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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Chuck Pagano could blame New England for one of his most bitter football memories.

On the other hand, that loss also opened a new chapter in Pagano’s life.

Now, three years after that stinging 23-20 championship game loss against the Patriots, the former Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator is getting a second chance to earn a Super Bowl ticket at New England — this time as the Indianapolis Colts’ head coach.

“We wouldn’t be having this discussion right now had things transpired in a different way,” Pagano said as Indianapolis prepares for Sunday’s AFC championship game.

He has often contended that if the Ravens won that day — on Lee Evans’ near-touchdown catch with 27 seconds left or in overtime, if Billy Cundiff had made a 32-yard field goal with 15 seconds to go — that he never would have landed in Indy (13-5).

General manager Ryan Grigson didn’t go that far this week, though he did recall watching the game and going through some old notes about Pagano almost immediately after Cundiff’s kick sailed wide left. Within 24 hours, Grigson had contacted Ravens coach John Harbaugh for permission to interview Pagano, who was still angry.

“The bitterness was still emanating from him, even when we brought him in,” Grigson said. “So that game was his loss, but our gain because when he finally came in, it was evident to all of us in that room that this was the right guy.”

Three days after the game, Pagano accepted his first head coaching job.

At first, the outlook looked bleak.

The Colts were in the midst of a salary-cap purge and about embarked on one of the most ambitious rebuilding projects. They started by releasing a bevy of fan favorites including the seemingly untouchable Peyton Manning. Pagano now jokes that at one point he looked around his office and asked his wife, Tina, “what the heck did we just do?”

Grigson never asked the same question about a man he viewed as a leader that could pull the best out of his players.

Pagano proved to be everything Grigson envisioned and more, on and off the field.

He helped convince Reggie Wayne, one of his old college players, to stick around for a hometown discount. He helped recruit defensive tackle Arthur Jones and defensive end Cory Redding, both starters who were in the Ravens’ locker room that awful day in New England, as free agents. It didn’t take much of a push.

“I know what kind of guy he is, stand-up guy, shoots it straight to you, fun, energetic at practice, expects a lot out of you in the meeting rooms to know your stuff,” Redding said, explaining why he left a championship contender to join a team that went 2-14 the year before he came. “Knowing the system, knowing him, it was just easy for me to make the decision.”

It turned out the Colts’ incredible turnaround was about a lot more than just wins and losses.

Three games into Pagano’s tenure, he was diagnosed with leukemia.

Pagano spent 25 days at the IU Health Simon Cancer Center in Indianapolis as longtime friends Wayne, Redding and Bruce Arians and new friends such as Robert Mathis, Andrew Luck, Grigson and team owner Jim Irsay rallied the team. After returning home, the treatments continued for two more months.

The team responded to Pagano’s absence by winning nine times, none more electrifying than the second-half comeback against Green Bay when Wayne caught 13 passes for a career high 212 yards and the winning score with 35 seconds left. Irsay and Grigson hand-delivered the game ball to Pagano at the hospital.

“I can’t imagine being anywhere else and having a city and a community embrace somebody they hardly know,” Pagano said when he returned to the team complex on Christmas Eve. “I just think that’s how we roll in this great state, this great city and this great community.”

And Pagano just kept winning.

Indy completed one its nine-game improvement over the 2011 season by winning in Pagano’s first game back on the sideline. The Colts have won 11 more regular-season games each of the past two seasons, the last two AFC South titles and here playoff games.

But those who were with Pagano in Baltimore know that’s not good enough yet.

“That loss lingered the whole offseason,” said Jones, who was part of Baltimore’s 2013 world championship team. “It was a tough way to end your year after making it that far. It bothers you.”

So this week with a second shot, Pagano is taking none at the Patriots.

He’s just focused on trying to get the biggest win — and best memory — of his coaching career.

“It’s about the game, it’s about the team, it’s about us doing our job,” Pagano said Monday. “We know how great a team we’re going to play. You’ve got a Hall of Fame coach, a Hall of Fame quarterback and a bunch of great players on both sides of the ball. It’s going to be a tall order.”

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With two top-four picks, we know the Cleveland Browns have the most 2018 NFL draft capital.

