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Washington Commanders Tank Tracker 2023 – Week 15

Nothing beats tanking in your sleep

New England Patriots v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

Things couldn’t have gone much better for the Commanders’ draft position while they were enjoying the week off.

Heading into the bye week, the 4-9 Commanders were in fourth place in the draft order. However, their hold on that position was highly tenuous, since they were riding a bubble ahead of three 4-8 teams with weaker projected strength of schedule. All three of those teams were underdogs in their Week 14 matchups, so the expectation was that the Commanders would fall to seventh place after the games were played.

While nothing has gone right for Ron Rivera’s hopes to earn himself another season as head coach, the flip side of his failure is that the heavens have aligned perfectly to assist the Commanders’ quest for a top-4 draft pick. In fact, thanks to a near miraculous string of seven upset wins by their closest competitors in recent weeks, the Commanders have solidified their hold on fourth place, if the season ended today, and now find themselves with a realistic chance of rising higher, possibly as far as second overall.


Green Bay Packers v New York Giants Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images

Week 14 in Review

Let’s review the remarkable series of events in Week 14 which have led the Commanders to where they are today.

After the Week 13 games, the 4-9 Commanders were in fourth place in the draft order. They were closely trailed by four 4-8 teams: the Bears, Jets, Giants and Titans. At that point in time, the Bears, Jets and Giants had weaker projected strength of schedule and would move ahead of Washington with Week 14 losses. All three were underdogs in their next games, so it appeared most likely that the Commanders would fall to seventh place when the games were played.

The fourth 4-8 team, Tennessee, had a stronger strength of schedule than the Commanders so they were less of an immediate threat. If neither team won any further games, they could still overtake Washington, but only if there was a change to strength of schedule resulting from unexpected losses by their remaining opponents or unexpected wins by Washington’s.

Heading into Week 14, the Commanders also trailed the 2-10 New England Patriots by two positions in the draft order, and the 3-10 Cardinals by one. The Patriots seemed out of reach because they have been playing so badly with Mac Jones at QB. The 3-10 Cardinals, also on a bye, were one position ahead of Washington, thanks to their Week 13 upset of the Pittsburgh Steelers (Upset #1, Pre-game Win Probability 31.5%).

To open Week 14 New England made a switch to Bailey Zappe at QB for their Thursday night matchup with the heavily favored Pittsburgh Steelers (-6.0). Zappe did not disappoint, throwing 19/28 (67.9%) for 240 yards, 3 TD, 1 INT to lead a 21 to 18 upset (Upset #2, Pre-Game Win Probability 32.8%). The win closed the gap between the Patriots and Commanders to one win.

On Sunday the 4-8 Bears staged an unlikely 28-13 upset (Upset #3, Pre-Game Win Probability 41.2%) of the 9-3 Lions (-3.0), while the 4-8 Jets broke a five-game losing streak with a 30-6 blowout of the 7-5 Texans (-3.5; Upset #4, Pre-Game Win Probability 41.2%).

The last two competitors for the Commanders’ draft position faced different opponents in a Monday night doubleheader. The 4-8 New York Giants, starting their third string QB, rookie UDFA Tommy DeVito – who still lives at home with his parents – faced the heavily favored 6-6 Green Bay Packers (-7.0) who are very much in contention for a Wild Card berth. DeVito Rose to the occasion, throwing 17/21 (80.9%) for 158 yards and 1 TD (passer rating 113.9) while adding 71 yards on 10 carries to lead a 24-22 upset of the Packers (Upset #5, Pre-Game Win Probability 30.2%).

The most improbable outcome came in the other Monday night game. The 4-8 Titans were 13 point underdogs and seemingly overmatched by the AFC-East leading Miami Dolphins. The Titans played the Dolphins closer than anyone expected through more than three quarters, until a series of gaffes by Tennessee allowed Miami to pull ahead by 14 points with 4:34 remaining in the game. The ensuing rally, featuring two touchdown drives by rookie QB Will Levis and critical stops by the Titans’ defense, culminated by a game sealing sack by OLB Harold Landry III, delivered the upset of the week (Upset #6, Pre-Game Win Probability 16.7%), with the Titans topping the Dolphins 28-27.

Based on pre-game win probabilities calculated from the Vegas lines for each game, the probability of all six upsets occurring together was 0.315 x 0.328 x 0.412 x 0.412 x 0.302 x 0.167 = 0.0009, or 0.09%. That is around 10% less likely than a 1 in 1000 event.

As a result of the highly improbable series of six upsets in two weeks, the Commanders find themselves as the only remaining 4-win team and only one win behind the two teams ahead of them. Most importantaly, they now control of their own destiny. If they can avoid winning any more games, they can’t end up picking any later than fourth overall, and it is not implausible for them to rise even higher.


