Just a month into the season, the top of the 2024 NFL Draft order might be coming into focus a bit.
To get an update on where things stand, we turn to Austin Mock’s projections. Mock projects the score for every game and the final win percentage for every team using his NFL betting model. The model phases out older data and uses data from this year as the season progresses. The simulation then runs 100,000 times after each day of games to give us, in this case, our projected top-10 draft order plus each team’s projected win total and playoff chances.
How does that projected top 10 look after Week 4?
Projected top 10 (as of Oct. 3)
A few thoughts on this week’s projections:
1. A Texans turnaround
How ’bout what’s going on in Houston? Behind Offensive Rookie of the Year-level play from QB C.J. Stroud, the Texans have steamrolled the Jaguars and Steelers on back-to-back weekends to climb into the AFC South race. Two weeks ago, when the Texans were 0-2, they were sitting on 4.7 projected wins and a 1.2-percent playoff chance. Now, they’re at 7.9 and 25.4, respectively.
Their recent success is bad news for the Cardinals, though. Arizona owns Houston’s first-round pick in 2024 and, at one point, it appeared the Cardinals might have a shot at picking 1-2 come April. After Week 4, they’re projected to hold picks 3 and 14 instead — a terrific haul, no doubt, but one that could make their draft dreams a little trickier to fulfill.
The Texans’ division-title odds (15.4 percent) are still the lowest of any AFC South team (Jacksonville has the best shot, 39.6 percent). However, as Houston has shown, things can change in a hurry.
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2. Chicago’s stranglehold on No. 1
After The Athletic’s Adam Jahns suggested last week that “there is no rock bottom” for the Bears, we wondered aloud in this space what “worse” could even look like. Well, we have our answer.
Facing a Denver team that currently has one of the worst defenses this league has ever seen, the Bears blew a 28-7 home lead, wasted Justin Fields’ phenomenal performance (28 of 35, 335 yards, four TDs, one INT), and at least pried open the door on a winless season. As is, they’ve dropped 13 straight dating back to last season.
Their most recent meltdown coupled with Carolina’s loss Sunday left Chicago holding picks Nos. 1 and 2 in our projections — and in the current draft order, were the season to end today. That’s the same spot Arizona was in two weeks back. Mock’s model now puts the Bears at 3.6 projected wins and the Panthers, who traded their first-rounder to Chicago ahead of the 2023 draft, at 4.4. The next closest teams are the Cardinals (5.3) and Jets (5.6).
3. A top-10 pick for the Steelers?
By Steelers standards, this has been a rather frustrating multiyear stretch. Mike Tomlin’s team crept into the playoffs at 9-7-1 two seasons ago, missed out at 9-8 last year and are off to an entirely uninspiring 2-2 start this year. Sunday’s 30-6 loss in Houston, which included an injury to QB Kenny Pickett, was about as ugly as it’s been.
THERE GOES THAT MAN 😮💨 pic.twitter.com/NcDovOEvQz
— Houston Texans (@HoustonTexans) October 1, 2023
Pittsburgh has never finished below .500 in Mike Tomlin’s 16-year coaching career, but our projections suggest that run could end in 2023 — Mock’s model has the Steelers at 7.1 projected wins and a 16.2-percent playoff chance (which is higher than it probably felt for anyone watching in Week 4).
The Steelers’ last top-10 pick came in 2019 (Devin Bush), and they traded up 10 spots to make it. They haven’t picked earlier than No. 10 since way back in 2000, when they selected Plaxico Burress. Obviously, Pittsburgh would prefer to keep its streak of non-losing seasons alive and make a playoff push, but this also looks like a team that could use the influx of talent a high draft slot might offer.
4. A modest boost for Minnesota
Are you writing off the Vikings? A 13-game winner and NFC North champion last season, Minnesota had to come back from a 13-7 halftime deficit at Carolina to claim its first win. Updated Minnesota projections: 7.2 wins, 18.8-percent playoff chance, 5.2-percent shot at a division title. Those numbers didn’t boost the Vikings enough to get them out of the top 10, but they were an uptick from last week’s projected win total (6.9) and playoff chances (17.2).
An upcoming stretch on the schedule figures to be revealing, one way or the other. The Vikings host the defending champion Chiefs this week, then — after a Week 6 trip to Chicago — get another marquee home game, on a Monday night against San Francisco. They’ll follow that up with road trips to Green Bay and Atlanta.
If the Vikings are still hanging around our top 10 at that point, it might be time to start looking ahead to 2024.
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5. The Patriots are fading
The projected No. 9 pick last week; the projected No. 7 pick (and a win total of just 6.9) this week — it’s starting to look bleak early for Bill Belichick’s squad.
It doesn’t help that New England plays in the same division with two teams among the top six in Super Bowl chances: Buffalo (11.8 percent, third-best) and Miami (7.8 percent, sixth-best). The Patriots still have three games left on their schedule against those rivals (two versus Buffalo and an October trip to Miami). The optimist might say that gives Belichick a chance to storm back into the division race. The realist might be penciling in three losses.
(Top photo of C.J. Stroud: Carmen Mandato / Getty Images)
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