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Eyes on the prize

Five teams may vie for No. 1 pick and Reggie Bush

Posted: Tuesday December 27, 2005 11:42AM; Updated: Tuesday December 27, 2005 12:37PM
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Many Texans fans will likely be rooting for a loss next week against San Francisco.
Many Texans fans will likely be rooting for a loss next week against San Francisco.
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Go ahead. Fixate on the remaining playoff races and the vying for postseason positioning that remains in the regular-season finale. But I know where the real drama is going to play out this weekend, and it's at the bottom of the league, where the last-shall-be-first approach enters into the equation.

While everybody's watching how the playoff field will come together preceding the five-week battle for who's No. 1, this week's juicy little sub-plot is that other skirmish for the other top spot -- as in the coveted (or not so coveted) first overall pick in April's draft.

For a while now, we've thought the No. 1 pick would come down to the loser of Sunday's Houston at San Francisco game, which many have dubbed the Bush Bowl, in honor of the presumed first overall selection, Southern Cal running back and Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush.

And it will be just that straightforward, providing the Texans lose, dropping their record to, ahem, an unbeatable 2-14 for the season. But if Houston, which has played everybody pretty tough of late, finishes on top at San Francisco, we could have the delicious scenario in which as many as five teams -- Saints, Jets, Packers, Texans and 49ers -- tie for the draft's pole position at 3-13.

Be still Mel Kiper's beating heart.

How do we decipher that tangle of numbers? Ties in draft order are not broken the same way they are in the playoff field -- via head-to-head play, or divisional or conference records. It goes by strength of schedule, with the team with the weakest schedule (lowest opponents' record) getting the higher draft slot.

The strength of schedule winning percentages of the five teams involved won't be final until Week 17 is finished. But if we do get ties at 3-13, the Saints -- and if ever there was a team deserving of a break it's New Orleans -- might be in the driver's seat.

The Saints close at Tampa Bay (10-5), and New Orleans' opponents currently have a .517 winning percentage. Houston and the Jets are tied at .533 (coin flips would break those kind of ties), with Green Bay (.542) and San Francisco (.546) bringing up the rear.

Would the Saints, with veteran running back Deuce McAllister signed to a long-term deal, choose Bush or choose to trade the pick for a bevy of selections? Let the hype-fest of speculation begin.

Well, almost begin. First, the Texans have to win one for the sake of short-sighted professional pride and good old-fashioned NFL parity. Then we need the suits in the Park Avenue league headquarters in Manhattan to get out the calculator and do a better job crunching the numbers than they did with that Tarik Glenn Pro Bowl selection.

The race for No. 1 should make for a fascinating close to the regular season. Oh, and the playoffs could be kind of cool, too.