The Chicago Bears won't play in Week 13, but it's still a pivotal week for the franchise. With the regular season winding down, the Bears still hold the No. 1 pick in the 2024 NFL Draft.
But it's no guarantee they wind up picking first in the draft. Following Chicago's win over the Minnesota Vikings in Week 12, the quest for Caleb is essentially down to three teams: The Carolina Panthers, Arizona Cardinals and New England Patriots. Those three teams have two or fewer wins this season.
It's believed one of USC quarterback Caleb Williams, North Carolina quarterback Drake Maye or Ohio State wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. will be considered with the top pick in the 2024 NFL Draft, though that depends on which team secures the pick.
At 1-10, the Panthers have the worst record in the NFL, but that benefits the Bears. Carolina sent its 2024 first-round pick to Chicago as part of the D.J. Moore trade in the offseason. If the Panthers secure the No. 1 overall pick in the 2024 NFL Draft, the Bears will make that selection.
Panthers look for bounce back against lowly Buccaneers
Things look bleak in Carolina. After a fourth-straight loss, Panthers owner David Tepper fired Frank Reich just 11 games into his contract. The team promoted special teams coordinator Chris Tabor into the interim head coach spot. Tabor will look to turn things around after a disastrous start.
That could happen as soon as Week 13. At 4-7, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers aren't the scariest opponent on offense. If the Panthers experience a boost following Reich's firing — hey, it worked for the Las Vegas Raiders — it's plausible the Panthers can pull out a win against the Bucs.
Bryce Young — who the team selected with the No. 1 pick in the 2023 NFL Draft — would need to turn things around against a tough defense, though. While the Bucs' offense has struggled in 2023, the team's defense was limited opponents. The Bucs allow 20.6 points per game, good for 13th best in the NFL. The Panthers only score 15.7 points per game, which ranks 30th.
Cardinals square off against surprising Steelers
One of the teams that stand to benefit most from a shocking Panthers turnaround is the Cardinals. Arizona has a difficult task ahead in Week 13, as it faces the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers have played some ugly football in 2023, but seemingly always find a way to pull out a late win. The team is 7-4 despite ranking 28th in points scored per game. The team's excellent defense is certainly responsible for a fair amount of those wins.
But things are looking up in Pittsburgh. The offense performed well in its first game without former offensive coordinator Matt Canada, who was fired after Week 11. For the first time since 2020, Pittsburgh's offense produced at least 400 yards in a 16-10 win over the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 12.
Arizona, meanwhile, has looked more dangerous with Kyler Murray back under center, but still lacks the talent to stay in games. The Cardinals won in Murray's 2023 debut, but dropped its last two games. They managed to hang with the Los Angeles Rams for roughly a half, but then completely forgot how to tackle Kyren Williams en route to a 37-14 loss.
Patriots take on the Chargers
And then there's the Patriots, a team in desperate need of a new quarterback. Neither Mac Jones or Bailey Zappe are the answer in New England, something both players have definitively proved in 2023. Jones got benched — yet again — in a close loss to the New York Giants in Week 12. Zappe wasn't much better once he got into the game.
But will the ineptness of Jones or Zappe outweigh the ineptness of Brandon Staley's Los Angeles Chargers? Despite some strong pieces on offense, the Chargers always find ways to lose games late. If the team suffers another loss in that manner — especially against the Patriots — it could be the end of Staley's tenure in Los Angeles.
Who will be taken with the No. 1 pick in the 2024 NFL Draft?
There's no clear-cut choice at the top of the 2024 NFL Draft. It's assumed one of Maye or Williams will go in the top spot because they play the most important position on the field. If Chicago does secure the pick, it will have a decision to make. Do they start over with a new quarterback and trade Justin Fields? Or do they once again trade away the No. 1 pick to build a better roster around Fields? It's a franchise-altering choice.
Arizona could also trade away the selection if it secures the No. 1 pick in the draft. Murray is still owed a ton of money, making it tougher to trade him away. If the team wants to build around Murray, it can field offers for the top pick. It could also just take Harrison there and give Murray a potential star receiver.
The Patriots' choice should be easy. The team needs to replace Jones or Zappe with a new quarterback. Unless they are the team that trades for Fields, the Patriots probably won't be able to pass up Maye or Williams with the top pick in the 2024 NFL Draft.
There are still plenty of weeks before the final draft order is decided, so fans of the worst teams in the NFL still have quite a bit to root for down the stretch.