For everyone who wants to make sure that Washington holds onto its current draft position of 2nd overall, there are two stages of results that will matter this weekend.
Stage 1 - Commanders & Patriots game outcomes
Fans are in the awkward position of hoping for a Washington loss to the Cowboys.
What if Washington wins on Sunday?
If the Commanders, who are double-digit underdogs at home, upset the Cowboys, who only need to win the game to secure the NFC East division championship, then the calculation of final draft position becomes quite complex since the burgundy & gold would be ‘tied’ with every other team with 5 wins, and the strength of schedule tie-breaker could be applied to as many as 6 teams. If everything that could go wrong did go wrong (from the point of view of protecting draft position) then the Commanders would likely fall to 5th overall, though I think it’s mathematically conceivable that they could fall as low as 7th. Frankly, it’s an exercise that I don’t want go through to figure out exactly — just know that beating Dallas on Sunday would almost certainly drop Washington down the draft order, but no further than 7th overall.
What if Washington loses on Sunday?
If Dallas gets the win to earn the NFC East title, then for Washington, only two results are possible with respect to draft order; Washington will end up 2nd overall or 3rd overall.
a. If the Patriots beat the Jets, then Washington is locked in at the 2nd overall pick.
Stage 2 - Strength of Schedule tie-breaker
b. If the Patriots lose to the Jets, then Washington and the Patriots will end up with identical 4-13 records, triggering the strength of schedule (SoS) tie-breaker.
The SoS for Washington and the Patriots is currently in Washington’s advantage by one game — that is, the Commanders’ 2024 opponents have collectively lost one more game than have the Patriots’ 2024 opponents, but SoS is a moving target that changes with the result of every game.
There are 5 games on Sunday that can move the SoS numbers for Washington and New England in opposite directions.
On this rooting guide, one star indicates that only one of the teams playing was an opponent of either Washington or New England in 2024. For example, Washington played Chicago and Denver, but neither the Commanders nor the Patriots played Green Bay or Las Vegas this season. Washington fans who want to optimize draft position should be rooting for the Steelers, Colts, Saints, Packers, and Raiders to win.
The two stars for the NFC South game indicate that Washington played the Falcons in 2024, while New England played the Saints. The outcome of that game swings the SoS number by a net of 2 games.
Per Tankathon’s SoS tiebreaker rooting guide, Washington needs 3 ‘stars’ (out of a possible 6) to end up with the 2nd overall pick. The single most important outcome is that the Saints need to beat the Cardinals.
If New Orleans wins, then Washington only needs one more favorable outcome in the remaining 4 key games.
If Atlanta wins, then Washington needs three of the remaining 4 key games to go according to the rooting guide, or else New England can secure the 2nd overall pick.
(The Cardinals can also finish with the same 4-13 record as the Commanders and Patriots, but their strength of schedule will not be sufficiently affected by Sunday’s games for Arizona to ‘win’ the SoS tiebreaker against either Washington or New England)
Sunday’s predicted outcomes
SB Nation polls fans of all 32 teams by email on a weekly basis. The backbone of the email survey is the game predictions. The fans have a pretty good track record of getting most of the predictions right on a weekly basis — the collective wisdom of tens of thousands of football fans can be pretty powerful.
Let’s see what those tens of thousands of NFL fans have predicted this week:
Check out DraftKings Sportsbook, the official sportsbook partner of SB Nation
The good news
The very good new here (if you are rooting for draft position and not for the Commanders to beat Dallas) is that the fan survey predicts that the Patriots will beat the Jets and that Washington will lose to Dallas.
If those two results are correct, then Washington would end up with the 2nd overall pick, no matter what happens in any other game.
The tie breaking scenario (more good news)
Let’s assume for a moment that the fans have incorrectly predicted the outcome of the AFC East contest, and that the Jets ruin Bill Belichick’s day on Sunday by beating the Patriots in Foxborough. What do our tens of thousands of NFL fans say about the 5 key games that affect the SoS tie-breaker?
According to SB Nation’s Reacts poll results, three out of five outcomes would favor Washington retaining the better draft position, with the key game (Saints over Falcons) meaning that Washington gets 4 ‘stars’ out of a possible 6, actually increasing the SoS tie-breaker difference between the Commanders and the Patriots.
SB Nation’s survey predicts that Washington will end up with the #2 overall pick in the draft.
What say the oddsmakers?
It may be that you have more faith in the professional gambling industry than you do in the SB Nation fan survey.
Let’s look at the point spreads from DraftKings to see what the professional are predicting:
Step 1 - Washington & New England game outcomes
- Commanders are 13-poiint underdogs.
- Patriots are favored by 2.5 points.
The oddsmakers agree with SB Nation fans. If these two results follow DraftKings point spreads, then Washington would end up with the 2nd overall pick.
Step 2 - the 5 key SoS games
Let’s again assume that the Jets upset the Patriots and force Washington and New England’s draft position to be decided by tie-breakers. What do the DraftKings point spreads say will happen?
It turns out that the professionals at DraftKings are even more bullish on Washington’s chances of retaining the 2nd overall pick in the draft than SB Nation’s army of readers, with 4 of 5 key results predicted to go in favor of Washington’s draft position, including the key result in the Saints-Falcons game.
Me? At the 4:25 pm kickoff on Sunday, I’ll be rooting for the Commanders to beat Dallas. But, on the off chance that Washington loses that game to finish the season with 4 wins (ugh!) then I know exactly who to root for in 6 other games (starting with a New England win), to help Josh Harris begin the new era of Washington football with the best draft position possible.