Why the New York Jets’ draft position could come down to a coin flip

When Denver defeated Indianapolis on Thursday night, it changed the New York Jets’ strength of schedule ever so slightly to .526. It moved the needle the same amount for Washington’s, because Washington will play Denver next week.

But for now, all it means is that New York and Washington are in a dead heat for the 10th pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. And if both teams finish the 2017 season in similar fashion, then they very well could flip a coin for draft position.

No, stop laughing, I’m serious – it’s definitely on the table that the Jets could see their spot in the draft order determined by the flip of an NFL-branded coin.

NFL rules state that when two or more non-playoff teams are tied in the standings, there are a few short steps to determine their draft order. First is strength of schedule: If you have an easier strength of schedule than the team you’re tied with, you get to pick higher because you were probably the worse team.

If it needs to go further than that, records against division and conference foes are applied as tiebreakers when possible. But when two teams come from opposing conferences, like the Jets and Washington, that’s not applicable. The league skips right to the coin.

Lest you think this is a rare occurrence, the last time a coin flip was necessary was all the way back in… 2017. The Minnesota Vikings and Indianapolis Colts finished with identical records (8-8) and strengths of schedule (.495), so at the NFL Combine, they flipped for it. The Vikings won the toss, but the Philadelphia Eagles actually won because they owned Minnesota’s pick from the Sam Bradford trade. Philly drafted defensive end Derek Barnett at no. 14; Indy got lucky as safety Malik Hooker fell to them at 15.

Brace yourselves, because it was only five years ago when two coin flips were necessary to finally straighten out the draft order in late February 2012. The Dolphins beat the Panthers for the no. 8 choice, which ended up being spent on Ryan Tannehill. At ninth, Carolina took Luke Kuechly. Discuss among yourselves who won that one. And the Chiefs beat the Seahawks for the 11th pick, spent on Dontari Poe; Seattle traded down and grabbed Bruce Irvin at 15.

It’s a bit irksome–perhaps moreso to the fans than the executives–that teams in this situation have to wait an extra eight weeks after season’s end to know where they’re drafting. But unless the league changes how it does things, the combine presumably would be the site of the flip going forward.

Which teams might benefit from a weak SOS?

It’ll be hard to tell what the odds are that New York and Washington will be forced to flip until after Week 16 — or which teams to root for to push the Jets up in the order. Of course, all of this is meaningless if the two teams don’t finish with the same record.

But here’s a look at the other teams the Jets might find themselves tied with at season’s end, and each team’s SOS through the Thursday night game:

  • Indianapolis (3-11): .493
  • San Francisco (3-10): .517
  • Houston (4-9): .505
  • Tampa Bay (4-9): .558
  • Chicago (4-9): .553
  • Denver (5-9): .483
  • Cincinnati (5-8): .478
  • Arizona (6-7): .478
  • Oakland (6-7): .505
  • Miami (6-7): .545

Remember, even though the Bucs and Broncos beat New York head-to-head, that would only matter if you were setting out to break a wild-card tie, not determine draft order. Tampa has played a rigorous schedule with six games against the competitive NFC South. They have the toughest SOS in the entire league, and thus will not win any draft tiebreakers. Ditto to the Bears, who had to face Philadelphia and Pittsburgh in addition to three above-.500 divisional opponents.

Miami also has a peculiarly high strength of schedule, and because it has so many opponents in common with the Jets, it’s likely that the Jets would be better off in event of a tie with their rivals. (This is the part where we thank our lucky stars Cleveland was on the Jets’ schedule this year, toning down their SOS. Miami’s only opponents not in common with New York were playoff contenders Baltimore and Tennessee.)

On the other hand, root for the Bengals to win a few more games. The blessing of counting Cleveland on their schedule twice means they’d win most draft order tiebreakers they’d face. And San Francisco is only a few SOS percentage points away from the Jets and Washington, so we’ll monitor the situation if the Niners pick up a few more wins.

What are the highest and lowest picks available to the Jets right now?

I can’t confirm that it’s mathematically impossible for the Jets to move up to No. 2 or 3, but a whole lot would need to happen – every bad team besides Cleveland would need to finish 5-11 or better, and even then, the Jets don’t seem to stand a chance in the SOS tiebreaker against the Giants or Colts. In order to pick fourth, the Jets would need to lose out and finish with a worse record than San Fran, Denver, Houston and Cincinnati – New York would most probably win an SOS tiebreaker against Chicago or Tampa Bay, as stated earlier. So even that is a big stretch at this point. The way some of these bad teams are playing, the Jets cracking the top five would be miraculous.

Meanwhile, there’s no telling how low the Jets can slide – comedically enough, they’re still in the playoff race, too.

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