SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- For the final time (at least in the regular season) as Bay Area rivals, the San Francisco 49ers and Oakland Raiders will meet at Levi's Stadium next season. But before the Raiders and Niners reconvene between the white lines, they will meet in a far different forum with something other than a spot in their respective division standings on the line.
After finishing the 2017 season with identical 6-10 records and playing schedules that had their opponents posting identical .512 winning percentages, the Niners and Raiders find themselves tied in the 2018 NFL draft order.
More specifically, San Francisco and Oakland are tied for the ninth spot in the order. And since the usual tiebreaker -- the aforementioned opponent strength of schedule -- is the same, the NFL's method for breaking the tie is down to a good old-fashioned game of chance: a coin toss.
That coin flip is set to take place at the NFL combine in February. The winner of the coin toss will pick ninth and the loser will pick 10th with the Miami Dolphins, who also finished 6-10, alternating between those spots in each round thereafter pending trades.
Asked about the coin toss on Tuesday, Niners general manager John Lynch joked that he'd begun preparations for it.
"I'm going to practice all offseason," Lynch said, laughing. "I'm talking to our analytics guys. I'm hearing it's 50-50."
Believe it or not, this isn't the first time the Raiders and Niners have had to go to a coin toss to determine a draft slot. After the 2005 season, the teams had to go to the luck of the coin with the Niners winning and claiming the No. 6 pick and the Raiders settling for No. 7. San Francisco went on to select tight end Vernon Davis while Oakland picked safety Michael Huff.
That the 49ers are even in a position to be picking near the bottom part of the top 10 is surprising considering that they spent most of the first half of the season in a battle with the Cleveland Browns for the No. 1 overall choice. Then Jimmy Garoppolo arrived and the Niners won five straight and six of their final seven games.
Considering Garoppolo's ascent, the 49ers didn't seem to mind the lost ground in the draft order since they no longer have a pressing need for a top pick to use on a quarterback. Instead, they can focus on finding the best players available to help complement him while others tussle over the likes of UCLA's Josh Rosen, USC's Sam Darnold and other top signal-caller prospects.
"We’re trying to build a winning culture here," Lynch said. "Anybody who had thoughts of, ‘Man, you guys shouldn’t be winning these games,’ that’s why you play. You play to win. That was always our philosophy. Having been through it myself as a player, I had a very similar year in Tampa, 6-10, in [former coach] Tony Dungy’s first year. I think the record might have been actually 1-8, 1-9 at some point, we finished 6-10. I felt what that did for us moving forward. I think that’s much more important.
"That’s why we’re happy and proud with the way we finished. I think Kyle and I have been doing a lot of talking throughout this process that we love the way we finished, but if our players think just because we finish this way it’s just going to roll on over, that doesn’t happen in this league. That’s one thing I learned over and over, is that you’ve got to go create it. It’s a new year, it’s a new team, it’s a new year. The way we work, the way we go about our business is going to affect how we play as a team into next year.”