This Sunday, the Cowboys sit at home nursing their injuries and their wounded pride as they playoffs are finally, irrevocably, and mathematically out of reach. But other teams will be playing, and the outcomes of those games will have an impact on the Cowboys' draft ranking in 2016.
Draft order is determined by each team's win-loss record, with teams ranked in reverse order of their records, so teams with fewer wins are awarded higher picks. For teams with identical records, strength of schedule is used to determine the draft order, with the easier schedule getting the higher pick. If further tiebreakers are needed, conference record then division record are used. If all of that is equal, a coin flip takes place at the NFL Scouting Combine in February.
The Cowboys currently hold the fourth overall pick in the 2016 NFL draft (using the full 16-game schedules).
1. Tennessee Titans: 3-10 (.498 strength of schedule)
2. San Diego Chargers: 3-10 (.527 SOS)
3. Cleveland Browns: 3-10 (.533 SOS)
4. Dallas Cowboys: 4-10 (.541 SOS)
5. : 4-9 (.519 SOS)
6. : 4-9 (.531 SOS)
7. : 4-9 (.536 SOS)
NFC East Rooting Interests
For Cowboys fans, the primary rooting interest has to be for game outcomes that drive the strength of schedule down. And the fastest way for that to happen is to have all three NFC East teams lose their games, because every loss by a division rival counts for two 2 losses in the strength of schedule calculation.
Here's a simulation of what happens to the strength of schedule in a hypothetical scenario where all three NFC East teams win and a not-so-hypothetical scenario where all three teams lose.
That's a big swing for the Cowboys. We root against the other teams in the NFC East on principle, but today we root against them even more fervently.
Direct Draft Spot Competitors Rooting Interests
These are teams that currently ranked in the top seven of the draft order, and where Cowboys fans have a vested interest in seeing them win improve their W/L records. Alas, they are ranked where they are for a reason: like the Cowboys, they suck, so don't expect too much here.
- San Diego (3-10) over Miami (5-8). The Chargers host the Dolphins in what should be a winnable game for sdan Diego.
- Baltimore (4-9) over KC (8-5): The Chiefs are 7-point favorites in this one in Baltimore. The Ravens will need a miracle to pull of an upset victory.
- Detroit (4-9) over New Orleans (5-8). The Lions travel to New Orleans, and while the Saints are not on top of their game, they are playing in the Superdome, and Drew Brees will likely have a field day against a Detroit pass defense that's ranked 29th in defensive passer rating (101.2)
- San Francisco (4-9) over Cincinnati (10.3). The Bengals travel to San Francisco without Andy Dalton, so there's a glimmer of hope here for a 49ers win. But backup A.J. McCarron put up a 90.3 passer rating last week, and with the 49ers only ranking last in the league in scoring (14.5 pts per game), that should probably carry the Bengals over the 49ers.
The Titans and Browns travel to New England and Seattle respectively. I'm not even going to bother to write something about those two games. Both teams will tighten their grip on the top draft spots.
Strength of schedule Rooting Interests
As a matter of principle, we'll have to root for game outcomes that will lower the Cowboys' strength of schedule. That means we should root against all teams on the Cowboys' schedule this year. Except many of those teams are involved in the games already outlined above.
We can't root against the Panthers or Bills as they are playing NFC East teams. We can't root against the Saints or Dolphins because they need to win against direct competitors for a draft spot.
We should root for the Browns and the Titans to win against the Seahawks and Patriots, but that's probably a fool's errand.
That really leaves just two games with clear rooting interests:
- Jacksonville (5-8) over Atlanta (6-7). Atlanta, on a 1-7 skid, is traveling to Jacksonville, where the Jaguars are 3.5-point home favorites.
- Oakland (6-7) over Green Bay (9-4): The Packers travel to the west coast where they'll meet a resurgent Oakland team that can play the packers tough. Tough enough?
Other games have an impact on the SOS of some of the Cowboys' direct competitors for a draft spot, but don't impact the Cowboys' own SOS.
Which games will you be watching closely today?
Here's the tl;dr version, courtesy of BTB Member quincyyyyy
Panthers @ Giants
Titans @ Patriots
Bills @ Redskins
Falcons @ Jaguars
Chiefs @ Ravens
Bears @ Vikings
Packers @ Raiders
Browns @ Seahawks
Bengals @ 49ers
Dolphins @ Chargers
Cardinals @ Eagles
Mondays: Lions @ Saints