The basement of the NFL is a crowded place. At the very bottom are the Cincinnati Bengals, still winless through eight games. Next come the one-game winners, a sad quartet including the Miami Dolphins, Washington Redskins, Atlanta Falcons and New York Jets. One of those five teams will almost certainly be awarded the No. 1 pick in the upcoming NFL draft, an especially coveted prize in 2020, with multiple potential franchise quarterbacks on the board.
As you would expect, the 0-8 Bengals now have the inside track for the No. 1 pick, supplanting the Dolphins, who upset the Jets on Sunday.
Based on their true talent level — derived by looking at actual win rate, projected win rate based on total points scored and allowed and a regressed win rate that accounts for the small sample size of eight or nine games — we can project the season 1,000 times and find Cincinnati is the team most likely of those five to finish the 2019 campaign with the worst record in the NFL. That methodology gives them a 31 percent chance at landing the No. 1 pick in 2020, assuming the pick goes to one of the current bottom five. The Jets have the worst chance at the top pick of those five teams, despite only one win through the first nine weeks of the season, due to a soft upcoming schedule that includes games with the New York Giants (2-7), Redskins, Oakland Raiders (4-4), Bengals and Dolphins over the next few weeks.
The Bengals have already embraced the non-winning process by benching starting quarterback Andy Dalton for rookie Ryan Finley. Plus, star wideout A.J. Green has already missed the first eight games with an ankle injury and did not practice on Wednesday, souring earlier optimism about a potential return. Also missing practice for Cincinnati were cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick (knee), guard Alex Redmond (knee/ankle) and tight end Tyler Eifert (non-injury related). The Bengals are 10-point underdogs to the Baltimore Ravens this week, indicating another loss and an 0-9 start are likely on the horizon.
Getting the opportunity to pick No. 2 isn’t bad, either, and you could argue the third pick in this draft also offers a team the opportunity to quickly upgrade its future.
Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa, Oregon’s Justin Herbert and possibly LSU’s Joe Burrow have all been touted as future franchise quarterbacks available in next year’s draft, making the race to the bottom of the standings a lucrative one.
Tagovailoa led Alabama to a national title as a true freshman in 2018 and has the highest passer rating out of a clean pocket (154.4) in 2019, per the game charters at Pro Football Focus. Herbert and the Ducks haven’t been consistent this season but the senior has completed 200 of 288 passes (career-high 69 percent completion rate) for 2,329 yards, 24 touchdowns and just two interceptions. Burrow, who has starred for top-ranked LSU, keeps rising up mock draft boards, with the latest one by PFF’s Mike Renner showcasing the Heisman hopeful at No. 1.
If you assume the bottom five will monopolize the top three picks in 2020, the Bengals now look like a virtual lock to nab one of those three picks (a 78 percent chance) with the Dolphins, Falcons and Redskins fighting for the other two spots. In the event of a tie, the team that played an inferior set of opponents (as measured by overall win-loss record) gets the better pick. As things stand, Miami and Washington would edge out Atlanta in case of a tie. This race to the bottom, though, could remain competitive through the season’s final few weeks.