Now, how will it shake out for playoff teams? Fans of more than 20 franchises are looking ahead to free agency in March and the draft in late April. As the postseason continues, we’ll update this page as teams drop out of the hunt for the Lombardi Trophy and into the confirmed 2018 NFL draft order. The top 28 picks are below, with one coin flip pending between the Raiders and 49ers.

Round 1 of the draft begins on ESPN and WatchESPN at 8 p.m. ET on April 26 and takes place in Arlington, Texas.

Note: The projected order for 27-32 is based on FPI projections from the end of the regular season.
1. Cleveland Browns (0-16)

The Browns will want a quarterback. The question for Josh Rosen and Sam Darnold might now be: Do they want the Browns? Both underclassmen have declared for the draft.

2018 NFL DRAFT
When: April 26-28
Where: Arlington, Texas
NFL draft home page » | Projected order »

• 2018 draft QB class primer »
•Insider Todd McShay’s Mock Draft 1.0 »
•Insider McShay’s Top 32 »
•Insider Mel Kiper’s Big Board »
• Kiper, McShay answer 25 questions »
• Underclassmen who have declared »

2. New York Giants (3-13)

The Giants locked up the second overall pick despite beating the Redskins in their season finale thanks to the Colts, who beat the Texans in their final game.
3. Indianapolis Colts (4-12)

Though they would have been much better off with the No. 2 slot, the Colts will be in the enviable position of having the best draft pick among teams that don’t need a quarterback. That means they might be able to return a haul if they decide to trade down.
4. Cleveland Browns (via Houston Texans, 4-12)

In addition to potentially drafting a quarterback No. 1 overall, the Browns can take another premium player here or — in the spirit of the old Browns regime — trade down.
Deshone Kizer finished the season with 11 touchdown passes and 22 interceptions. Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

5. Denver Broncos (5-11)

John Elway was a quarterback. John Elway needs a quarterback. John Elway might draft a quarterback. There are four first-round caliber quarterbacks in Darnold, Rosen, Josh Allen and Baker Mayfield. The question is: Will the QB that Elway wants still be available at No. 5?
6. New York Jets (5-11)

This is the third time in four years the Jets have ended up with the No. 6 pick. If it works out the way Leonard Williams and Jamal Adams have so far, they ought to be in good shape. Vernon Gholston on the other hand …
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-11)

The Bucs don’t need a quarterback but have the benefit of drafting early. They could use some help in the secondary, however.

EDITOR’S PICKS

Underclassmen who have declared for 2018 NFL draft
Among the star underclassmen who have announced their intention to enter the draft: quarterbacks Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen and Josh Allen. Here’s the full list.

2018 NFL draft QB class primer: Everything you need to know about Rosen, Mayfield, Darnold and more
Scouting reports, insight from NFL personnel and what’s next — we’ve got it all on the best signal-callers in next year’s draft. Catch up on the most-talked-about class in years.

McShay’s 2018 NFL Mock Draft 1.0: Time for Cleveland to take a QB?
How does Sam Darnold look in a Browns uniform? With two picks in the top six, this is Cleveland’s chance to have a dream draft — or miss out again. The 2018 NFL draft is loaded with talent. Here is Todd McShay’s first mock.

8. Chicago Bears (5-11)

Given that the Bears desperately need to get Mitchell Trubisky some help, one has to think that Alabama wide receiver Calvin Ridley would be a candidate to land with them.
9/10. Oakland Raiders (6-10, coin flip pending)

The Raiders and new head coach Jon Gruden could use some help on defense.
9/10. San Francisco 49ers (6-10, coin flip pending)

Through Week 12, the 49ers had a 99 percent chance to end up with a top-five pick. Then Jimmy Garoppolo happened. Hard to imagine there will be any complaints out of San Francisco, though. They have found their franchise quarterback.
11. Miami Dolphins (6-10)

The Dolphins are another team with an interesting decision to make at quarterback after the Jay Cutler experiment didn’t work out. Do they hand the reigns back to Ryan Tannehill? Do they bring in some veteran insurance? Or do they draft another young QB with high upside?
12. Cincinnati Bengals (7-9)

Is it totally crazy to imagine the Bengals moving on from Andy Dalton and entering the quarterback free-for-all? Maybe not. If so, they might be better positioned to try a veteran, but at No. 12, maybe they have a shot at one of the second-tier rookies.
13. Washington Redskins (7-9)

Jay Gruden will be back. Will Kirk Cousins join him? If not — and if the Redskins don’t replace Cousins in free agency or the trade market — then we can add them to the list of teams that could add a first-round quarterback. At this spot they might be in range for Mayfield, or maybe they could trade up for one of the other hot names.

