Look no further than the current 2014 NFL draft order for a prime example of just how much of a prominent theme parity is in the league entering Week 15.
The bottom three teams—the Atlanta Falcons, Washington Redskins and Houston Texans, in descending order—all won their respective divisions last season. To say the least, 2013 has been a different story, as that trio has suffered significant setbacks.
Two of them will square off on Sunday as the headliner for the games that will have the biggest impact on the impending draft.
Below is a look at that contest between Atlanta and Washington, along with the two other showdowns that will be pivotal for fallen franchises in search of optimism as the season nears its end.
Note: Complete updated draft order can be viewed at NFL.com.
Washington Redskins (3-10) vs. Atlanta Falcons (3-10)
As is widely known, Washington traded a lot to move up to No. 2 overall in the 2012 NFL draft to select former Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Robert Griffin III.
After taking the league by storm as a rookie in leading the team to an NFC East title, Griffin has not come close to replicating that sort of success. That has resulted in him being deemed inactive for the final three games of this year, with Washington inserting draft classmate Kirk Cousins as the starter under center, per NFL on ESPN:
ICYMI: Redskins shut down RGIII for the rest of the season and name QB Kirk Cousins starter on Sunday at Atlanta. http://t.co/tSVJQjzd79— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) December 11, 2013
Cousins has played well when he's been given the opportunity, but making matters worse is that the Redskins would own the second overall pick again if the season ended today.
They gave it up to the St. Louis Rams in order to select Griffin, giving the promising, young Rams even more ammunition to build their roster for the future.
Injuries have taken their toll in Atlanta, most notably to star wide receiver Julio Jones. It has hampered QB Matt Ryan and the Falcons offense, which also lacks a reliable running game and doesn't have a good enough defense to compensate for its shortcomings.
But at least Atlanta has the luxury of looking forward to adding a top prospect to its loaded roster to aid a prospective resurgence next season. The Falcons are No. 3 in the current draft order, but this game will work against their interests in that regard.
Serious turmoil abounds in Washington. It seems likely it will result in a regime change. B/R's Mike Freeman documented a comment from one AFC coach about Mike Shanahan's future:
AFC coach: "Mike Shanahan may never get another head coaching job again. He's acting like a petulant child."— mike freeman (@mikefreemanNFL) December 11, 2013
No one gives up more points than Washington, which should allow Ryan and Co. to have a big day in the passing game and notch a late-season victory in the Georgia Dome.
Prediction: Falcons 34, Redskins 24
Houston Texans (2-11) vs. Indianapolis Colts (8-5)
The deck has been cleared at the top in Houston with the firing of head coach Gary Kubiak. Now general manager Rick Smith is in position to have the top choice in the 2014 draft.
Which team needs the 2014 No. 1 overall draft pick the most?
Whether that holds true depends on the outcome of the final few games, but the Texans' outlook doesn't seem too promising amid 11 straight losses and a road trip to take on the Colts.
All eyes are sure to be on former undrafted QB Case Keenum and how he fares against an opponent bound for the postseason after clinching the AFC South in Week 14.
Keenum has been impressive thus far, but his play from here on out should determine whether or not the Texans prioritize selecting a quarterback in the first round.
The Colts have gotten minimal production from running back Trent Richardson since trading for him in the beginning of the year. GM Ryan Grigson sacrificed a first-round pick to the Cleveland Browns in the deal, so how Indianapolis finishes the year will impact where the Browns' second pick in Round 1 falls, too.
Andrew Luck will attempt to will his team to another win despite fielding a one-dimensional offense and going up against Houston's No. 2 pass defense.
As clutch as Luck has proven to be, he may be in a bit of trouble in facing a Texans pass rush that features the likes of J.J. Watt. Even though Luck, the 2012 top overall pick, led the Colts on an epic comeback the first time these two teams met, he still completed just 18 of 40 passes.
Look for Indianapolis to have a bit of a letdown and drop this one, as the Texans finally get off the skids thanks to a superior defense.
Prediction: Texans 27, Colts 20
Buffalo Bills (4-9) vs. Jacksonville Jaguars (4-9)
Rookie first-round signal-caller EJ Manuel was expected to take some lumps in his maiden campaign in Buffalo, and Week 14's 27-6 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was where that was most on display.
Manuel threw four interceptions in dropping the Bills to 4-9, along with a cluster of four other teams. One of them is the Jaguars, who are trending in quite the opposite direction.
Led by enthusiastic head coach Gus Bradley, Jacksonville is tied with the New England Patriots, Baltimore Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals for the longest winning streak in the AFC at three games.
The #Jaguars have won 4 of their last 5. Impressive improvement for Gus Bradley and this young, rebuilding team. Foundation being built.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) December 6, 2013
Bradley was the Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator before taking the job with the Jags, so he has had a hand in the operations on that side of the ball that has improved during this successful stretch. That is in spite of the fact that Jacksonville still ranks last in the league with 23 sacks.
There are enough tricks up Bradley's sleeve to confuse Manuel, whose confidence can't be sky-high at the moment.
The Jags will continue their roll and continue establishing a winning culture.
The playoffs are still a remote possibility, but even with this late turnaround, Jacksonville should still be in decent enough draft position to grab another marquee player ahead of the 2014 season.
Prediction: Jaguars 17, Bills 13
|Away Team||Home Team||Winner|
|San Diego Chargers||Denver Broncos||Broncos|
|Washington Redskins||Atlanta Falcons||Falcons|
|Chicago Bears||Cleveland Browns||Bears|
|Houston Texans||Indianapolis Colts||Colts|
|New England Patriots||Miami Dolphins||Patriots|
|Philadelphia Eagles||Minnesota Vikings||Eagles|
|Seattle Seahawks||New York Giants||Seahawks|
|San Francisco 49ers||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||49ers|
|Buffalo Bills||Jacksonville Jaguars||Jaguars|
|Kansas City Chiefs||Oakland Raiders||Chiefs|
|New York Jets||Carolina Panthers||Panthers|
|Green Bay Packers||Dallas Cowboys||Cowboys|
|Arizona Cardinals||Tennessee Titans||Cardinals|
|New Orleans Saints||St. Louis Rams||Saints|
|Cincinnati Bengals||Pittsburgh Steelers||Steelers|
|Baltimore Ravens||Detroit Lions||Lions|
Picks are strictly opinion