With a little over 1/3 of the regular season completed, it is shaping up to be an interesting final 11 weeks of NFL football. And not just for the teams that are fighting for a playoff spot and have a legit shot at the Super Bowl. There is a special prize awaiting the team with the worst record at the end of the year in the form of Stanford QB Andrew Luck, the consensus #1 pick in the coming 2012 Draft. The hype surrounding Luck is growing every week, and it is making him out to be the most highly touted, can’t miss #1 pick quarterback to come out of college since Peyton Manning. I’m not suggesting that teams will blatantly tank their seasons in order to try to get the #1 pick for next Spring by using the term “Suck for Luck” here, but there are a number of teams in the race for the #1 pick and more than a few teams that need help at QB. And landing an elite QB can turn around the fortunes of a franchise. Based on a combination of record, overall team talent, division strength, team need, and remaining schedule, I think there are 11 teams that are in play right now for Andrew Luck. Here’s a look at them:
12. Carolina Panthers (1-5) – They are listed here because of their record only. The bottom line is that even if they do end up with the #1 pick, they won’t take Luck, because they’ve already found their franchise QB in Cam Newton, who is better than anyone thought he would be this soon. Even though Newton is a talent, the Panthers still need more talented players on their team. And even if they wouldn’t be interested in Luck, they could trade the pick to the highest bidder for a pretty big ransom.
11. Cleveland Browns (2-3) – Their wins have come against Indianapolis and Miami. Not impressive. Colt McCoy is serviceable as a QB, but they have to play a ball control style of play because he just can’t chuck it all over the field. They’ve still got two games against both Pittsburgh and Baltimore. They could climb up this list in the coming weeks.
10. Washington Redskins (3-2) – They may have a winning record right now, but I don’t think any objective observer wouldn’t consider them the worst team in the NFC East. And they’ve just made a QB change from Rex Grossman to John Beck, neither of whom is a desirable option. Honestly, it wouldn’t surprise me if they only won one more game the rest of the year.
9. Seattle Seahawks (2-3) – A well-earned 2-3 with a tough starting schedule. Still, their lack of talent, particularly when Tavaris Jackson and Charlie Whitehurst are your QBs, is low enough to keep them in the running for the season.
8. St. Louis Rams (0-5) – Talk about a tough schedule. Philly, NY Giants, Baltimore, Washington, and Green Bay to open the season? No wonder they’re 0-5. What makes it bad, though, is that they’re not even averaging 10 ppg. Dallas and New Orleans are next, which likely means 0-7. But then their schedule gets easier. And the Rams are probably in the same situation as the Panthers, with Sam Bradford as their franchise QB.
7. Kansas City Chiefs (2-3) – The Chiefs are threatening to make a move off of this list. I thought with Jamaal Charles going down for the season and the way they played the first two weeks that they would be a front-runner in this. But even though they were the quickest out of the gate due to injuries, they have fallen back to the pack. And with Oakland this weekend without Jason Campbell, they could be on the move.
6. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-5) – They dumped their incumbent starter at QB before the start of the season, and handed the reigns over to rookie QB Blaine Gabbert. He’s shown some flashes, but this is a bad team with a bad coach. The question is whether Gabbert is the QB of the future for them of not. If they bring in a new head coach for 2012, he will not be beholden to Gabbert in any way.
5. Minnesota Vikings (1-5) – The Donovan McNabb Era was incredibly short-lived. He does not have anything left in the tank. Minnesota plays in a tough division (NFC North), has turned the offensive reigns over to a rookie QB (Christian Ponder), and their only consistent offensive weapon is Adrian Peterson. That and a decent defense should be worth a few wins, but no more than a few.
4. Denver Broncos (1-4) – The time that America has been waiting for with bated breath is here: Tebow Time in Mile High. Tim Tebow takes over at QB for the ineffective Kyle Orton. Denver seems to be in the best position they could hope for. Tebow is talented and dynamic, but might not be a legit NFL QB. Lucky for them, Tebow fans and Broncos fans don’t seem to care, because they have worked themselves into such a frenzy over him. The Broncos are in a win-win situation because they can give the fans what they want by starting Tebow, and make an actual evaluation on him in the process. If he is a wild success, it’s great for them. If they keep losing, they can say, “I told you so…” to their fans and move on. Also, they traded their #1 receiver this week in Brandon Lloyd, the leading receiver in the league last year. The Broncos are under a new regime in John Fox as head coach. And, oh yeah, a former Stanford QB is also their president: John Elway.
3. Arizona Cardinals (1-4) – Sure, it may be too early to close the book on the Kevin Kolb Era in Arizona, but it might not be in a few weeks. So far it looks like they got fleeced by Philly in that trade. Their division is arguably the worst in the league, so I don’t expect them to win too many non-division games. And San Francisco seems to have a firm grip on that division, and they’ve got to play them twice still.
2. Indianapolis Colts (0-5) – Of all the years that Peyton Manning has a serious injury that knocks him out for most, if not all, of the season. This could be shades of the San Antonio Spurs landing Tim Duncan the year that David Robinson was injured. It’s stunning how absolutely awful the Colts are without Manning. Not just on offense, but their defense too. When you play against Manning, he has an impact on both sides of the ball, because opposing offenses have to play against his ability to put up points and move so quickly up and down the field. Their head coach seems out of his depth even more so than he used to. Dallas Clark and Reggie Wayne look downright pedestrian without Manning. It’s interesting to see the difference between the Patriots without Brady (11-5 in ’08 without Brady) and the Colts without Manning. You may think it speaks about the players and their value to their teams. But it really speaks volumes about the organizations and the value of team depth vs. putting all of your eggs in one basket, so to speak.
1. Miami Dolphins (0-5) – Even though the Colts are bad, I think Miami has a legit shot at 0-16. They lost their starting QB for the year recently. Replaced by Matt Moore, who was atrocious in a few starts for Carolina last year. Their coach is clearly on the hot seat and seems a little combative about his team losing. Reggie Bush is expected to play a prominent role in their offense, when history has shown he should only be touching the ball 10-12 times per game. The worst part, though, is that they are awful at home. For some reason, the Dolphins are 1-11 in their last 12 home game, dating back to December 2009. That’s unbelievable. Not playing well on the road is one thing, but not being able to even hold your own at home is not a good sign. Miami, right now, is the front-runner for Andrew Luck.