No. 1 draft goal: Chill out

December 24, 2005|By KEN MURRAY

The San Francisco 49ers don't even own it yet, but they're already talking about trading the No. 1 pick in the 2006 draft. Or at least their No. 1 pick, which almost certainly will be no worse than the second pick.

"One guy is not going to make us a 10-6 team next year," said Scot McCloughan, the team's vice president of player personnel. "It might make you maybe 6-10, but if we have four or five players [instead of that one player], maybe two years from now, that makes it a 10-6 team, because now you have more depth."

Right now, the 49ers are a 2-12 team, tied with the Houston Texans for the worst record in the NFL. Assuming the 49ers lose in St. Louis today to the Rams, and the Texans lose at home to the Jacksonville Jaguars, they'll meet in an epic Week 17 battle for the rights to Southern California running back Reggie Bush.

Loser of that game wins Bush - or the chance to trade him to the highest bidder. Winner gets first crack at USC quarterback Matt Leinart or someone else of their liking.

This scenario is very unsettling to the NFL because it leads to speculation about tanking the game to get the bigger prize (in this case, Bush or multiple picks). Never mind that players don't care whether their team gets Bush or anyone else at the top of the draft. Players are locked in the here and now. It's management that has to consider the future and ramifications of winning and losing. (And coaches decide who plays, after all.)

All this cuts to the integrity of the game, a subject near and dear to the beating NFL heart. That's probably why the league, in its weekly package of statistical notes, sent out an item about last-place teams faring better in the final three games of the season than in the games preceding them.

According to NFL research, since 1970 teams with a share of last place have compiled a record of 42-109-1 (.280) over the final three weeks of the season. These same teams have a record of 257-1,780-2 (.127) in all games preceding the final three.

See, no tanking. Proof on a stat sheet.


But it would be pretty hard to make a case that either the Texans or 49ers are tanking this year. After blowing leads in three straight games to lose, the Texans thumped the Arizona Cardinals last week.

The 49ers have lost seven straight games but were within one touchdown in four of the losses.

The Texans have lost by 20 or more points three times this season; the 49ers have lost by 35 or more three times.

If ever a team tanked its season, it would have to be the 1981 Baltimore Colts. That team broke records for defensive futility that still stand (most points, touchdowns and first downs allowed in a season).

Those Colts lost eight games by 22 points or more. They were within a touchdown in only two of their 14 losses. Almost every week was an annihilation.

And yet, with the first pick lined up for them, they beat the New England Patriots on the final day of the regular season. Both teams finished 2-14, but because the Colts swept the Patriots, New England got first pick.

That pick turned out to be defensive tackle Ken Sims. The Colts took linebacker Johnie Cooks with the second.

Neither one was worth the effort.


Games of the week

CHARGERS (9-5) @ CHIEFS (8-6)

TIME, TV -- 1 p.m., Ch. 13

LINE -- Chiefs by 1

SKINNY -- The Chiefs played deplorable run defense against the Giants last week and now must deal with LaDainian Tomlinson, although he has bruised ribs. The big matchup is RB Larry Johnson against the Chargers' No. 1 rushing defense. Both teams are in dire straits.

PICK -- Chargers

COWBOYS (8-6) @ PANTHERS (10-4)

TIME -- 1 p.m.

LINE -- Panthers by 5

SKINNY -- The Cowboys are faltering down the stretch, losing three of their past four. The Panthers (No. 4 rushing defense) will make QB Drew Bledsoe beat them. Don't count on it.

PICK -- Panthers


TIME -- 1 p.m.

LINE -- Buccaneers by 3

SKINNY -- The Buccaneers, who have played three straight on the road, get the next two at home. They were embarrassed in New England last week, just as the Falcons were embarrassed in Chicago.

PICK -- Buccaneers


COLTS (13-1) @ SEAHAWKS (12-2)

TIME, TV -- 4:15 p.m., chs. 13, 9

LINE -- Seahawks by 8

SKINNY -- They'll call it a Super Bowl preview, but anytime Jim Sorgi replaces Peyton Manning for the Colts, the results are suspect at best. At least the Seahawks still need a win to claim home-field advantage.

PICK -- Seahawks

STEELERS (9-5) @ BROWNS (5-9)

TIME -- 1 p.m.

LINE -- Steelers by 7

SKINNY -- The rivalry will keep it close, but the Browns' No. 27 rushing defense should relent in the second half.

PICK -- Steelers

BILLS (4-10) @ BENGALS (11-3)

TIME -- 1 p.m.

LINE -- Bengals by 13 1/2

SKINNY -- QB Kelly Holcomb has been known to put a few points on the board against the Bengals. But he probably won't score enough for an upset.

PICK -- Bengals

RAIDERS (4-10) @ BRONCOS (11-3)

TIME -- 4:15 p.m.

LINE -- Broncos by 13

SKINNY -- The Broncos are still aiming for a first-round bye. The Raiders have nothing to play for.

PICK -- Broncos

JAGUARS (10-4) @ TEXANS (2-12)

TIME -- 1 p.m.

LINE -- Jaguars by 6

SKINNY -- The Texans delivered a crushing blow to the Jaguars' playoff hopes a season ago.

PICK -- Jaguars


TITANS (4-10) @ DOLPHINS (7-7)

TIME -- 1 p.m.

LINE -- Dolphins by 5 1/2

SKINNY -- The Dolphins have won four straight since getting shut out in Cleveland.

PICK -- Dolphins

49ERS (2-12) @ RAMS (5-9)

TIME -- 1 p.m.

LINE -- Rams by 9

SKINNY -- The 49ers are 0-7 on the road this year. Until last week's one-point loss in Jacksonville, they hadn't even been competitive.

PICK -- Rams

EAGLES (6-8) @ CARDINALS (4-10)

TIME -- 4:05 p.m.

LINE -- Cardinals by 1

SKINNY -- Mike McMahon vs. Josh McCown. Now, there's a quarterback matchup for the ages.

PICK -- Eagles

LIONS (4-10) vs. SAINTS (3-11) @ SAN ANTONIO

TIME -- 1 p.m.

LINE -- Saints by 3

SKINNY -- Why should San Antonio get stuck with this game?

PICK -- Saints

Ken Murray

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