With Christmas only days away and the first game of Week 16 in the books, the NFL is officially in that wonderfully bizarre time of year when, for the fans of a handful of fortunate teams, a loss is really a win and a win is really a loss.
And based on Thursday night’s result, the fans in Nashville are praising the football gods while the good people in Jacksonville are cursing them. After all, the Jaguars beat the Titans 21-13.
With both teams entering the game at 2-12 and the only thing on the line in the standings is the upper hand in the race to avoid the AFC South basement, Tennessee’s ability to blow a 10-0 lead, lose to a quarterback who missed on half his passes and threw for only 115 yards, and surrender a 62-yard TD run by Jordan Todman — yup, Jordan Todman — has moved it one step closer to locking up the first pick in the 2015 NFL Draft.
With the loss, the Titans are the first team in the NFL to 13 losses, though the 2-12 Buccaneers and Raiders have a chance to join them this weekend. The Redskins and Jets are also in the running at 3-11, but the Titans showed the importance of looking ahead, narrowly losing to the Jets 16-11 in Week 15 to gain the upper hand on New York, too.
How valuable will that top pick be come next spring? Though plenty of time (and combines, interviews, workouts and potential for bad decisions) remains, the early feeling by most analysts is there are two prized QBs sitting atop draft boards — the last two Heisman winners, Oregon’s Marcus Mariota and Florida State’s Jameis Winston. It should be noted that both have NCAA eligibility remaining beyond this season, though both are eligible to come out of school for the NFL, as well.
In this past May’s draft, the Jaguars surprised many by taking Blake Bortles (the 50-percent QB referenced above) with the No. 3 overall pick. Despite the rookie’s pedestrian numbers on Thursday night, the prevailing belief is, even if Jacksonville has one of those first two picks, the team isn’t in the market for a QB.
The Titans also took a QB in 2014, LSU’s Zach Mettenberger. And Jake Locker, the No. 8 overall pick in 2011, is still on the roster. But patience may have run out on Locker, and the investment in Mettenberger is not viewed as so great that it would prevent the Titans from selecting a QB at the top of this draft. Plus, Locker is out for the season and a shoulder injury kept Mettenberger out of Thursday night’s game.
In case you thought Titans fans didn’t have their eyes on the big prize, this one even made it down to Jacksonville to prove the point.
As for potential QB interest of those other "contenders"?
Most reports are the Raiders seem happy with rookie Derek Carr, while the two-year, $10 million contract Tampa Bay gave free-agent Josh McCown this past offseason has not brought the return the Bucs were hoping for. So they are believed to be players for Mariota or Winston.
The Jets and Redskins face interesting decisions should they land one of those top two picks, as both entered this season with young quarterbacks selected with high draft picks and carrying high hopes. But due to a combination of poor play, injuries and unhappiness, neither Geno Smith (No. 39 overall pick by the Jets in 2013) or Robert Griffin III (No. 2 overall pick by the Redskins in 2012) are a lock to be back with their teams next season.
If nothing else, holding a ticket to select one of the perceived golden arms of this coming draft would give New York and Washington plenty of options and leverage to make a major move.
Indeed, this season it would appear that many of the most QB-needy teams (St. Louis, Houston and perhaps Buffalo lead the pack) will not finish with a record that puts them in position to draft Mariota or Winston. So the real prize in the race to the Nos. 1 or 2 picks may be a trade, perhaps one akin to the deal the Rams made with the Redskins in 2012, when St. Louis surrendered the No. 2 overall pick to Washington in exchange for three first-round picks and a second-rounder. At that time, the Rams were comfortable making the deal (which ultimately brought the Redskins RG3) because they already had a franchise QB on their roster, 2010 No. 1 overall pick Sam Bradford.
Of course, Bradford has since torn his ACL twice, the Rams have not drafted any QB since the trade, and St. Louis could face the possibility of asking the Redskins what it would take to trade for their first-round pick . . . or RG3.