Each demoralizing loss hurts now, New England Patriots fans, but there is a very clear silver lining in all of this. The 2024 NFL Draft draws closer, and as it stands, the Patriots are lined up to have the No. 2 overall pick.
Thanks to their 6-0 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers and the Arizona Cardinals upsetting the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday, New England did come out on top in a way. Quarterback Mac Jones isn't the guy and Bailey Zappe showed that he definitely isn't, either.
The Patriots have positioned themselves better to potentially find their quarterback of the future and put this nasty losing business behind them. What did Drake say? "Cry now, laugh later?" Something to that effect.
Even though the Chicago Bears didn't play this week, they maintain their place atop the draft order, while the Cardinals moved back to No. 3. Given the way their quarterbacks are currently playing, this could all be teeing the Patriots up to become the ultimate winner of the Caleb Williams sweepstakes.
The USC quarterback and 2022 Heisman Trophy winner, who will sit out the Holiday Bowl, is in the conversation for the No. 1 overall pick along with North Carolina quarterback Drake Maye and Ohio State wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr.
If the Bears hold on to the top pick (via the 1-11 Carolina Panthers), is it possible they build around Fields and Harrison, the best wide receiver prospect in awhile? With Williams sitting out USC's bowl game, could Maye make a compelling argument for the top choice with a big game against West Virginia in the Mayo Bowl?
Anything and everything can happen in the next four weeks, both in the NFL and in these bowl games, to dramatically shift the current draft picture. So let's look at where things currently stand heading into Week 14.
Perfect storm for Panthers?
Don't look now, but the Carolina Panthers appear ... competitive? The team fired coach Frank Reich last week following a 17-10 loss to the Tennessee Titans. In the game after Reich's dismissal, Carolina pushed the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to the brink in a 21-18 loss on Sunday.
Seeing as the Panthers don't own their first-round pick this year — thanks to their trade with the Bears to move up from No. 9 to No. 1 in 2023 — winning more games doesn't do anything but boost morale and hurt Chicago.
Those aren't terrible outcomes for a hapless 1-11 team that will once again be looking for a new head coach when the season ends. Carolina travels to New Orleans to face a Saints team that might not have quarterback Derek Carr and is on a three-game slide.
Those factors make this look like a perfect opportunity for the Panthers to win their second game of the season and get a win over a division rival that's in the mix for the NFC South title behind the 6-6 Atlanta Falcons.
Bears welcome the NFC North-leading Lions
If you're a team looking to maintain control over a top pick in the draft, playing the best team in your division certainly helps that objective. At least on paper.
There's always pride and all of those intangibles that come into play, but if the Detroit Lions go into Soldier Field and do what they're supposed to do ... then Chicago inches one step closer to having two top-five picks in the upcoming draft.
And for a team that could either do a reset or decide to build around its current quarterback, well, it just doesn't get any better. Decisions, decisions abound, though.
The Lions enter the game having won eight of their last 10 contests, but they did play a 31-26 nailbitter against the Bears at Ford Field, so anything could conceivably happen.
Cardinals and Commanders sit tight during their bye weeks
How great is it to be these two teams heading into Week 14?
Not overall, obviously, because no one is throwing parades for a 3-10 and 4-9 team, respectively. But in the grand scheme of rebuilding a roster, the Cardinals and Washington Commanders are in great shape at the moment.
Arizona is currently slated to pick third overall and Washington fourth, and while there could be a slight bit of movement depending on results this weekend, each team can kick up their feet and watch the madness around them without losing a ton of ground.
Who will pick No. 1 overall in the 2024 NFL Draft?
Here is the current 2024 NFL Draft order entering Week 14.
Chicago Bears (from Carolina Panthers)
New England Patriots
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Los Angeles Chargers
Arizona Cardinals (from Houston Texans)
Houston Texans (from Cleveland Browns)
Who will be taken with the No. 1 pick in the 2024 NFL Draft?
The only team with a "clear-cut" choice if it owns the top pick is the the Patriots. And even then, nothing is guaranteed until the pick is in.
Should New England find a way to position itself with the No. 1 overall pick, the question logically reverts to, "Which quarterback is it taking?" That'll be ironed out at the conclusion of bowl season.
We've potentially seen the last of Williams until the NFL Combine, if he decides to declare for the draft. If that's the case, now comes the part of the process where experts comb through the tape they have on him until he makes his next appearance.
Has Williams done enough to earn the top pick? Is there anything that Maye could do to change the consensus in the coming weeks and months? That also remains to be seen.