By Brentley Weissman
Week 13 is almost in the books and the playoff picture is becoming clearer. One of the biggest remaining questions in regard to the playoffs is which team is going to end up winning the NFC East. The NFC East has been a wild division to follow in 2020.
The Dallas Cowboys were the heavy favorite to win this division and compete for the Super Bowl, but their season essentially ended the moment star quarterback Dak Prescott suffered a season-ending ankle injury back in week 5. The Philadelphia Eagles were also a team that was a trendy pick to win the division as they did have a talented roster on paper and an experienced coaching staff. Unfortunately for the Eagles, injuries have hit this roster hard, especially on the offensive line that is now without their best player in right tackle Lane Johnson who is out for the rest of this season dealing with an ankle injury. Additionally, Carson Wentz has regressed so much to the point that he was benched in Week 13 against the Green Bay Packers in favor of rookie Jalen Hurts.
The best team in the division is perhaps the team that many thought would be the worst team, the New York Giants. With their win against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 13, the Giants now sit at 5-7 and are in first place in the division. It appears that first-year head coach Joe Judge is the real deal and has already changed the culture of this football club.
The last remaining team in the division is the Washington Football Team, who is set to square off Monday night against the undefeated Pittsburgh Steelers. The Football Team currently sits at 4-7 and with a win against the Steelers would be tied with the Giants for the division lead. For a team that had very little expectations coming into the season, they find themselves right in the thick of the playoff race and are playing some of their best football heading down the home stretch.
Whether or not Washington makes the playoffs this season, it is clear that this organization is in a great spot moving forward. They have building blocks on both sides of the football, an experienced and talented coaching staff, and plenty of cap space to play with in free agency. As a matter of fact, I think that Washington is the team in this division that’s best set up for success over the next five seasons. Here are some reasons why I believe in the future of this franchise.
One thing I have noticed while watching Washington this season is that even though they have only won four games, they have a couple really talented young players on this roster to build around. Starting with the offense, second-year wide receiver Terry McLaurin and rookie running back Antonio Gibson give them two extremely explosive playmakers.
McLaurin has been on a tear this season and has firmly established himself as one of the best receivers in the NFL. Before Week 13, McLaurin ranked fifth in receiving yards and 11th in receptions, all while playing with below average quarterbacks. McLaurin is not only an outstanding player on the field, but he is also one of the best young leaders in the league and he demonstrated that with a moving postgame speech in Week 7.
Washington drafted Gibson in the third round of the 2020 NFL Draft and so far, it looks like they have hit a home run. Gibson primarily played receiver while at the University of Memphis, but the Football Team drafted him with intentions of making him a full-time running back, and he has taken to his new position very well. Gibson is one of the more explosive running backs in the NFL and is tied for fifth in the league in total touchdowns. The duo of McLaurin and Gibson should have Washington fans very excited about the future of this offense.
Washington has even more impressive young talent on defense than they do on offense. The front seven alone has five former first-round picks in the lineup and these young players have been really impressive this season. Starting with 2020 No. 2 overall pick Chase Young, Washington may have one of the best young defenders in all of football. Young was viewed as a can’t-miss prospect coming out of Ohio State, and the early returns so far have been great. Young has flashed his rare athletic ability and pass-rushing skills early and often this season and he currently leads all rookies in sacks with 4.5.
Opposite Young is former 2018 first-round pick Montez Sweat, who has developed into one of the better young edge rushes in this league. Long and athletic, Sweat is ultra-disruptive on the outside and leads the team in sacks with six. Former first-rounders Da’Ron Payne and Jonathan Allen are also having strong seasons for Washington on the interior of this defensive line.
The abundance of young talent on the defensive side of the ball is clear and will be a strong building block as this team looks to add talent to their linebacking corps and secondary in the offseason.
Potential for Offseason Moves
One of the main reasons why I am such a believer in the future of this football team is the fact that they will have the ability to address their biggest weaknesses in the offseason. Washington’s biggest need this offseason will be to address the quarterback position and find a franchise quarterback to lead this team. Washington benched 2019 first-round pick Dwayne Haskins after only four games this year, signaling that the front office and coaching staff know that it’s time to find a star passer.
If the draft were to be held today, Washington would be picking somewhere near the back-half of the top 10 overall, and be in prime position to draft one of the best signal-callers in the class. The team should be in great position to select either BYU’s Zach Wilson or North Dakota State’s Trey Lance, and inserting any of those players into an offense that has awesome weapons would be a lot of fun. Outside of draft capital, Washington also will have roughly $50 million in cap space to add to their roster. If Washington can come out of the offseason with a top-10 quarterback plus an improved offensive line and secondary, then this team will be a real playoff contender in a hurry.
A Veteran and Proven Coaching Staff
The job that Rivera has done in his first year coaching this team has been phenomenal. Rivera is known for his skills as a defensive play-caller and also for his tremendous leadership abilities. Both of these skills have been highlighted from Rivera this season, as he has Washington playing fast, smart, and physical football on all three phases. Rivera and defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio are leading a defense that plays extremely aggressive but also very sound football. The unit currently ranks seventh in points allowed and fourth in yards allowed. They are truly one of the best defenses in the NFL and a lot of that credit has to go to this coaching staff.
Rivera and his staff have also done a tremendous job in keeping this team levelheaded throughout all of the adversity this team has had to overcome this season. Between changing the team’s name and rebranding, benching Haskins, Kyle Allen breaking his ankle, and the uncertainty of Alex Smith returning, Rivera’s team has always looked prepared and dialed in, even in their losses. Rivera has been one of the best coaches in the NFL for his whole head coaching career. While Rivera was the head coach of the Carolina Panthers, he compiled a 76-63 win-loss record, made the playoffs four times, and took his team to the Super Bowl back in 2016. He brings the type of accountability and leadership that this organization has been so desperately looking for.
Washington has a tough matchup Monday versus the undefeated Steelers. If they manage to pull off the upset, then they will be positioned very nicely to win the NFC East and make the postseason. In the event that this team loses and then goes on to not make the playoffs, my opinion of this team won’t change. This is a young and talented roster with a terrific coaching staff and are in position to improve this roster in a big way this offseason. I’ll be excited to watch this team play the rest of the year and see their young stars continue to develop, but I am even more excited to watch this team grow in the coming seasons.
If Washington was a stock, I’d be buying.
- May 17, 2022
- May 17, 2022