Apologies for the maybe mildly condescending post title, but given some of the reactions to yesterday's win, it seems like there might be a few people around who don't realize this. I'm going to do my absolute best to get through this without mentioning Herm Edwards, but that's not a promise I'm willing to make.
At a brass tacks level, it should be glaringly obvious that a football team's sole purpose is to win football games. That said, there's the line of thinking that at this point in the season, when the team is mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, that it would be better for the team to lose in order to secure a higher draft pick. While I'm not going to sit here and say that a high draft pick doesn't have any value, I will say that that value is absolutely not commensurate with subverting their entire purpose. Here are some reasons:
1) Playing for picks is playing for pity: That's what a top pick is, after all; pity. The draft order is set up as it is to promote parity, which interestingly cannot be spelled without pity. The league wants bad teams to get better faster than the already successful ones, and they want to keep their fans interested, so they throw them a bone in the form of a shiny new draft pick. The top pick isn't an honor to strive for; it's a consolation prize for last place. Every team in the league would rather be picking 32nd, obviously. And every worthwhile team in the league would rather be picking 31st.
2) The culture change argument: For an NFL team to admit that they're bad enough to "compete" for the last pick is, in no uncertain terms, giving up. And giving up is a hard habit to break. As many times as you want to say, "Losing now will make us more competitive later," think about all the teams that never turned that corner. Oh, hey, Rams! How have those top-15 picks every year for the last 6 years treated you? The Chiefs made it all the way to 10-6 and a first round knockout in 2010 after three years of top-5 picks. I'm sure they wish they could say that that was the beginning of a real lasting shift in culture, but it was a flash in the pan and they've been the laughingstock of the NFL the last two years. Look at teams that are perennial contenders, like the Steelers, the Pats, and the Packers. They have all had off years, but they're in the mix just about every single season, and how many top 5 picks have they had? They compete year in and year out because they don't give a damn about draft picks, only winning.
3) Losing for top picks in football is not a viable strategy as it is in other sports: There are 53 guys on an NFL roster, 22 starters on either side of the ball that rotate in and out pretty heavily, especially on defense. The impact that a player at one position can have is limited, with the possible exception of QB where we all agree this class isn't particularly deep. Tanking for lottery picks in basketball makes a lot of sense because all of a sudden 20% of your starting lineup will ostensibly have improved after that pick. Baseball and hockey are similar but to a lesser extent, but in football each individual player has a uniquely limited outcome on how a team does. Things like scheme and chemistry are just as important as talent, a lesson we've all learned this season. A higher draft pick isn't going to fix any of that.
This is why I was happy when the Eagles got it done yesterday. There's no such thing as a bad win. A win is the best possible outcome every time, circumstances be damned. And it's just so much more fun to watch.