Eyes on the Prize

If the Commanders stay where they are now in fourth place, they will likely take the podium after the top two QB prospects have been taken and one other player. The third player taken is most likely to be either the third QB in the draft class, or “generational” WR prospect Marvin Harrison Jr. Other possibilities include the top edge defender DE Laiatu Latu, TE Brock Bowers or one of the top two OT prospects (Olu Fashanu or Joe Alt in most early rankings). That leaves several elite options for the Commanders’ new GM to pick from, if he chooses to pick a player fourth overall. Alternatively, there will be more than one player available that other teams should be willing to trade up to acquire.

In last week’s edition, I focused on offensive tackles that the Commanders might consider selecting third or fourth overall, or in a trade back to later in the first round. This week I consider what the Commanders might expect to receive in a trade back. I will focus on teams who might trade up for quarterbacks, since those trades are easier to anticipate than trades for other positions, and because teams seeking quarterbacks nearly always lose their heads and give away more draft capital than the target pick is worth.

There are quite a few teams picking after Washington who could potentially draft a QB this year, but the list of teams silly enough to trade up into the top five for one, given the history of failure of such moves, is a lot shorter. For these purposes, I’ll consider three trade partners, currently projected to pick in different parts of the first round:

Las Vegas Raiders – Currently Picking 6th Overall

The Raiders signed Jimmy Garoppolo to a three year, $72.75 million contract last offseason, but benched him in favor of fourth round rookie Adian O’Connell. The dead cap hit from Garoppolo’s contract is a problem, but there is still a good chance they look to this deep QB class to find an eventual replacement. The beauty of this trade is that the Commanders only move back two places in the first round.

The Raiders send Washington the 6th overall pick to move up two places to fourth. The difference between trade value of the 4th and 6th picks is 45 points, which equates to the 90th overall pick. Rather than settling for the Raiders’ 107th (31 pts) and 142nd (14 pts) picks, the Commanders’ GM demands a premium for the rights to draft their QB of the future and holds out for their 70th pick (excess draft capital: 25 pts). The Commanders move back two spots, where it is likely that one of the two top OT prospects is still available and add another high third round pick.

New Orleans Saints – Currently Picking 12th Overall

The Saints signed Derek Carr to a four year, $150 million contract in the offseason. He has played just OK, but is 32 years old and has struggled with injuries. It would make sense to look for a long term solution in the draft, and the Saints aren’t averse to moving up to grab players they like.

Washington swaps the fourth overall pick for the Saints’ pick #12, creating a trade value deficit of 144 points. To make the deal work for Washington, the Saints throw in picks #48 (121 points) and their 2025 3rd round pick (estimated as pick #80, discounted by one round to #117: 25 pts).

At pick #12, Fashanu and Alt are likely to be gone, but there is a reasonable chance of picking one of the next rated OT prospects such as Amarius Mims (Georgia), J.C. Latham (Alabama), Kingsley Suamataia (BYU) or Taliese Fuaga (Oregon State). The Commanders also add a third pick in the second round in 2024 and another top 100 pick next year.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Currently Picking 20th Overall

Baker Mayfield has had his best season in three years with Tampa, but he’s only on a one year deal. His future with the team might depend on whether or not head coach Todd Bowles is still around. If not, the new regime is likely to be looking to at least give him some competition.

To trade up from pick #20, the Buccaneers need to make up a difference of 222 trade value points. Tampa ships Washington picks #20, #52 (109 pts) and their 2025 first round pick (valued at 121 pts).

At pick #20, it is possible that a top rated RT prospect, such as J.C. Latham, Talise Fuaga or Jordan Morgan might be available. Or perhaps the Commanders select an edge rusher (Jared Verse, J.T. Tuimoloau, Chop Robinson), a cornerback (Denzel Burke, Nate Wiggins, Kamari Lassiter), or even a big X receiver (Keon Coleman). They pick three times after that in the second round to address any positions they missed out on in the first round. The first round pick they added in 2025 could turn out to be a high top-10 pick if the Buccaneers QB of the future doesn’t meet rosy expectations as a first year starter.


Week 15 Draft Position Watch

Heading into Week 15, the Commanders have solidified their hold on fourth place in the draft order, according to Tankathon’s projection, shown above.

No intentional tanking should be required to hang onto their current draft position. They are coming out of the bye riding the league’s second longest losing streak (4 games, tie with Seattle) and are ranked last in the NFL in points allowed and yardage allowed. To add insult to injury, their last-ranked defense, already missing its starting pass rushers, just lost its only good starting linebacker to season ending surgery.

