I am still coming to terms with the 17-game season. I suppose the middle of the season was reached at halftime of the Commanders’ loss to the Vikings, so it must be time for the mid-season update to my Bakers’ Dozen Bold Predictions for the Commanders’ 2022 season.
1. The Commanders’ leading rusher will be Brian Robinson
In my defense, my bold predictions were published before Robinson was shot, which was a bit of a setback. Fortunately, he has fully recovered and, as the police are busily rounding up the assailants, he has been making up lost ground on the field.
In five games, since his Week 5 return, Robinson has rushed for 219 yards. He is currently out-rushing Antonio Gibson 43.8 to 36.4 yards per game. If both rushers maintain their current pace, he will fall short of Gibson with 569.4 yards to Gibson’s 619.2. However, 53% of Gibson’s yardage was accumulated in the four games when Robinson was out and his rushing totals have dropped since Robinson returned. There is still a very good chance for him to overtake Gibson, particularly if Scott Turner realizes that his quarterbacks are trash and that his best chance to win games is to lean on the run.
Verdict: Still too close to call
2. The Commanders’ rookie of the year will be Brian Robinson
This was looking like a forced error through Week 4, as Robinson was recovering from gunshot wounds and Jahan Dotson was making a strong case for NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year. That was until Jahan Dotson caught a case of the mysterious hamstring ailment that is doing the rounds of the Commanders’ roster. We should have known that picking a wide receiver in the first round with D, O, T, S, O and N in his last name was too much of a risk.
There is still a long way to go until the season wraps up and a lot could happen. As discussed above, Robinson is currently on pace for a good, but unspectacular rookie season. If Dotson can get healthy and find a connection with whoever is playing QB when he does, he could still walk away with team ROY honors.
There is also another wildcard who could make a late season run. Given the state of QB play, the chance of Sam Howell getting playing time is now higher than when I made these predictions. If he hits the field at some point and looks better than he did in preseason, then all bets are off.
At this point, it looks like a two-horse race, but that could change in an instant.
Verdict: Too early to tell
3. First-round pick, WR Jahan Dotson will exceed expectations.
Dotson got off to a fast start, taking out Week 1 Pepsi Zero Rookie of the Week honors, with three receptions for two touchdowns against the Jaguars. He followed up with two TD receptions in the next three games, before getting injured. If he can get healthy soon and get back to his early season form, I’ve got this one.
Verdict: Still a good chance to get it right
4. Terry McLaurin will exceed 1,400 receiving yards.
This prediction was predicated on Carson Wentz being an upgrade at QB over Taylor Heinicke. Through six games in DC, he hasn’t been, and now we are back to Taylor. If nothing changes, McLaurin is on pace for 1,151 yards on the season. At this point, I’d say my only chance to get this right is if Howell gets significant starting time and lights it up.
5. Cole Turner will have a big rookie season.
Turner first saw the field in Week 5 against Tennessee and was targeted three times with no receptions. Against Chicago, the following week, he caught two passes for 23 yards, which represents his combined rookie season total. He would need to stage a miraculous turnaround for me to get this one right.
6. Injuries will take a toll.
Compared to some recent years, injuries haven’t been that bad for the Commanders this season. Nevertheless, their starting center, right guard and backup DT suffered season-ending injuries. The starting QB, WR2, TE and RT have all missed significant time to injury, and one of only two LBs who belongs on an NFL field is currently out. OK, the starting QB missing time might be a case of addition by subtraction, but other than that, these injuries have had a significant impact.
7. Tight ends and pass-catching running backs will continue to shred the defense.
The Commanders defense, under Jack Del Rio, has pulled off a remarkable turnaround this season by addressing a key area of vulnerability. Did I type that correctly? Yes, it’s true.
As of Week 9, the Commanders have surrendered 297 receiving yards to opposing tight ends, which is the fifth lowest (best) mark in the NFL (all data sourced from Pro Football Reference). They have surrendered one passing TD to tight ends, which puts them in an eight-way tie for the third-best mark in the NFL. They have surrendered 261 receiving yards to running backs, which is the 10th lowest total in the league. The one area where they continue to be vulnerable is in surrendering receiving TDs to opposing running backs. They have given up six TDs, which ranks dead last in the NFL.
I would score that as one quarter correct and three quarters wrong, which averages out to wrong.
8. Quarterback controversy will become a thing.
On the face of it, the headline prediction is clearly correct. When staff writers on a fan website are calling for the starting quarterback to be benched, you’ve definitely got a quarterback controversy. That one was published in the first week of October.
Hopefully no one will hold me to the reason for the inevitable quarterback controversy. I had bought into the Wentz hype, based on his play in training camp and thought that the national media would drum up a controversy at the slightest sign of weakness. Little did I suspect that Wentz would turn out to be worse than Taylor Heinicke once the season got underway, and that his play with the Commanders would be significantly worse than his previous season with the Colts.
