Washington appears to be one of the most volatile teams this year in terms of win-loss projections and media expectations, with some thinking they could bottom out early and others pegging them as a dark horse playoff team in the weaker NFC. The reason for this wide range of outcomes has to do with all of the uncertainty surrounding the team, from quarterback to play-caller. While Washington fans are certainly hoping for a Cinderella season, the recent change in ownership should provide enough joy and optimism to last through the 2023 campaign, regardless of the win-loss record this year.
The Commanders finished 8-8-1 last year, following back-to-back 7-win seasons. The team showed flashes in 2022, taking down Aaron Rodgers and the Packers in Week 7 and knocking off the undefeated Eagles in Philly in Week 10. The turning point last season came in the Week 13 matchup against the Giants. Washington was riding high on a 3-game winning streak but left MetLife with a tie. This marked the onset of a 3-game losing streak and ended all hopes of a Wild Card birth. The Commanders finished the 2022 season last in the NFC East.
Can the Commanders shock the NFC this year and be the latest team to go from worst to first in their division? Will Sam Howell lose his preseason buzz and turn back into a pumpkin once the games actually matter? Or will the team end up where they always do, stuck in mediocrity? Let’s break it all down.
The best-case scenario for the Washington Commanders in 2023 is that Sam Howell develops into a franchise quarterback. The team made a bold early commitment to Howell this offseason after one start during his rookie season. If Howell can prove to be the player he was in 2021 at the University of North Carolina when he was being projected as an early first-round draft pick, the team might have gotten one of the biggest steals at the position since…well, last year. (See 2022’s Mr. Irrelevant)
With Howell playing like a legit starting NFL quarterback, newly hired OC Eric Bieneimy would be able to take full advantage of the arsenal of offensive weapons the Commanders have stockpiled over the last few years, and we could finally see Terry McClauren fully unlocked as an elite wide receiver in the NFL. All of this, plus the fact that the team is returning a top-10 defense that is adding a former DROY in Chase Young and first-round ball hawk Emmanuel Forbes, and the Commanders could challenge the Eagles and 49ers as one of the most well-rounded teams in the NFC.
On average, 1.33 teams go from worst to first in their division each year since 2002. So history tells us at least one team will pull off that miraculous turnaround in 2023. Why not the Commanders?
The worst-case scenario for the Commander’s 2023 season still comes with a silver lining, regardless of the team record. Daniel Snyder is gone. No amount of losses can take that feeling away from the fan base this year.
However, in terms of on-field projections, our worst-case scenario for the team includes several players (and coaches) falling short of expectations. Sam Howell has been lighting it up in the preseason, but it would not be surprising if the fifth-round pick struggled immensely in his first campaign under center for the burgundy and gold. Behind a make-shift offensive line and first-time play-caller, Howell’s lack of size and experience could prove fatal for the league’s 24th-ranked scoring offense a season ago. Another factor in this doomsday scenario is the health and availability of Chase Young. If the former second-overall pick fails to stay on the field for a second consecutive season, the front office might decide to move on from the former Buckeye for pennies on the dollar.
To top it off, even if Washington does implode this year and cannot stay competitive on the field, their floor is not nearly as low as the Arizona Cardinals or Houston Texans. This means the Commanders could finish the season with their worst record in years, only to miss out on the #1 pick in the 2024 draft and the opportunity to select generational superstar quarterback Caleb Williams from USC.
The Washington Commanders have been consistently mediocre under head coach Ron Rivera. In his first three seasons in DC, the team has gone 7-9, 7-10, and 8-8-1. Unfortunately, the most likely scenario this season will be more of the same. Not good enough to make the playoffs and not bad enough to get a top pick in the draft.
The defense should again be the team’s biggest strength in 2023, coming off a season where they led the NFL in defensive success rate despite playing the 10th-hardest schedule of opposing offenses. Sam Howell should show flashes throughout the season and provide some excitement for the fan base, and if Eric Bieniemy can get the team’s versatile offensive weapons open in space by spreading out the defense and finding open space on the boundaries, that side of the ball should be improved from a year ago. Another factor for the team this year is the division they plan in, returning 3 playoff teams from 2022.
The Athletic recently used its own projection model to determine an expected win total for each team. The Commanders came out to 7.5. Beat writer Ben Standig agreed with our prediction and took the over…barely.
Washington’s win totals under Ron Rivera: 7, 7, 8. So, yeah, 7.5 is spot on. Returning a top-10 defense that added first-round cornerback Emmanuel Forbes and has Chase Young available could make the over feel like a lock. However, quarterback Sam Howell’s promise doesn’t automatically offset his inexperience, the fact that he’s playing behind an unsteady offensive line or that he’s taking direction from first-time full-time play caller Eric Bieniemy. There’s also a challenging schedule. It’s a coin flip, but I’ll be positive and say they eke out eight wins and thus, the over.