, only Atlanta has a weaker SOS (.424) than Chicago.

NFL Draft-implicating games to watch in Week 16

It’s a week of big games when it comes down to the top of the draft order.

A look at the matchups to watch out for as it relates to the Cardinals’ original first-round pick this week:

Washington Commanders @ New York Jets

No further explanation needed here.

Carolina Panthers vs. Green Bay Packers

A win by the Panthers would still keep them in the driver’s seat for the No. 1 pick that belongs to the Bears thanks to SOS, but it would make the waning weeks of the regular season a whole lot more interesting.

Chicago Bears vs. Arizona Cardinals

A win or loss by either is going to impact the draft board in some way or another.

New England Patriots @ Denver Broncos

The Patriots’ win over the Pittsburgh Steelers appears to have been a fluke.

Losers of six of its last seven games, New England should be on the wrong side of the scoreboard in this one against a Denver squad looking to sneak into a playoff spot.

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