NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — With the teams trying to clamp down the final playoff spots Sunday, the Tennessee Titans and Cleveland Browns find themselves at the other end of the NFL spectrum.
They lead the procession tumbling toward next year’s No. 1 draft pick.
The Titans and Browns are 3-12, and chances are one of them will wind up with the No. 1 pick overall in the 2016 NFL Draft. In the reluctant race to the bottom of the standings, they have a slight edge over San Diego, Dallas and San Francisco — all tied at 4-11.
That leaves some Titans and Browns fans in the peculiar position of rooting for a loss Sunday that would put their team in line for the top pick.
Players and coaches have been saying it’s about now, not next year.
“Obviously, you’d like to walk away a winner and feel good about yourself for all the hard work,” Titans interim coach Mike Mularkey said.
The Browns beat Tennessee 28-14 in Week 2, but head-to-head isn’t the tiebreaker used to determine draft order. Instead, opponents’ strength of schedule is key with the edge given to the team playing weaker competition. Playing in the AFC South where only Houston has as many as eight wins would give the Titans that tiebreaker if both teams lose Sunday.
Victories by Cleveland and Tennessee will certainly make things more complicated as the strength of schedule tiebreaker will be affected by nearly every game Sunday.
Both teams will be without their Heisman Trophy winning quarterbacks because of injuries. Marcus Mariota will miss his second straight game with a sprained right knee, giving Zach Mettenberger the start Sunday in Indianapolis (7-8). Mettenberger is winless in nine career starts, while the Titans haven’t won in Indianapolis since 2007.
Johnny Manziel is out with a concussion, so Austin Davis will start for the Browns against Pittsburgh (9-6). Cleveland has beaten the Steelers only six times since 1999.
When a team is 3-12, there are a lot of holes to fill. Here are some of the needs the Titans and Browns have entering the 2016 draft:
With coach Mike Pettine’s future in doubt, the Browns go in a number of directions with the No. 1 or No. 2 overall pick. Ohio State defensive end Joey Bosa, with his comparisons to J.J. Watt, would seem to fit into any defensive system. Bosa offers the added bonus of a built-in fan base with his Buckeye backers.
Manziel improved enough on the field to provide some hope, but he remains a headache off the field. If the Browns decide to add Manziel to list of former first-round QBs who didn’t work out — see Brady Quinn and Brandon Weeden — they could be interested in making either Paxton Lynch of Memphis or Cal’s Jared Goff their fourth quarterback drafted in the first round since 2007.
If the Browns keep Manziel, they have enough needs that trading for extra picks could help. Then they could only hope Dallas wants insurance for Tony Romo or another team refuses to wait for a quarterback. Depending on how far down the Browns traded, wide receiver Laquon Treadwell of Mississippi or linebackers like Notre Dame’s Jaylon Smith or Louisville’s James Burgess could be options.
LAST NO. 1 PICK:
2000. Cleveland chose defensive end Courtney Brown.
Mariota has filled Tennessee’s need at quarterback. Now the Titans still need to fix an offensive line that couldn’t keep him healthy despite drafting linemen with their first-round pick two of the past three years. That makes Laremy Tunsil of Mississippi their best option if they wind up at No. 1.
Tennessee also has enough holes that a trade would be an appealing option, and any deal netting two first-round picks would be ideal. The Titans would love to add a player like Nashville native and Florida State cornerback Jalen Ramsey to bolster their secondary. Any deal that also netted Treadwell as the second part of that combo, giving Mariota another target, would be an attractive scenario. Running back also is a big need.
LAST NO. 1 PICK:
1978. The then-Houston Oilers traded with Tampa Bay for the right to draft running back Earl Campbell.
AP Sports Writer Tom Withers contributed to this report.
Follow Teresa M. Walker at http://www.twitter.com/teresamwalker
Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.