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Not hard to understand the plight of the winless team in the NFL

Steve Brownlee

Everyone on ESPN was having a field day Monday morning talking about how the New York Jets couldn’t even lose the right way.

Everyone associated with the team should’ve been celebrating on Sunday after the lesser of the Big Apple teams pulled off a huge upset on the road against the Los Angeles Rams, 23-20, for their first win of the season.

But ESPN and quite likely a lot of Jets fans knew that win will probably translate into losing the No. 1 overall pick in next spring’s NFL Draft. Whoever has that pick will likely take consensus top player Trevor Lawrence, the quarterback of 2018 NCAA champion Clemson who has an excellent chance of repeating that feat in the next three weeks.

Both the Jets and Jacksonville are 1-14, but apparently the Jaguars have clinched or all but clinched the “strength of schedule” — actually, weakness of schedule — tiebreaker.

So all Jacksonville has to do now is finish 0-2 — 0-1-1 won’t cut it — these last two weeks to get Lawrence in their fold.

I remember being a “fan” — lukewarm though it was — of the 2008 Detroit Lions, the first team to make it through a 16-game season without a win or even a tie.

Cleveland matched that futility in 2017, while Tampa Bay started its franchise in 1976 with an 0-14 season before ending its streak at 26 losses late the following season.

And going even further back, the Dallas Cowboys were 0-11-1 in their inaugural season of 1960. And during my research about this ignoble record, I also found that the Baltimore Colts were 0-8-1 in the strike-shortened season of 1982.

Would you want to be a part of any of these teams? Of course not.

So I can see why the actual playing staff of the Jets — players, coaches and their direct support personnel — would try as hard at they could to get off the “Big 0.”

The pundits say, “Why don’t you just put the third-string quarterback out on the field and all the other practice squad players to make sure to get Lawrence?”

Well, I see lots of reasons why they wouldn’t. No. 1, who would expect to be returning the season following an “oh-for” campaign? So you’d never get to see the “benefit” of ultra-losing.

Some players I’m sure would return to the team, but just about every position would at least be looked at for replacement.

And even more certain, the various coaches, almost guaranteed the head coach, would get the axe.

Even if it was a foregone conclusion that certain coaches or players would be leaving late this season, those certain people would try as hard as they could to win, both to improve their resume for the future and just for their own mental health aspect of not being labeled as an “all-time loser,” fair or unfair a moniker as that might be.

Short of the general manager, team president or maybe even the owner taking over for head coach Adam Gase on the sidelines on game day, you wouldn’t expect these Jets to do anything other than plan for the best outcome possible.

And the Jets can’t win when it comes to criticism anyway. Remember just two weeks earlier when an odd defensive call on the final play of the game allowed Las Vegas to score the winning touchdown from about 40 yards out to snatch another win from the jaws of a Jets’ victory. They were roundly criticized for that even as it continued to insure their winless campaign.

Considering that the No. 3 team in line for the draft, Cincinnati, also won as a huge underdog against Pittsburgh on Monday night, it really wouldn’t surprise me if Jacksonville also messes this up and get the Jets back into the No. 1 draft position with a win or tie in these final two weeks of the season.

Now onto the picks:

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Friday, 4:30 p.m.

Minnesota at New Orleans — This Christmas afternoon matchup lost some luster after each of these teams lost a close one last weekend. It was more costly to the Vikings, however, as they fell two games out of the last playoff spot with two games to go. And even if they did catch up, there’s no telling how the tiebreakers would work. New Orleans, meanwhile, can wrap up the AFC South and guarantee at least one home playoff game and maybe get a second or even third one, too. Saints, 34-24.

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Saturday, 1 p.m.

Tampa Bay at Detroit — The Buccaneers may have the biggest incentive to win this weekend — whoever clinches the top wild-card spot in the NFC gets to play the winner of the NFC East in the first round of the playoffs. If you can’t match up well with Washington, Dallas, the Giants or Philadelphia, you don’t deserve your playoff spot anyway. Tampa is tied for the top wild-card record now, and this could shore up that position. Buccaneers, 37-20.

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Saturday, 4:30 p.m.

