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2024 NFL Draft: No. 2 overall pick scenarios for Commanders, Patriots and Cardinals in Week 18

The Chicago Bears have sewn up the No. 1 overall pick in the 2024 NFL Draft, but the battle for the critical No. 2 selection will go right down to the wire in Week 18.

Three teams with 4-12 records heading into Sunday are in contention for that spot. The Washington Commanders and New England Patriots are most likely to pick second behind the Bears, but the Arizona Cardinals also remain in the running. Here is each team's Sunday game:

How it all shakes out could end up having massive implications for all three franchises, especially at QB. But even if the teams that end up picking in the top three don't opt for a quarterback, those selections still could carry great value and open up possibilities to trade down in the draft. Hence why the outcomes of multiple games this weekend carry so much weight. Week 18 results for the Commanders, Patriots and Cardinals are the biggest factors, but we need to dig deeper.

The first tiebreaker in determining draft order is strength of schedule, with Washington (.504) and New England (.527) fairly close heading into Sunday. Arizona matches their records at 4-12, but sits a distant third (.566) in terms of strength of schedule, impeding the Cardinals' path to landing the second pick. Of the 5-11 teams, the Giants appear to be the only one within reach of vaulting up to No. 2, but it would require the Commanders, Patriots and Cardinals all winning in Week 18, as the Giants currently have a worse strength of schedule than any of them. Right now, that feels like the most remote possibility by far.

Prior to the Bills-Dolphins game on Sunday night, we will know how the picks at the top of the 2024 draft will land. With help from NFL Research, here are the scenarios the Commanders, Patriots and Cardinals each need in order to secure the second overall selection.

Commanders' path to No. 2 pick:

If the Commanders and Patriots both lose on Sunday, their strength of schedules essentially will be separated by one game. Prior to considering the rest of the Week 18 games around the NFL, Washington would sit at .518, while the Patriots would be at .522.

Several of the weekend's other games can effectively be ignored for determining the teams' final SOS because they cancel each other out. But a few other games will be very important.

The five games that matter the most in the SOS battle between Washington and New England: Steelers-Ravens, Texans-Colts, Saints-Falcons, Bears-Packers and Broncos-Raiders.

Assuming there are no ties in the critical games, the Commanders can clinch the second selection in these two scenarios:

  • NO beats ATL & 2 of CHI, DEN, BAL & HOU lose OR
  • All 4 of CHI, DEN, BAL & HOU lose

Patriots' path to No. 2 pick:

One edge the Patriots hold in this "race" for the No. 2 pick is their head-to-head loss to the Commanders in Week 9. That would end up being a key tiebreaker if the teams finish with the same strength of schedule. All New England needs to do to clinch the second overall pick is to tie the Commanders' SOS.

Considering the same critical five games from the Commanders section just above, the Patriots can earn the second pick simply by losing themselves and having the Ravens and Texans win on Saturday and the Falcons win in the early window on Sunday. In fact, in that scenario, the Patriots wouldn't even have to wait for the results of Bears-Packers and Broncos-Raiders; no matter what happens in the latter two, the Patriots will be guaranteed to be tied or end up with the easier SOS than Washington, assuming the Commanders also lose.

There are other paths to No. 2 for New England if both the Patriots and Commanders lose on Sunday:

  • ATL beats NO & at least 2 of PIT, IND, GB & LV lose OR
  • All 4 of PIT, IND, GB & LV lose

Cardinals' path to the No. 2 pick

It's simple: The Cardinals must lose at home on Sunday to the Seahawks and have both of the Commanders and Patriots win, so that Arizona finishes 4-13 compared to 5-12 for Washington and New England.

If the Cardinals and just one of the Patriots or Commanders lose, Arizona will pick third overall. If all three lose, Arizona will pick fourth.

But here's the wild part: Arizona's pick could tumble well beyond that. A Cardinals win on Sunday could potentially drop them as low as No. 7 overall. The five-win Giants, Titans and Chargers would all need to lose Sunday, as well, in this scenario. But should it unfold that way, the Cardinals' massive strength-of-schedule lead likely would be too big to overcome, giving them the lowest pick among 5-12 teams.

The Cardinals' improved play in the second half of the 2023 season has knocked them from the No. 1 pick, which seems just fine with first-year head coach Jonathan Gannon, who cherished last week’s victory in his return to Philadelphia and has endorsed Kyler Murray as Arizona's franchise QB. But another win could drop the Cardinals out of the top five of the 2024 draft, depending on what happens elsewhere around the NFL this weekend.

NFL Research's Jack Andrade contributed to this story.

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