With the 2019 NFL Draft order on the line, who should San Francisco 49ers fans root for in Week 17 of the 2018 regular season? We break down draft order scenarios, tiebreakers and which games matter most to the Niners’ draft position.
The San Francisco 49ers aren’t in full control of their draft destiny, but as we enter Week 17, the Niners’ draft picture is clear. While all the potential outcomes and variables may seem overwhelming at first, the 49ers are only competing with four teams for five potential draft spots, so determining the rooting interests for Niner fans isn’t a difficult task.
Whether you want to get deep into the draft-order weeds or simply want a list of teams the 49ers Faithful should root for in Week 17, you’ve found the right place. Let’s start with the basics:
Draft Order and Tiebreakers
When determining the draft order for non-playoff teams, the NFL first ranks teams based on overall record, and then applies a series of tiebreakers if necessary. For our purposes, we’ll focus on the four teams capable of drafting before the 49ers, and the first draft-order tiebreaker — strength-of-schedule — which is likely to break any potential ties for San Francisco.
Strength-of-schedule is the aggregate winning percentage of a team’s opponents. However, since all NFL teams play the same amount of games, simply using the total number of victories of a team’s opponents is a simpler way to compare SOS.
To demonstrate, the 49ers’ 16 opponents have played 15 games, for a total of 240 games. In those 240 games, San Francisco’s opponents amassed 120 victories, 118 losses and two ties (each worth half of a win), for a total of 121 “wins” and an SOS of .504. But instead of comparing the 49ers’ SOS of .504 to the New York Jets’ SOS of .506, comparing the 49ers’ 121 opponent wins to the Jets’ 121.5 OW quickly shows us how close these two teams are in SOS.
Further simplifying our process, every NFL team plays a divisional opponent on Sunday, which limits the variability of every team’s SOS. Since the majority of a team’s 2018 opponents play each other in Week 17 — canceling each other out — only three games have an effect on a team’s SOS. For the 49ers, those games are their own matchup against the Los Angeles Rams and the games of their two intraconference opponents outside of the NFC North: the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the New York Giants.
49ers’ Draft Spot Competition
If the NFL schedule was random, each team could potentially add 16 OW to their season total on Sunday. But thanks to the NFL’s scheduling rules, we already know that the outcome of 12 opponent games will be exactly six wins. This leaves just four OW in play for each team in Week 17. To determine which teams can “catch” the 49ers in SOS, we simply compare the 49ers’ maximum OW to the minimum OW of each team within striking distance of San Francisco:
At first glance, it appears that five teams could potentially bypass the 49ers in draft order — the Arizona Cardinals, the New York Jets and the Oakland Raiders based on record alone, as well as the Detroit Lions and the Buccaneers via the SOS tiebreaker. However, since the Niners played the Bucs in 2018, a 49ers’ Week 17 victory required for the Bucs to end the season in a tie with the Niners would also add a win to Tampa Bay’s OW, leaving San Francisco barely out of reach.
In the end, the 49ers are competing with four teams for five potential draft spots. The 49ers hold the SOS tiebreaker over the Cardinals and the Raiders, while the tiebreaker is still in play for the Jets and the Lions:
The 4-11 49ers have already locked up a top-5 pick in the 2019 NFL Draft thanks to their low SOS. If they lose on Sunday, San Francisco will draft either first, second or third. If the Niners win this weekend, they’ll draft between pick No. 2 and pick No. 5.
If San Francisco loses, they’re ensured of a top-3 selection. The 49ers hold the tiebreaker over the Cardinals if Arizona pulls off a victory in Week 17, but San Francisco has just a half-game OW advantage over the Jets. If the Niners end the season in a tie with New York, they can maintain their SOS advantage with at least two victories from the following teams on Sunday: the Denver Broncos, the Cleveland Browns, the Dallas Cowboys and the Atlanta Falcons:
If San Francisco wins, they will miss out on a chance for the first pick, but will still end up with a top-5 selection. The 49ers hold the tiebreaker over the Raiders, but would face SOS challenges from both the Jets and Lions if they end the season with similar records. Since their OW would jump up by two with a victory over a divisional opponent, the 49ers would need the Carolina Panthers, the Cowboys and the Falcons to all win in Week 17 to force an unlikely SOS tie with the Lions:
49ers’ Week 17 Rooting Interests
There are five teams every Niner fan should root for in Week 17: Arizona Cardinals, New York Jets, Oakland Raiders, Detroit Lions.
If the Jets and 49ers tie, San Francisco can maintain their 0.5-win tiebreaker advantage with wins from two the following four teams: Dallas Cowboys, Atlanta Falcons, Denver Broncos, Cleveland Browns.
If the Lions and the 49ers tie, San Francisco can only match Detroit’s two-game tiebreaker advantage with wins from all three of these teams: Dallas Cowboys, Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers.
Any questions? Reach out to me on Twitter @cgawilson or in the comments section below.
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