It's time to face reality, New England Patriots fans.
The Patriots are 1-4 through five games for the first time since 2000. They've been outscored 72-3 in their last two contests. They own the NFL's worst passing offense and rushing offense and will be without their two best defensive players (Matthew Judon and Christian Gonzalez) until December at the earliest.
"I don’t know where they turn to try to find answers to try to turn this season around," former Patriots safety Devin McCourty said Sunday night on NBC's" Football Night in America. "Their best bet might be ‘tank it’ or whatever you want to call it and get a great draft pick."
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That's right, folks. It's time to talk about tanking.
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Even if you don't want to think about New England actively losing games, a turnaround seems almost impossible given the team's challenging schedule. So, if the Patriots bottom out, what are the odds they land a top pick in the 2024 NFL Draft?
Here's what the first 10 picks of the 2024 draft would look like if the season ended today, with draft order determined by the league's worst records and strength of schedule as the first tiebreaker.
The Patriots are tied with six other teams for the NFL's second-worst record at 1-4. Tiebreakers are determined by inverse strength of schedule, so the Patriots' difficult slate (their opponents have a combined .554 winning percentage) drops them down to the No. 5 pick behind the Chicago Bears, Denver Broncos and Minnesota Vikings. The Las Vegas Raiders also have an easier schedule, so if they lose to the Green Bay Packers on Monday night, they'd bump New England down to the No. 6 pick.
We'll add the necessary caveat that it's very early in the season. A lot can change over the next 13 weeks, from current middle-of-the-pack teams bottoming out to a bottom-10 club like the Minnesota Vikings turning its season around.
Based on what we've seen over the past two games, though, it's hard to envision the Patriots being anything but a bottom-10 NFL team this season.
The silver lining in that scenario would be New England's highest draft pick since 2001, which the team could use to find its next franchise quarterback amid Mac Jones' struggles in Year 3. The Patriots' potential conundrum? The top two QBs in the 2024 draft class -- USC's Caleb Williams and North Carolina's Drake Maye -- both project as top-five picks, which means a pick in the No. 6 to No. 10 range still may not be enough to land an elite signal-caller.
Again, there's still plenty of football left to play in 2023. But with the Patriots' present looking bleak, it's worth at least keeping an eye on the future.