It's a paradox that's equal parts backward and contentious. After weeks upon months of doing anything to help their franchise win, some teams are worse off for doing just that.
There's not much pretense of "tanking" in the NFL. Certainly less so than contemporary sports like the NBA. Catchy mottos like "Suck for Luck" get picked up by the media, but at the end of the day amount to little more than playful hokum. Professional football players never try to lose football games—they have far too much pride to even consider it.
It's great to embed players with that sort of plucky resolve, even in the face of a losing season. But sadly, for many teams, a late surge in meaningless games can drastically affect the subsequent draft. And not in a good way.
Here are three teams that are worse off for playing better.
Carolina Panthers (7-9)
Carolina is no stranger to starting slow and finishing fast.
Last year the Panthers finished 4-2 after opening the season 2-8. That late-season run dropped them all the way down to the ninth pick in the draft. As it turned out, that was still high enough to draft their ideal target, linebacker Luke Kuechly, but rarely does a team get that lucky twice.
The Panthers opened up 2-8 again in 2012, this time ending the year 5-1 en route to a seven-win campaign. That extra victory dropped them all the way down to 14th in the upcoming draft, barely in the first half of selectors.
They probably don't deserve to draft Star Lotulelei—they were too good this season. But they have a glaring need at defensive tackle, and they'll kick themselves if Ohio State's Jonathan Hankins goes before their turn.
Bonus Detriment: The Panthers' 5-1 surge also, technically, gave them a second-place finish in the NFC South. That means they'll play the Giants, Vikings and Seahawks in 2013.
For comparison's sake, New Orleans' third-place schedule features Dallas, Chicago and St. Louis, while Tampa's fourth-place schedule features Philadelphia, Detroit and Arizona.
San Diego Chargers (7-9)
The Chargers won seven games in 2012, but four of those victories came against Oakland and Kansas City—arguably the two worst teams in the league.
Truth be told, they played like one of the five or six worst teams in football this season. But by virtue of a 3-1 finish, they'll be drafting outside the top 10.
They have a dire need to improve the offensive line, and this is a great draft for tackles. Luke Joeckel, Taylor Lewan and Jake Matthews all grade out as future blue-chippers, but the drop-off between those three and, say, Eric Fisher is substantial.
Only time will tell if that whole trio gets drafted in the top 10. There's certainly enough teams up there who also need their services.
If the Chargers miss out on one of those targets, 2013 could be another long season in San Diego.
St. Louis Rams (7-8-1)
It's hard to fault the Rams for playing hard at the end of the season. Prior to a Week 15 loss against Minnesota, they were squarely back in the playoff hunt.
But alas, the Vikings beat them (decisively) in St. Louis, and now the upshots of their 4-2 finish could be significant.
The Rams almost dropped all the way out of the draft's first half. Come April, they'll be picking 16th overall, just before perennial contenders Dallas and Pittsburgh.
The Rams need a tackle just as desperately (if not more so) than San Diego, and as alluded to earlier, the top three guys at the position are slated to go early.
What's more, teams like the Chargers or Dolphins stand poised to take Central Michigan's Eric Fisher, the next best tackle, in the picks preceding St. Louis'. Now if they want to find a blue-chip tackle, St. Louis must either pursue someone in free agency or trade up in the first round.
Needless to say, securing a higher draft pick would have made things much simpler.