The Arizona Cardinals have two remarkable streaks going. They haven’t won a championship since 1947, the longest drought in major American professional sports. They also haven’t had the first overall pick of the NFL draft since 1958.
It looks like one of those streaks is going to end, and unfortunately for the Cardinals it’s not the one about winning a title.
The Oakland Raiders’ victory on Monday night clarified the NFL draft order heading into Week 17. The Cardinals are the only 3-12 team in the NFL and if they lose to the Seattle Seahawks, they’ll pick first. The last time the Cardinals picked first they were the Chicago Cardinals, and chose Rice quarterback King Hill.
Hill, who played 12 NFL seasons with the Cardinals and Eagles, died in 2012 at age 75. It has been a really long time since the Cardinals picked first.
Cardinals get top pick with a loss on Sunday
The Cardinals have been in this position before, in which a loss in Week 17 would have given them the top pick. And their win in the final week of the 1997 season changed NFL history.
In the final week of the 1997 season, the Cardinals beat the Falcons 26-23 on a last-minute touchdown pass from Jake Plummer to Larry Centers. Arizona entered that game 3-12, with the tiebreaker edge over the 3-12 Colts for the first pick. The Colts got the first pick instead, and took Peyton Manning, the only five-time MVP in NFL history. The Cardinals, with the third pick, took defensive end Andre Wadsworth. Wadsworth had eight career sacks.
The Cardinals were not considered to be in the market for a quarterback because Plummer was just finishing up his rookie season, but imagine the trade package they’d have gotten for a prospect like Manning. Alas.
There’s no Manning-level prospect in the 2019 draft — presumptive top pick Nick Bosa, a defensive end from Ohio State, is a good player but not one a team would trade three or four first-round picks to move up and get — but the first pick would still be something nice for the Cardinals at the end of a horrendous season. All they have to do is lose to Seattle.
Cardinals aren’t likely to tank
You can’t tell NFL players to tank. They’re professionals and they’re not putting something bad on tape. Players are constantly evaluated by their own team and the 31 other teams too. The Buccaneers deftly pulled off a tank job in the 2014 finale, pulling starters in the second half to lose and get the opportunity to draft Jameis Winston, but that’s rare. Teams generally try, even when it’s in their best interest to lose. If the Cardinals didn’t tank for Peyton Manning, they’re not tanking for Nick Bosa.
The Cardinals don’t look like a team that can win its final game, but the Seahawks have almost nothing to play for. Seattle could slip from the No. 5 seed to No. 6 and perhaps they’d rather avoid probable third-seed Chicago, but it seems like an opportunity to rest starters. Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said he’ll play the starters as usual, but it would make sense to pull them early. It would be a lot easier for the Cardinals to beat Seattle if Brett Hundley is playing quarterback instead of Russell Wilson.
If the Cardinals win, that opens up an opportunity for someone else to get the first overall pick. The tiebreaker for draft position is strength of schedule, with the worst SOS drafting first. The Cardinals .520 strength of schedule heading into Week 17 (h/t to NFL.com) is better than the 4-11 49ers (.484), 4-11 Jets (.496) but better than the 4-11 Raiders (.533). Strength of schedule will change as the final week is played, but it seems that the biggest cheers for the Cardinals to beat the Seahawks will be coming from San Francisco.
If being first on the clock for the first time in more than 60 years is important for Cardinals fans, all that needs to happen is their team losing one more time this season.
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