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Fix the NFL Draft so fans don't need to get mad when their team actually wins a game

Sam Darnold of the Jets calls a play

Sam Darnold of the Jets calls a play during the second quarter against the Rams at SoFi Stadium on December 20, 2020 in Inglewood, California.  Credit: Getty Images/Sean M. Haffey

After the Jets and Bengals shocked the Rams and Steelers 28 hours apart in Week 15, who is to say the Jaguars will not upset the Bears on Sunday, restoring the Jets’ rightful place atop the NFL draft order?

But in case that does not happen, and the NFL’s two worst teams finish 1-15, a couple of things to consider so this sort of thing never occurs again:

First, change the draft order tiebreaker. Second, institute a draft lottery.

Simple! OK, probably not, given the loyalty to the status quo around the league. But as the make-it-up-as-you-go-along sports calendar of 2020 has proven, change is OK. Even drastic change.

Let’s start with the easier sell, which is changing the draft order tiebreaker that prioritizes strength of schedule, a category in which the Jets (.598) will lose to Jacksonville (.556) because the Jets’ opponents have a better collective record.

There is some logic to this concept, in that the idea of a draft is to help the weakest teams most, and in theory a team that goes 1-15 against a soft schedule is even worse than one that goes 1-15 against a better slate.

Sorry, no. Why penalize a team for playing a more difficult schedule, a factor that is outside its control?

Jets opponents have the best combined winning percentage in the NFL – helped, of course, by having compiled 13 victories over the Jets – which means . . . what, exactly?

That because the Jets have lost to the 13-1 Chiefs and twice to the 11-3 Bills, they should be denied a chance to draft Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence? Why not take point differential into account while we’re at it and "reward" blowout losses?

Other potential tiebreakers are unfair in other ways. Head-to-head? That could create a scenario in which two teams finish 1-15, but one team’s lone victory came against the other.

Let’s say the Jets had played and beaten the Jaguars, and both lost 15 games. Would the Jags then get the first overall pick? That’s twisted.

The only fair solution is a random draw, which is how the NBA does it. That, in effect, is a mini-lottery, and in a circumstance such as this one would create huge interest when the order is decided.

And if next season there is a clear-cut worst team but, say, four teams are tied for spots 2 through 5, have a draw, put it on TV and live with the arbitrary consequences.

Which brings us to a more radical idea: Going the way of the NBA and NHL and instituting a weighted lottery for non-playoff teams.

The reason this has never been tried in the NFL is, well, it is not entirely clear, other than tradition.

Some think the NBA needs it more because tanking is more of a problem there, and because basketball success often is more tied to a single player than in football, where even "franchise" quarterbacks often do not pan out and require plenty of help.

It still beats what happened on Sunday, which was a terrible look for the league. Fans should not be put in position to be heartbroken watching their team win.

Sure, supporters of bad NBA teams lament meaningless late-season victories, but those only cost a few extra ping-pong balls and a slightly smaller probability of landing a high pick.

The NBA lottery’s most recent iteration does not even distinguish among the worst three teams in defining the lottery odds.

Lotteries are imperfect, of course. No system is without flaws. But what went down on Sunday was just yucky.

With a coin-flip tiebreaker and/or a lottery in effect, Jets fans could have taken the upset of the Rams in stride, perhaps even felt good for the players and still looked forward to a shot at Lawrence come spring.

Instead, their team secured one of the biggest upsets of the century, and yet fans were devastated. That can’t be right.

New York Sports