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Sunday spelled the conclusion of one of the NFL’s most exciting annual competitions – the Tankathon for the No. 1 overall pick – and this season’s marathon of malady did not disappoint.
Who will play in the Super Bowl? Who will be crowned champion? Who will make a deep run in the playoffs, and who will flop in a hilarious fashion?
These questions are unknown and uninteresting to the fan bases of the chosen few whose fate has already been sealed. For these loyal, depressed communities, this season’s battle became about something entirely different, likely long ago. The race to Glendale is not in their purview – the limp to Kansas City is on their minds.
Great drama surrounded the ending of this year’s slog for the top selection in April. The Bears are the simultaneously proud and ashamed owners of the No. 1 pick, courtesy of the Texans winning their Week 18 contest in absolutely incredible fashion, knowingly stripping themselves of the most valuable lifeline the NFL has to offer.
Tankathon ’23 was a doozy.
The NFL Tankathon 2023 Review
1. Chicago Bears
The Chicago Bears have a lot to be thankful for.
Being bad in the NFL sucks. It’s not enjoyable to watch your team lose the vast majority of its games, every week, for months on end. I would assume it wasn’t a great time for Bears fans to watch their team lose every single time it stepped onto an NFL field from Oct. 30 and on. But sometimes, when a really bad team shoots its franchise in the foot by completing an unbelievable final-minute comeback, you can be the accidental beneficiary. Also, if you’re really lucky, you can watch two of your hated division rivals miss the playoffs on the same day.
Is it the season you dream of when the opening kickoff is minutes away? No. But is it the conclusion you dream of when your team is already 3-13 and has long been left for dead? Undoubtedly, yes.
So, with a young quarterback who looked to have taken the next step in his development, more than $100 million in cap space, and the No. 1 pick (plus all the leverage that comes along with it), the 2022-23 Bears have pulled off perhaps one of the most successful limps in NFL Tankathon history.
2. Houston Texans
It was a no-good, very bad year for the Texans.
This team was pretty clearly the worst in the NFL this season. Houston ranked in the bottom three in the NFL in points per game, yards per game, rushing yards per game, yards allowed per game, rushing yards allowed per game, and total turnovers committed.
And they didn’t even get the No. 1 pick for it.
Now-former head coach Lovie Smith made the decision to go for two with 50 seconds left in his team’s Week 18 matchup against the Colts. It was a perplexing move for a team that would have benefitted more from losing but one that makes sense for a coach who already knew he was on his way out.
But Smith only had the chance to make that call thanks to a 44-yard David Mills backfoot heave on 4th & 20 that floated into the end zone to Jordan Akins’ breadbasket. Akins was again the culprit on the two-point conversion that catapulted Houston to a 32-31 advantage and slid the Texans below the Bears in the draft pecking order.
Dropping one spot in the draft isn’t necessarily a nail in the coffin of Houston’s future, but the franchise now has less control in adding its preferred quarterback target through the draft. If the Bears trade the pick to another team that needs a QB, then the Texans might have to settle for whoever is left on the board. Only time would tell the impact that would have.
What’s done is done. Despite a 3-13-1 record and serving as the NFL’s biggest bottom feeder, the Texans won’t enjoy the full spoils of their basement dwelling.
3. Arizona Cardinals
The Cardinals came into the season expecting to compete for a playoff spot. Instead, they competed for the draft’s No. 1 spot.
A lethargic start never allowed Arizona to generate any momentum. On Nov. 13, Arizona overcame the Rams on the road, improving to 4-6, a disappointing-yet-salvageable record; a late-season playoff push was still possible. Then Kyler Murray played only two more games the rest of the way thanks to injuries, and the bottom fell out. The Cardinals dropped seven-consecutive contests to end the campaign and finished last in the NFC West.
The Cardinals did boost themselves up the Tankathon chart in Week 18 with a 38-13 defeat at the hands of the 49ers, moving up to No. 3 from No. 4 with a 4-13 final record, aided by the Broncos winning their game against the Chargers.
4. Indianapolis Colts
On Nov. 7, the Colts dismissed head coach Frank Reich and named Jeff Saturday as their interim boss. Saturday’s only prior coaching experience was at Hebron Christian Academy in Dacula, Georgia, four years ago. At the time of Reich’s firing, Indianapolis was 3-5-1, below .500 but hardly on pace for a top-five pick. Under Saturday, the Colts fell off a cliff, capping the year off with a 1-7 run that cemented a 4-12-1 final record.
Top Colts executives reportedly tried to talk the team’s owner Jim Irsay out of appointing Saturday to the interim job, but Irsay insisted. Some others around the NFL had choice words for the decision.
Was this a tactical play from Irsay, expecting a person with zero high-level coaching experience to fail and drag his team’s record down for a better draft position? It seems possible. If Saturday isn’t named the head coach for the 2023 season, it will seem even more likely that was Irsay’s plan all along.
Regardless, the wild loss to the Texans in Week 18 propelled the Colts forward one spot in the final draft order, and the consequences of their capitulations are far-reaching.
With the Texans out of the top spot, the Colts could leapfrog their divisional foe to snag their preferred quarterback in the 2023 class. There would surely be a steep price to pay for the No. 1 overall pick, but it’s likely that the Bears will listen to offers for the selection from quarterback-starved franchises hunting for their guy. The opportunity is there, and it probably wouldn’t have been had the Colts not folded in the final minute against the Texans.
The Worst of the Rest
With the Broncos and Rams both without their first-round picks, their tank attempts cannot be taken in earnest. You don’t commit $296 million to Russell Wilson if you plan to lose (even if it does lead to you losing), and you don’t tank the season after you win the Super Bowl. The Seahawks and Lions will have to settle for the No. 5 and No. 6 picks, respectively.
This season’s race to the bottom was a four-way fight to the bitter end. Three of the four teams that will select at the top of the 2023 NFL Draft finished the campaign with at least seven-straight losses, a testament to their unwavering commitment to inferiority. Except for the Texans, who opted to double-agent their own self-sabotage.
Now For the Good Stuff
When the Tankathon ends, the march to the Super Bowl begins. Think you know who will represent the AFC and NFC in Glendale? Think you know who will have confetti rain down on them?
If you have what it takes to crystal ball who will win it all, then enter RYP’s Precision Playoff Pool. There are $5,000 in prizes up for grabs, and if you can pick against the spread and accurately predict game scores, you can win yourself a big piece of that pie. Enter for free and cash in all those Sundays you spent sitting on the couch watching football.