Until the Green Bay Packers’ win last week (which I am happy about, don’t get me wrong), I was holding out some level of hope that we might still luck into the two top draft spots and nab either USC’s Caleb Williams or North Carolina’s Drake Maye. This is considered to be a strong quarterback class, especially at the top, and while there are no sure things in the draft, the teams that land Williams and Maye will have an opportunity to pull off a quick franchise turnaround.
The Packers are probably a little too good, but it’s worth monitoring the Bears, because they most certainly are not. They have set themselves up well by also acquiring Carolina’s first pick in the 2024 NFL Draft in exchange for the pick the Panthers used to take the underwhelming Bryce Young. My ultimate goal as a fan is for the Packers to be good, but my secondary NFL hobby is cheering for the Bears to be bad, and specifically to never have a good quarterback. The Bears have had precisely one good quarterback and he retired from the NFL 73 years ago. The next time they actually manage to land one it should be viewed as a harbinger of the apocalypse or something along those lines, and so it is imperative that both the Bears and Panthers finish outside of the top two spots this season.
This presents a bit of a conundrum for Thursday Night Football, as the 2-7 Bears face off against the 1-7 Panthers. In a vacuum this game would seem unlikely to matter at all, as the Bears control both picks. Because there is a lot of season left, that’s probably true. However, if you are looking for a rooting interest, I think as a Packers fan you need to pull for Carolina. Not that I need to convince anyone to root against the Bears.
After tonight’s game against Chicago, the Panthers face the Dallas Cowboys, an almost certain loss, followed by a three-game road trip at Tennessee, New Orleans, and Tampa Bay. It’s not a murderer’s row by any stretch, but Tampa is more talented than Carolina, the Titans may be on the upswing if Will Levis is actually good, and the 5-4 Saints are halfway decent. The Panthers then go home to face Atlanta and Green Bay (a game the Packers should 100% tank), followed by a road game at Jacksonville and a home game against Tampa Bay to round out the season. It’s entirely possible that Carolina can win a few of those games, but I doubt they will be favored in any of them.
I like what Ejiro Evero’s done with an undermanned defense this year, and I suspect they will continue to improve, but the offense is pretty rough. Their highest scoring game of the season against Seattle was quarterbacked not by Young, but by Andy Dalton. They’re bad, and we need them to steal wins whenever they can.
The Bears are also bad, of course, and they have some tough games remaining as well including two against the Lions, but there are some highly winnable games still on that schedule. They get the Joshua Dobbs-led Vikings in a few weeks, the Cardinals on Christmas Eve, the Falcons, and a finish at Lambeau Field in a game the Packers should absolutely tank.
FTN (The new home of Football Outsiders’ DVOA) agrees, as they have the Bears with the 23rd hardest remaining schedule while the Panthers have the 7th hardest. Every Panthers win is a step in the right direction.
It’s never too early to start scoreboard watching, and it’s also worth keeping an eye on the other teams in contention for the top two picks. The Cardinals are 1-8 and in the driver’s seat, but they will get Kyler Murray back this week, which may open the door to an extra win or two down the stretch. The Giants are making a strong late surge for a top pick as well, sitting at 2-7 and starting something called Tommy DeVito at quarterback this week. Playing in a tough NFC East, they should be real challengers to the Panthers and Bears as the season winds down. Finally, over in the AFC, the 2-7 Patriots have been outscored by 93 points and also play in one of the toughest divisions in football. It’s going to be a barn burner down the stretch.
But tonight, we’re all Carolina fans. Let’s get that 2nd win and make this a real race, as nothing would make me happier than seeing Tyson Bagent throwing to Marvin Harrison, Jr. next season.