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The Race For The Top Pick In The 2015 NFL Draft

The 2-12 Jacksonville Jaguars host the 2-12 Tennessee Titans Thursday night, ending this season’s sad slate of Thursday night games with the saddest game of all. But this awful matchup still matters. The top pick of the 2015 NFL draft is in play.

This week, we added each team’s chances of getting the No. 1 overall pick to our weekly playoff implication interactives. In 50,000 simulations, just Tampa Bay, Tennessee, Oakland, Jacksonville and Washington managed to clinch the No. 1 overall pick at least once (the New York Jets blew their chances with last week’s win). The Buccaneers are your clubhouse leader, getting the pick in 54.8 percent of simulations, while the Titans are second at 25 percent.

The size of that gap is a little misleading. The Buccaneers don’t control their own destiny, and the loser of Tennessee at Jacksonville will be nipping at their heels:


The game also affects a much weirder scenario. If two teams from different conferences finish with the same record and strength of schedule, the pick will be decided by coin flip. These flips aren’t so uncommon, but they’ve never decided who gets the No. 1 overall. Before Thursday’s game, there is a 2 percent chance the top pick will be decided by a Tennessee vs. Tampa Bay coin flip. If the Titans lose, that figure bumps up a bit to 3.2 percent.

But which team would actually keep the pick? The presumed top player of the 2015 draft is Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota. None of the teams in contention saw impressive QB play in 2014: Josh McCown is old, Zach Mettenberger is shorn, Blake Bortles is bad and Derek Carr is dinky. Washington is just a mess, but they’re pretty much out of the running.

Jacksonville and Oakland are the most likely to trade the first pick, as Bortles and Carr have likely done enough in their rookie seasons to warrant a second look. Tennessee and Tampa Bay would be much more likely to take Mariota. This means the St. Louis Rams – or even the Philadelphia Eagles – could be keeping an eye on an otherwise terrible Thursday night game, crossing their fingers for a Jacksonville loss.

Mike Beuoy contributed analysis.

Reuben Fischer-Baum was a visual journalist for FiveThirtyEight.