San Francisco at Arizona — These teams played way back in Week 1, when San Fran wasn’t all beat up with injuries. Since Arizona won then, let’s go for the sweep. Besides, this is week 4 on the road for the vagabond 49ers. Unfortunately, I’m seeing this is the game that won’t be available on any kind of regular TV, except for a pair of local stations in San Francisco and Phoenix. Cardinals, 27-23.

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Saturday, 8:15 p.m.

Miami at Las Vegas — The Raiders are all but eliminated from the AFC playoffs, trailing two teams by two games with two left to play. But one of those teams is Miami, which is in a dogfight with Baltimore for the final playoff spot and the Ravens only having the Giants at home and Cincinnati on the road remaining. About as much of a must-win as there can be when it’s actually not a must-win. Dolphins, 23-19.

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Sunday, 1 p.m.

Cleveland at New York Jets — I think the ticker tape will still be falling on the Jets by game time, so they won’t be ready to play. Browns, 33-20.

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New York Giants at Baltimore — The fact that Baltimore is currently the first team out of the AFC playoffs should be enough of an attention-getter. Ravens, 27-17.

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Cincinnati at Houston — Do they throw ticker-tape parades in Cincinnati? Didn’t think so. And unlike the Jets, no one begrudged the Bengals their Monday win over the Steelers unless they wanted to see a QB competition between Trevor Lawrence and Joe Burrow. Cincy would be the team to do something like that, though. Texans, 29-23.

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Chicago at Jacksonville — “Stay the course, stay the course.” That’s what they’re chanting in Jacksonville as they look for a Southern boy like Lawrence coming to north Florida. Bears, 24-10.

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Atlanta at Kansas City — At least the Falcons won’t be accused of blowing a double-digit lead, not when they trail 24-0 to start the second quarter. Chiefs, 42-11.

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Indianapolis at Pittsburgh — The Steelers had all the incentive to beat Cincy on Monday — a division rival, two losses in a row, playoff positioning, national exposure. Instead, they’re starting to morph into the 0-16 Browns of 2017. Colts, 23-13.

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Sunday, 4 p.m.

Carolina at Washington — This was a late change from 1 p.m. Sunday. I never like these professional-amateur matchups — you know, when the NFC East plays outside its division. But the Panthers have lost eight of nine, their only win a 20-0 shutout of the Lions on Nov. 22. Washington, 23-17.

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Denver at Los Angeles Chargers — I don’t know what to make of this game. They have the same record, both having been up and down in getting there. But Chargers’ coach Anthony Lynn has a penchant for about as poor a game management as has been seen in years. Since this ought to be close, take the Broncos, 31-29.

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Los Angeles Rams at Seattle — This game could decide the NFC West as a Rams’ wins ties them with the Seahawks and would be a season sweep by L.A. for the tiebreaker. But it’s so hard to figure out these Rams with a pair of losses to the undermanned 49ers and of course last weekend’s loss to the previously winless Jets. With Seattle’s recently improved defense, I’ll go with the Seahawks, 28-24.

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Philadelphia at Dallas — I went for the Philly upset last week not realizing the Eagles actually had no cornerbacks available to play. Not a good idea against the Cardinals’ Kyler Murray. While the Cowboys can also score in bunches like grapes, they can give up points in bunches like watermelons. Eagles, 38-30.

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Sunday, 8:20 p.m.

Tennessee at Green Bay — Just had a conversation with one of my Packer fan friends as he wondered where Green Bay sits in relation to ties with New Orleans and Seattle. Any tie involving the Seahawks — two ways or three ways that also includes the Saints — will probably revert to conference records, meaning this week’s game isn’t nearly as important as next week’s vs. the Bears. Between Lambeau Field, the Titans’ less potent defense this season and a sense of urgency wanting to avoid these tiebreakers, I’ll take the Packers, 30-24.

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Monday, 8:15 p.m.

Buffalo at New England — This could easily be a trap game for the Bills, but I would hope not since it’s not only a division opponent, it’s the division opponent everyone has been playing catchup with for at least a decade. That plus Buffalo only won their first encounter with the Pats by three points. Bills, 31-24.

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Last week — 10-6, 63 percent. Season — 142-81-1, 64 percent.

Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is sbrownlee@miningjournal.net.

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