The Commanders’ remaining games are against the Rams, Jets, 49ers and Cowboys. The most favorable matchup is against the Jets. At the time of this writing, Draftkings Sportsbook has the Commanders as three point underdogs in that game. As long as the Commanders don’t pull off any upsets, they can’t move backward in the draft order.

Opportunity to Move Up

While the Commanders no longer have to worry about being overtaken from behind, provided that they don’t win any more games, they will need help from other teams to rise in the draft order.

In that respect they already owe a great debt to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Thanks to the Steelers conceding upset losses to the Patriots on Thursday night, and the Cardinals the previous week, the Commanders now have a clear path to the third overall pick, and possibly even the second.

In order to move any further up the draft order, the Commanders will need teams ahead of them to win games. That could be a challenge, because those are the worst three teams in the NFL. They may also require additional help from those teams’ remaining opponents and/or their own remaining opponents to tip the balance of the strength of schedule tiebreaker in their favor.

The following scenarios, ranked in order of probability, would see the Commanders rise in the draft order as far as first overall:

Third Place Finish – Unlikely

  • Commanders lose out
  • Cardinals win one more game (Washington does not currently need any help to win a strength of schedule tiebreak with Arizona, but that could change as strengths of schedule vary. It is potentially beneficial down the track if the Cardinals’ non-common opponents win games) OR:
  • Patriots win one more game AND Patriots’ non-common opponents win their remaining games and/or the Commanders’ non-common opponents lose games

Second Place Finish – Highly unlikely

  • Commanders lose out
  • Cardinals win one more game (possibly helpful for Cardinals non-common opponents to win games too) AND:
  • Patriots win one more game AND Patriots’ non-common opponents win games and/or Commanders’ non-common opponents lose games

First Place Finish – Mathematically possible, but exceedingly unlikely

  • Second Place scenario plus:
  • Panthers win 4/4 remaining games OR:
  • Panthers win 3/4 games and Panthers’ non-common opponents win games and/or the Commanders’ non-common opponents lose games

These scenarios will get simpler as the season winds down.


Arizona Cardinals v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images

Week 15 Rooting Guide

As a service to Commanders’ fans, here is a handy guide to help you cheer for game outcomes which could help to improve the Commanders’ draft position.

Due to the remarkable events of Week 14 strengthening Washington’s hold on fourth place, the emphasis in remaining games has largely shifted from game outcomes that help Washington have a more favorable W-L record than their competitors, to outcomes that help them win strength of schedule tiebreakers with teams currently ahead of them in the draft order.

Thursday Night Football

Chargers (5-8) vs Raiders (5-8)

The team that loses this game only becomes a threat if Washington wins another one. The thing is, one of these teams has to win, unless it’s a tie, so even then it doesn’t matter who wins. Both teams are common opponents of the Patriots so the outcome also has no significant impact on strength of schedule either. Doesn’t matter

Sunday Games

Vikings (7-6) vs Bengals (7-6)

The only way the outcome of this game could impact the Commanders’ draft position is via strength of schedule, and even that is highly unlikely. The Vikings are an opponent of the Panthers, so a Vikings win could help the Commanders win a tiebreak in the highly unlikely even that the Panthers win 3 more games. Very faintly, Skol Vikings

Steelers (7-6) vs Colts (7-6)

Two more teams that are well off the Commanders’ radar. Both teams are opponents of the Patriots, so that’s a wash with respect to strength of schedule. The Steelers also played the Cardinals, while the Colts also played the Panthers. A Steelers win is therefore more likely to help the Commanders win a meaningful tiebreak. Wave your terrible towels

Broncos (7-6) vs Lions (9-4)

The Broncos are a common opponent of the Commanders and the Patriots, so they are neutral with respect to that potential tiebreak. The Lions are an opponent of the Panthers, who are unlikely to factor in Washington’s draft position. Not likely to matter

Falcons (6-7) vs Panthers (1-12)

The Panthers are one of the teams ahead of Washington, but they are likely out of reach. The Falcons are a common opponent of Washington, the Panthers and the Cardinals, so they are irrelevant to tiebreaks with those teams. However, a Falcons upset loss could benefit the Commanders via its impact on a strength of schedule tiebreak with the Patriots, since the Falcons didn’t play them. Also, if you like a real longshot, this could be the start of the Panthers’ winning streak. Keep pounding, Panthers!

Bears (5-8) vs Browns (8-5)

Tough call. The Bears become a problem if Washington wins a game. However, they are also one of Washington’s opponents, so an upset win could hurt Washington’s chances in a strength of schedule tiebreak with the Patriots. Both teams are common opponents of the Cardinals so the outcome is irrelevant to that tiebreak. On balance, Washington proably has the most to gain from a Browns win. Dawg Pound!