Grades, Offseason Questions, More
NFL Nation reporters grade each eliminated team’s regular season, assess what position each should target in the 2018 draft and look ahead to the offseason. Full coverage »

14. Green Bay Packers (7-9)

It was apparent after watching the Packers without Aaron Rodgers that this team needs help. In particular, they could use some help on defense, perhaps part of the reason why Todd McShay had Green Bay selecting Boston College pass-rusher Harold Landry in his first mock draft.
15. Arizona Cardinals (8-8)

Carson Palmer has retired, and the Cardinals need a quarterback of the future. They could absolutely be in the mix for the four potential first-round signal-callers.
16. Baltimore Ravens (9-7)

The Ravens had a 97 percent chance to reach the playoffs heading into their regular-season finale against the Bengals, per FPI. Sometimes, that 3 percent happens.
17. Los Angeles Chargers (9-7)

Here’s another sleeper quarterback team. Rivers is still good enough that the Chargers can win with talent around him — and they do have talent around him — but they also might want to start thinking about life after him.
18. Seattle Seahawks (9-7)

The Seahawks need help on the offensive line. Everyone knows that. They might be hoping that one of the Notre Dame offensive linemen — offensive tackle Mike McGlinchey or guard Quenton Nelson — fall to them here.
19. Dallas Cowboys (9-7)

With Dez Bryant’s future in Dallas uncertain, perhaps Dallas could look to the draft for another top-flight wideout at No. 19.
20. Detroit Lions (9-7)

The Lions already have a good cornerback in Darius Slay, but it’s hard to have too many corners in the NFL.
21. Buffalo Bills (9-7)

Although they made the playoffs, the Bills were just the 24th-best team in the league according to FPI ratings before their wild-card matchup with the Jaguars. They have plenty of room for improvement. The good news: They have two first-round picks …
22. Buffalo Bills (via Kansas City Chiefs, 10-6)
Blowing an 18-point lead in the playoffs is a bummer. Chiefs fans get to think about that all offseason while also remembering that they have no first-round pick this year. They dealt it away last season to trade up for Patrick Mahomes.
23. Los Angeles Rams (11-5)

Now that Sean McVay has checked winning the NFC West off his list, he can get ready for another first: Being part of a first-round selection as a head coach. The Rams didn’t have one last year because they had traded it to the Titans in the Jared Goff deal the year before.

24. Carolina Panthers (11-5)

The Panthers need another receiving threat after trading Kelvin Benjamin to the Bills. Perhaps a speedster like Texas A&M wide receiver Christian Kirk would fit the bill.
25. Tennessee Titans (9-7)

The Titans got further than they could have reasonably expected. Given that Marcus Mariota was sacked by the Patriots eight times in the divisional round, Tennessee could look to upgrade the pass-blocking on the interior of the offensive line.
26. Atlanta Falcons (10-6)

All the Falcons had to do was beat Nick Foles. I suppose that’s actually a lot harder than holding on to a 28-3 lead. Regardless, Atlanta blew a pretty decent opportunity to at least pick in the back four.

 

27. New Orleans Saints (11-5)

The Saints made great strides on defense this year but still could use help if they’re going to win another Super Bowl with Drew Brees.

 

28. Pittsburgh Steelers (13-3)

After flirting with retirement a year ago, Ben Roethlisberger indicated after the Steelers’ loss to the Jaguars in the divisional round that he intends to return next season. Even so, Pittsburgh could try to get a jump on finding his successor by drafting an early-round quarterback.

Projected 29-32, from FPI (as of Week 17):

29. Jacksonville Jaguars (10-6)
30. Philadelphia Eagles (13-3)
31. Minnesota Vikings (13-3)
32. New England Patriots (13-3)