The NFL can’t reconcile the importance of convincing everyone that every team always plays to win with the reality that, for non-playoff teams in December, it pays handsomely to not win. So the NFL doesn’t try to.
Taking it one step farther, the NFL refuses to even consider something that would become a major offseason tentpole for the league, gathering millions of TV viewers and potentially becoming another traveling roadshow that would bring thousands of fans into the streets of one of the cities that is in play for the top pick. The only logical explanation for the league’s flat-out failure not only to entertain the possibility but to steadfastly ignore that it even exists underscores the league’s position on tanking: Act like the temptation doesn’t exist, even when it clearly does.
An NBA-style lottery would be weighted, with the worst teams getting more balls in the machine. By embracing that contest, the league would be sending the message that it’s good to be bad. Which would undermine the “you play to win the game” vibe that the league feels compelled to infuse throughout the full regular-season schedule, especially after Thanksgiving, when the 20 non-playoff teams become increasingly clear — and when ownership’s urge to bench the starters for undrafted rookies becomes increasingly strong.
But there’s a way to do a lottery that both creates another offseason phenomenon while eradicating the phenomenon of tanking. The bottom 12 spots in the first round would be determined by playoff exits and regular-season records, culminating in the Super Bowl teams at No. 31 and 32. The top 20 spots, reserved for the non-playoff teams, would determined by a straight lottery: One ball per team, 20 balls.