The Washington Commanders have been through quite the dramatic season, but what else is new? Fans of this team have seen virtually everything. From starting four quarterbacks during the 2018 campaign, to winning the division with a 7-9 record and giving Tom Brady a run for his money in the playoffs with a practice squad quarterback from Old Dominion, following Washington's NFL franchise is better than any soap opera your grandma watches.
Washington finds itself in the middle of the playoff race entering Week 14 -- and, man, it's been a wild ride. The Commanders started the season 1-1, but with Carson Wentz under center, the offense looked ... good. Through two weeks, the two most explosive offenses in the NFL belonged to the Detroit Lions and Commanders. Both recorded 11 plays that went for at least 20 yards through two games. However, things then went downhill.
The Commanders were stomped by the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys in back-to-back weeks, and then were defeated by the Tennessee Titans in a close matchup. In Week 6, Washington beat the Chicago Bears, 12-7, in a game that had you asking your grandma about the aforementioned soap operas, because they had to be more entertaining than "Thursday Night Football" that week. Granted, the game did feature a dramatic ending with Benjamin St-Juste making a big play on Darnell Mooney at the goal line. What was even more dramatic, however, was the postgame press conference.
Even in victory, head coach Ron Rivera stormed out on reporters after being asked about a report centered around whether he actually wanted to trade for Wentz in the offseason, or if that was a move orchestrated by owner Dan Snyder. However, that night ended up being the turning point for the team.
Wentz got injured during the win over the Bears, and went to see a doctor about injuries to his throwing hand and shoulder. He was then placed on injured reserve after undergoing surgery on the fractured ring finger on his throwing hand. In stepped Taylor Heinicke, who got the Commanders' season back on track.
Heinicke helped the Commanders upset the Green Bay Packers that following week, and led a game-winning drive against the Indianapolis Colts the week after that. Washington suffered a close loss to the Minnesota Vikings in Week 9, but then rebounded by handing the Eagles their first loss of the season on the road in prime time. That sparked what was a three-game win streak, which ended with the tie with the New York Giants this past Sunday.
Entering Week 14, which is Washington's bye week, the Commanders sit at 7-5-1. Despite being in last place in the highly competitive NFC East, the Commanders are right in the middle of the playoff picture. Below, we will break down that playoff picture, what the Commanders could improve on or do to secure a wild-card spot and also take a look at their remaining schedule. First, let's discuss some objectives the Commanders can focus on over the next month.
- Protecting Heinicke: Heinicke was sacked a season-high five times vs. the Giants. The offensive line just got flat-out "big boy'd" at times. Center Tyler Larsen reportedly suffered a dislocated kneecap Sunday, Trai Turner did not play due to multiple injuries and Sam Cosmi exited early due to an ankle issue. Nick Martin and/or Wes Schweitzer may have to play huge roles down the stretch.
- Embrace the Chase Young juice: After what feels like forever, it appears Young is finally going to make his 2022 debut in Week 15. Last year's No. 2 overall pick has already missed most of his second NFL season, but I would venture to guess he's going to hit the ground running. I'm not talking about Young racking up three sacks in his first game back, I'm talking about him playing with the infectious energy he has always brought on defense. Overall, Washington's defense has been rather impressive as of late. Adding Young to the lineup is something that should have everyone excited -- especially his teammates. This could be a momentum boost Washington rides to the postseason.
- Get Jahan Dotson consistent touches: Dotson received a career-high nine targets against the Giants, and he turned one of them into that massive, 28-yard, game-tying touchdown in the fourth quarter. Dotson has registered a couple of impressive outings over the course of his rookie campaign. He caught two touchdowns in his NFL debut against the Jacksonville Jaguars, but also was targeted just three total times in Weeks 11-12 despite playing over 60 percent of offensive snaps in each contest. I'm very aware that Washington has plenty of mouths to feed on offense, but the target share on Sunday felt right. Terry McLaurin, Curtis Samuel and Dotson are all players who can make major impacts, and when all three are receiving consistent targets in the passing game, that just puts more pressure on defenses. Dotson could be someone who steps up and becomes Washington's X-factor down the stretch. Look out for him.
- Third downs: Washington has converted 35.59 percent of its third downs this season, per Team Rankings, which ranks fifth-worst in the NFL. Washington converted just 3-of-14 third downs against the Giants last week! Coming through in critical moments, whether that be on third down or in the red zone, are what makes or breaks bubble teams.
Current NFC playoff picture
- Philadelphia Eagles (NFC East, 11-1)
- Minnesota Vikings (NFC North, 10-2)
- San Francisco 49ers (NFC West, 8-4)
- Tampa Buccaneers (NFC South, 6-6)
- Dallas Cowboys (9-3)
- New York Giants (7-4-1)
- Seattle Seahawks (7-5)
- Washington Commanders (7-5-1)
- Detroit Lions (5-7)
- Green Bay Packers (5-8)
- Atlanta Falcons (5-8)
If the season ended today, the Commanders would not be in the playoffs. However, they are in the best spot compared to the other NFC teams on the outside looking in. Washington doesn't need to look behind itself at this point when it comes to the playoff picture, just forward. Fans will be wanting to root against the Giants and Seahawks over the next few weeks.
Caesars Sportsbook has Washington's odds to make the playoffs off the board, but it appears Vegas likes Washington to pass over New York. Despite the Giants currently holding onto a playoff spot, they are minus-120 to miss the postseason, and plus-100 to make it. Why? Just look at their schedule. New York has to face Philadelphia this week, Washington the next, Minnesota on the road, Indianapolis in Week 17 and then Philly again in the regular-season finale. That's pretty tough.
If you were curious, the Seahawks play the Carolina Panthers, the 49ers, the Chiefs, New York Jets and Los Angeles Rams to close out the year. A pretty tough stretch as well. Now, let's take a look at Washington's remaining schedule.
Commanders' remaining schedule, projected results
vs. New York Giants
@ San Francisco 49ers
vs. Cleveland Browns
vs. Dallas Cowboys
According to Tankathon, the Commanders have the third-toughest remaining schedule in the NFL. I vehemently disagree with that. We know what the Giants are, the 49ers' new quarterback is this year's Mr. Irrelevant, Deshaun Watson with the Browns is still something that's an unknown and then who knows if the Cowboys will sit their starters in the regular-season finale.
With the Commanders having a bye this week and the Giants taking on the mighty Eagles, I feel like Washington should win the rematch in Week 15. The 49ers are still a force to be reckoned with, even with Brock Purdy under center, and then the Browns have a great ground game. I say the Commanders split Weeks 16 and 17. To make this hypothetical more interesting, I'll say Washington loses in Week 18. To say Washington splits its final four matchups is probably fair.
In looking at the Giants' schedule, I predict they will finish 9-7-1 -- just like Washington. That leads to the Commanders squeaking into the postseason, thanks to a tiebreaker. Or, maybe Seattle finishes 9-8, and all four NFC East teams get in.