The Buffalo Bills have reached a familiar point in their regular-season schedule. The race for a top spot in the NFL draft has eclipsed the race for a spot in the playoffs.
The Bills would pick eighth overall if the season ended today. If they lose their remaining three games and finish 4-12, they would be guaranteed to pick no later than seventh.
The race for a better draft pick might be the most significant thing on the line when the Bills visit Jacksonville on Sunday in a battle of 4-9 teams. The loser has a good chance of drafting one spot sooner next spring.
While Buffalo has not been mathematically eliminated from the playoff race, it is virtually assured of a 14th straight non-playoff season.
How high could the Bills get in the draft? Probably No. 3 overall, if a slew of other four-win teams all find a way to win another game.
The first tie-breaker for the draft’s selection order is strength of schedule. The team with the weaker schedule picks sooner. Head-to-head meetings don’t factor into the equation unless two teams with the same record finish with the same strength of schedule.
Houston (2-11) has the inside track on the first overall pick. Washington (3-10) currently would pick second. Washington faces Atlanta (3-10) on Sunday. Atlanta is almost assured of finishing with a tougher strength of schedule than the Bills. Washington is very likely to finish with an easier strength of schedule than Buffalo. Thus, an Atlanta win and three Bills losses would put Buffalo ahead of the Falcons in the draft order.
After the Jacksonville game, Buffalo plays host to Miami (7-6) and visits New England (10-3). If the Bills win their final three games, they easily could wind up drafting in the mid-teens.
Draft position was the last thing on the minds of coach Doug Marrone and his players as they began preparing for the Jaguars.
“We need to make some progress,” said center Eric Wood. “We took a step back last week, probably a big step back. Hopefully that was rock bottom for this team.”
“If you’re a pro and you’ve got any type of competitive bone in your body ... the way we lost last week, we want to go out there and show that we’re a better team than that,” said defensive end Alan Branch, referring to the loss in Tampa.
“We want this thing to go,” Marrone said. “Every day is critical, every rep is critical. None more critical than what you do at the present time.”
“We still obviously are mathematically in it,” Marrone said. “We could get knocked out of it, and it’s not in our control. What’s in control is for us to go win a game, if not it’s been 14 years. That’s too damn long. We’re going to change that.”
A top-seven pick would put the Bills in position to address whatever key position of need they want, such as an offensive lineman or a linebacker.
If they got the third overall pick, they might be in position to pick the top pass rusher in the draft, South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney.