You are the 0-15 Cleveland Browns playing the Pittsburgh Steelers, who are assured of a playoff spot. Nobody wants you to win, not even yourselves.
Somehow, magically, or perhaps helped along by the Steelers sitting their starters to avoid injuries, you find yourself down by two late with the ball on the Steelers ten-yard line. A chip shot field goal for the win.
The team has taken a time out to ponder the possibilities.
Last year you had drafted a quarterback out of Notre Dame, unprepared for the NFL. Hence his winless record. He has a quarterback’s rating of 59.4, 60th of all the league’s quarterbacks.
There is doubt he’ll get better.
If you lose, you’re guaranteed the first pick in the draft. The Heisman winner is quarterback Baker Mayfield of Oklahoma. His credentials are impeccable. He started as a walk-on in college and ended up an All-American.
He will surely be the first pick in the draft. That in itself is not the guarantee of success in the NFL. Indeed one need only go back and realize what a disaster a first round pick named Johnny Manziel was for these same Browns, both on and off the field, just a few short years ago.
Mayfield is no altar boy, either, having made obscene gestures at opposing fans, and once was arrested for drunkenness and fleeing police.
Manziel’s transgressions off the field and his ineffectiveness on it are so strongly ingrained in the psyche of the Browns faithful that they fear a repeat performance with Mayfield.
Winning the meaningless last game of an all losing season is not really an option to their fans who have seen their team win just one of its last 31 games. It would be an insult to them to win and miss getting the best college player available at a position where he is desperately needed. Their fans would have every right to revolt.
Playing not to win is not new to the NFL. Often in the past, teams assured of making the play-offs have rested their starters for the last game or two to avoid injuries.
Which is more egregious, purposely missing a short field goal, thus getting top pick, or is it denying your fans the best performance you have? I feel sure the fans would root for a loss.
The Cleveland coach has already been told he will be back next year. Would you as coach kick the field goal, forego Mayfield, and look for another Carson Wentz or Jared Goff hidden somewhere in the draft to be your next quarterback?
Or would you go wide right on purpose? If so, how different is that from sitting your best players to avoid pre-playoff injuries?
Keep in mind that the only other team to go winless, the 2008 Detroit Lions, drafted first and chose Matthew Stafford of Georgia, who has gone on to be the highest paid quarterback in NFL history.
So there’s that!