Because the primary focus among Patriots fans has shifted from the 2023 season to the 2024 draft, their latest loss to the Chiefs on Sunday increased their chances of remaining in the top three picks in the first round. It's the only sweet part of another disappointing loss that, at one point, felt like it could have been an upset win in their favor.
Because of their loss and the Panthers' win, they are now just one game out from being awarded the coveted first-overall pick. Fortunately, they still hold the second pick, but how they fare over the final three games could quickly change that.
Because the rest of the results of Week 15's games didn't move them up or down in the draft order, a few scenarios could determine where they ultimately select come April.
NESN's Patriots reporter Dakota Randall outlined three of the most likely situations to play out that could alter their draft fate.
1. If New England loses two of its next three games, it’s guaranteed a top-four pick (top three if the Commanders get another win).
The Patriots' last three games of the year are @ Denver Broncos, @ Buffalo Bills, and vs. the New York Jets to finish the 2023 season. At first glance, the presumed win of the bunch is undoubtedly the home game against the Jets, especially after the Dolphins just blew them out on Sunday.
The Broncos dealt with the same fate courtesy of the Lions, but they've played better than that, showing in recent weeks to believe it won't (necessarily) happen two weeks in a row.
As far as the Commanders go, their last games of the season are @ New York Jets, vs. the San Francisco 49ers and vs. the Dallas Cowboys. As a 4-10 team whose only wins have come against poorly performing teams, it's fair to assume their only win could come against the Jets. But if that's the case, one more win and one more Patriots win guarantees New England a top-four pick.
Can't complain about that.
2.If the Patriots lose the rest of their games, they’re guaranteed a top-three pick
If the priority is 100% the draft, then this is the favorable scenario. Although rooting against your favorite team is difficult, losing out may be the most beneficial way to end the year.
The problem is, are there any Patriots fans who actually believe 1. that Bill Belichick would be cool with losing out on purpose? And 2. actively trying to lose to the Jets of all teams, especially to end the year?
Doubtful. Nobody hates the Jets more than Belichick and Robert Kraft, so that seems like a surefire win.
3. While things technically can change, the SOS gap between the Patriots and Cardinals is wide enough that New England almost certainly would win the tiebreaker. So, losing out likely would net the Patriots at least the second pick.
After their loss this week, the Patriots have a projected .523 strength of schedule for the rest of the season, which is only .002 above what the Panthers have after their win over the Falcons. The Cardinals have a .556 SOS the rest of the way, a significant jump from New England's projection.
Arizona also has just three wins so far and finish their season @ Chicago Bears, @ Philadelphia Eagles, and vs. Seattle Seahawks. They could potentially add two more wins, furthering the gap for the Patriots and ultimately increasing their chances of holding onto a top-2 pick.
The last three weeks of the 2023 season will determine a lot about the Patriots immediate and long-term future
It's no secret the Patriots are in flux right now, and despite their best efforts to cover up the noise, it's only going to get louder from here. Speculation about Belichick's future with the franchise will continue to be discussed, their inevitable fate in the draft will be dissected far too much, and the rumors about all of it and more will surely not stop.
Several changes are expected to happen this offseason, and it seems like attaining the best draft pick possible in the first round would be the best way to kick it off after another disappointing and tumultuous year.
But how they get there is up to the team and the fates of others, which makes their last three games a bit more entertaining to watch.