Buccaneers (6-7) vs Packers (6-7)

Neither team is likely to factor in the Commanders draft position anymore through W-L or strength of schedule. Doesn’t matter

Jets (5-8) vs Dolphins (9-4)

The Jets will overtake the Commanders if we win a game based on current strength of schedule. Both AFC-East teams are neutral with respect to a Washington tiebreak with the Patriots. J-E-T-S JETS! JETS! JETS!

Giants (5-8) vs Saints (6-7)

Another tough call. The Giants become a threat if Washington wins a game. We also want them to pick as late in the draft order as possible because they are a division rival. They are neutral with respect to strength of schedule because they are common opponents of Washington and the two teams immediately ahead of us in the draft order. The Saints, on the other hand, are an opponent of the Patriots so a win potentially helps the Commanders win a tiebreak.

Which way you cheer in this game depends on whether you think it’s more important to guard against bad outcomes if the Commanders win a game, or for the Commanders to strive for better draft position by overtaking the Patriots.

Go with your gut. Who dat?

Texans (7-6) vs Titans (5-8)

The Titans move ahead of Washington if we win a game. The Texans are an opponent of the Cardinals, so a win could help the Commanders move up in a tiebreak. Root for better draft position over building a safety net. Don’t mess with Texas!

Patriots (3-10) vs Chiefs (8-5)

The Commanders need the Patriots to win a game and additional help to move ahead of them in the draft order. New England is riding high on the strength of Bailey Zappe’s arm, while the Chiefs are on a two game losing streak and smarting from an upset loss to the Packers. Does the Patriots’ hot streak start here? We can only hope. Zappe ‘em, Bailey!

49ers (10-3) vs Cardinals (3-10)

A Cardinals’ win moves Washington into third place. After Week 14, anything is possible. Go mean birds!

Commanders (4-9) vs Rams (6-7)

If the Rams play like they did last week against the Ravens, it won’t matter who you cheer for. Fun fact, the Rams’ 5th round pick WR Puka Nacua leads all rookies in receiving yards BY 404 YARDS. He also ranks 5th in the NFL. Will Ron Rivera isolate him in single man coverage? If the Commanders double him him up, that leaves Cooper Kupp open. If the Commanders do pull off the upset, they could drop from 4th to 10th in the draft order. Cheer for Ron Rivera to do what he does best

Cowboys (10-3) vs Bills (7-6)

Both teams are several wins behind Washington. They are also both Washington opponents and common opponents of the Patriots. The Bills don’t play the Cardinals, whereas the Cowboys do, so it is possible that a Cowboys win has an infinitesimally greater chance of benefitting the Commanders in strength of schedule tiebreaks. But is that enough to offset the fact that Washington plays the Cowboys twice? It is probably safe to root for a Cowboys loss. Right here, right now!

Jaguars (8-5) vs Ravens (10-3)

For those of you who haven’t adopted the Ravens yet as your AFC team, there is no better time. The Ravens are an opponent of the Cardinals and the Jaguars are an opponent of the Panthers. A Ravens win is much more likely to benefit the Commanders in a strength of schedule tiebreak. Plus, this is your chance to get on the Super Bowl bandwagon. Embrace the purple!

Monday Night Football

Eagles (10-3) vs Seahawks (6-7)

Like our other division rivals, the Eagles are a common opponent of Washington and our main competitors for draft position, making them largely irrelevant to our draft position. The Seahawks are also common opponents of Washington and the Cardinals. The outcome of this game probably has negligible impact on Washington’s draft position, so it is safe to root for an Eagles’ loss. We are 12!


Week 15 Commanders’ Draft Position Projection: 4th Place

I like an underdog as much as the next guy. But does anyone actually believe the Patriots are going to beat the Chiefs or the Cardinals will upset the 49ers? Those are the only outcomes this week that could move the Commanders out of fourth place, aside from an upset of the Rams (-6.5). I have absolute confidence in Ron Rivera to deliver the outcome that is best for the Commanders in the long term.


Poll

What should the Commanders do if they end up picking fourth overall?

This poll is closed

  • 53%
    Pick the best OT available
    (313 votes)
  • 4%
    Pick the best QB available
    (26 votes)
  • 9%
    Pick WR Marvin Harrison Jr
    (57 votes)
  • 1%
    Pick TE Brock Bowers
    (8 votes)
  • 0%
    Pick EDGE Laiatu Latu
    (4 votes)
  • 25%
    Trade back for more picks
    (149 votes)
  • 1%
    Trade up for a can’t miss QB
    (7 votes)
  • 2%
    Trade their first round picks in 2024 and 2025 to the Rams for Sean McVay
    (16 votes)
580 votes total Vote Now