49ers still in hunt for No. 1 overall pick

As it turns out, last week's victory over the Rams did not knock the 49ers out of contention for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2006 NFL draft. With a loss Sunday in their season finale against the Houston Texans, the 49ers still would have an outside chance at landing the No. 1 pick should a certain set of circumstances fall into place elsewhere around the league. It's a long shot that the 49ers don't really want to consider, but it is real, and here is the scenario that could make it happen.

After the results of last week – which saw San Francisco climb to 3-12 with a 24-20 upset at St. Louis and Houston drop to 2-13 with a 38-20 loss against Jacksonville – the 49ers were under the belief earlier this week that there was no possibility they still could be saddled with the No. 1 overall pick for the second consecutive year.

Coach Mike Nolan continued to hold to that belief during his Wednesday media briefing until he was informed by a writer that a remote scenario still exists where San Francisco would again be left holding the top pick – a pick the team clearly doesn't want.

"How remote?" Nolan responded.

The answer: Very remote.

But it could happen if the 49ers lose at home to Houston, which apparently is what the smart money believes will happen. The 49ers opened the week on the betting line as a one-point favorite – the first time San Francisco has been favored in a game this year – but by Wednesday the Texans had become a 1½-point favorite. That swing in point spread indicates heavy betting action on the Texans.

And, if the Texans do win, it would be one of several things that need to happen Sunday to set in motion the set of circumstances that would leave San Francisco with the No. 1 pick.

If the draft were today, the 49ers would hold the fifth overall pick, because they have the highest strength of schedule of the four teams currently tied with 3-12 records. The Texans would hold the No. 1 pick, followed by the 3-12 Saints (whose opponents have a .507 winning percentage), the 3-12 Packers (.520) and the 3-12 Jets (.547). The 49ers would be next because their opponents currently boast a .573 winning percentage.

But that all could change Sunday, with 11 different games having an affect on the fight for No. 1 and the unlikely possibility it will fall to the 49ers.

Under the following scenario, the 49ers, Texans and Jets would finish with 3-13 records. But the 49ers and Texans would tie for worst strength of schedule as the tie-breaker. The 49ers would then have to win a coin flip with the Texans to be awarded the No. 1 overall selection.

Here is what must occur in Sunday's games, beginning with a Houston victory over the 49ers, for the No. 1 pick to come down to that coin flip:

The Raiders must beat the Giants, the Colts must beat the Cardinals, the Vikings must beat the Bears, the Bills must beat the Jets, the Steelers must beat the Lions, the Saints must beat the Buccaneers and the Packers must prevail over the Seahawks.

If each of the above happens in those games, then at least one of the following outcomes must also occur: Ravens over Browns, Chiefs over Bengals or Jaguars over Titans.

So don't hold your breath. It's much more likely the 49ers' pick will fall somewhere between No. 2 and No. 7, and here's some scenarios regarding how they might fall into each of those picks:

--- No. 2 pick: The 49ers lose to the Texans, and the Jets, Packers and Saints win, with the No. 1 pick going to Houston based on its poorer strength of schedule compared to the 49ers.

--- No. 3 pick: The 49ers lose to the Texans, combined with wins by two of these teams – the Jets, Packers and Saints – and a loss by the other.

--- No. 4 pick: The 49ers lose to the Texans, combined with a win by one of those other three 3-12 teams.

--- No. 5 pick: The 49ers and the other 3-12 teams lose, and either Chicago, Arizona or St. Louis wins its final game. The 49ers also would pick No. 5 if they win and Oakland and Tennessee both win.

--- No. 6 pick: The 49ers beat the Texans, and either Oakland or Tennessee wins.

--- No. 7 pick: The 49ers beat the Texans, and both Oakland and Tennessee lose.

Of course, each of the above scenarios also is contingent on the results of other games around the league, most of which will affect the strength of schedule of every team involved at the top of the draft order.

So stay tuned on Sunday. The 49ers' draft position could be changing literally by the minute.


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