It wasn’t long ago that we were talking about whether the Patriots could finish with a top-five pick in the 2024 NFL Draft.

Now, New England is on the verge of claiming the first overall pick in the draft.

The Patriots on Sunday dropped to 2-10 with an embarrassing home shutout loss to the Los Angeles Chargers. That result, coupled with the Arizona Cardinals’ upset of the Pittsburgh Steelers, moved New England into full control of the No. 2 overall pick.

The first spot still is occupied by the 1-11 Carolina Panthers, who will send their first-round pick to the Chicago Bears. However, the once-wide tiebreaker gap between the Patriots and Panthers now is gone, meaning New England realistically could ascend into the top spot as soon as this weekend.

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Strength of schedule is the first draft-order tiebreaker, with the team with the lower opponents’ winning percentage earning the higher pick. And, following the Sunday afternoon Week 10 slate, the Patriots’ SOS stood at .555, far behind Carolina’s .512.

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But here’s what the top five looked like as of Monday afternoon, via Tankathon:

(Note: Tankathon uses remaining scheduled opponents when determining strength of schedule.)

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1. Chicago Bears, via 1-11 Carolina Panthers (.527 SOS)
2. New England Patriots, 2-10 (.527 SOS)
3. Arizona Cardinals, 3-10 (.559)
4. Washington Commanders, 4-9 (.522)
5. Chicago Bears, 4-8 (.471)

As you can see, this now is a dogfight. New England has a real chance of claiming the No. 1 overall pick, which most experts believe will be used on generational quarterback prospect Caleb Williams.

And, given the SOS gap between the Patriots and Cardinals, who’ll enjoy their bye this week, New England essentially is guaranteed to hold onto at least the No. 2 pick this week regardless of what happens Thursday in Pittsburgh.

But what are the chances of the Panthers and Patriots finishing with the same record? Does either team have another winnable game on their schedule?

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Panthers’ remaining opponents: New Orleans Saints, Atlanta Falcons, Green Bay Packers, Jacksonville Jaguars, Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Patriots remaining opponents: Steelers, Kansas City Chiefs, Denver Broncos, Buffalo Bills, New York Jets.

If you’re a New England fan, you’re looking at Carolina’s games against the Falcons and Buccaneers as potentially winnable matchups. The Panthers almost beat Tampa on Sunday, after all.

But you’re also looking at the Patriots’ slate and hoping they somehow lose to Mitch Trubisky on Thursday and whomever the Jets trot out in the season finale. It’s hard to imagine New England winning in Buffalo or Denver, or beating the Chiefs, who’ll visit Gillette Stadium on Dec. 17.

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By the way, if the Patriots win fewer than two games the rest of the way, they’re guaranteed to finish with no worse than the third overall pick.

But it’s not just about whether New England loses games and Carolina wins one or two. If both teams finish with the same record, which is a real possibility, the draft order will be determined by wins and losses from the opponents on their respective schedules.

Obviously, there’s a lot of season left. But the Patriots’ hopes for a franchise-altering draft pick are trending in the right direction — and improving by the week.

Featured image via Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports Images