At this point in the Wentz experiment, Commanders fans are divided into roughly three camps. There are the true believers of the Heinicke Hive, who believe that Taylor Heinicke has played well enough to be appointed as the team’s starting quarterback.
The realists recognize that neither Heinicke nor Wentz, at this point in his career, is good enough to start for an NFL team. The majority in this camp feel that Heinicke is the better of the two bad options for the remainder of the season. However, opinion is split on whether and when Sam Howell should be given a chance in the second half of the season.
I’m not sure how many are left, but I gather a few diehards are still clinging to the belief that Wentz is a starting-level talent. Many of these were Snyder supporters, who have mostly cleared out since it was announced that their hero/employer is selling up. If there are any genuine Wentz supporters remaining, they seem to be keeping a low profile.
Now this is where it gets interesting. Does the fact that the fans and media are calling for a change constitute a quarterback controversy? What really matters is whether there is any debate within the front office about who should start when Wentz returns from injury. I have little doubt that Ron “The F***ing Guy” Rivera will plug Wentz back into the starting lineup when he is ready to play, because he is a stubborn old man who can’t admit he was wrong. The question is whether there is anyone in the building with the courage and authority to challenge him. In that sense, there might not be any controversy at all.
I suspect I could be overthinking this one.
9. CB Tariq Castro-Fields will surprise people.
Was anyone surprised by how quickly he got hurt and went on injured reserve before he could record a regular season snap? He might still surprise people, next year.
10. Season record: 7-10
They are currently 4-5. To get this right, they need to finish the season with three wins and five losses. Let’s see how the remaining schedule looks:
Philadelphia (8-0) - L
Houston (1-6-1) - W
Atlanta (4-5) - W
Giants (6-2) - L
Giants (6-2) - L
49ers (4-4) - L
Browns (3-5) - W
Dallas (6-2) - L
From where we are now, I’d say 7-10 is the most likely outcome. Although I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they went 6-11. Achieving 8 wins would require a pretty mayor upset somewhere along the way. The most likely candidate, based on record, would seem to be San Francisco, but they are a better team than their record shows. Cleveland is also far from a sure thing, which is why they could easily lose 6.
If Wentz comes back, 5-12 isn’t out of the question. They have to beat Houston, but that’s about it for the sure things.
Verdict: Looking good
11. The Commanders will be 1-4 at Week 5
Nailed it. Ron Rivera is very consistent.
12. Chase Young’s return will be anticlimactic.
Too soon to tell. We will know in one or two weeks.
13. Jack Del Rio will be fired by the end of January.
Well, old JDR will almost certainly be let go, but not for the reasons I predicted. When the team is sold, the new regime will certainly want to clean out Rivera’s underperforming coaching crew and head office. However, it is not clear when that will happen. The new regime might want to keep the existing staff in place for a season, to give them time to select their people, without major disruption to football operations. Or they might pre-select their staff and hit the ground running when the ink dries on the sales contract. Either way, I think it’s more likely than not that Del Rio will still be on staff in January. September is another story.
While the sale of the team might render this prediction a moot point, if I had this one to do over, I got the right sentiment but the wrong coordinator. Del Rio has done an unexpectedly good job of pulling the defense together, despite some glaring gaps in the personnel which might not be his fault. Scott Turner, on the other hand, has not done anything to demonstrate that he belongs on an NFL coaching staff.
Verdict: Unlikely, not that it matters anymore
At the midway point of the season, it appears that I am on track to get five predictions correct and six incorrect. It is still too early to call the other two.
Now, how did Hogs Haven readers do? According to the poll results at the end of the article:
- Only 7% of readers thought I got the 1-4 season start prediction correct.
- Only 6% of readers agreed that Tariq Castro-Fields would be this season’s hidden gem. 94% of you knew better than me on that one.
- Only 8% of readers thought I got the 7-10 record prediction right. If I had money riding on it, I’d double down at this point.
- 30% of readers agreed with me about JDR getting fired at the end of the season. The other 70% are likely to have got that one right.
We will just have to wait for the season to play out to know about the others.
Finally, I would like to add two mid-season predictions:
1. Ron Rivera will start Carson Wentz as soon as he is ready to play.
See prediction 8, above.
2. NFL Coach of the Year: Pete Carroll
If there is any justice in the world, Carroll takes this one. For the second time in just over a decade, Carroll bet on his own judgement, against the conventional wisdom, and was right. People thought Carroll was nuts when he let Russell Wilson go and went into the season with Geno Smith and Drew Lock at quarterback. Midway through the season, Wilson has been a colossal disappointment and former journeyman Smith has joined the elite QB ranks. Maybe that makes him a better candidate for NFL Executive of the Year than Coach of the year.
However, Carroll’s Seahawks finished last in the NFC West last season and now have a commanding lead, thanks to Geno’s resurgence and the crushing running attack of former Little Board feature back Kenneth Walker III. Brian Daboll gets a runner up ribbon for making the Giants respectable in his first year. At least as respectable as any team owned by the Maras can be.
Acknowledgement: Thanks to James Dorsett for editing.
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