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With Commanders winless in December and Ron Rivera opting for return to Wentz, fan confidence plummets

Poll results...

New York Giants v Washington Commanders Photo by Todd Olszewski/Getty Images

The last time the Commanders won a game was on 28 November, when they beat Atlanta to improve to 7-5 and move into the NFC playoff seedings for the first time. By mid-December, Washington was actually in the 6th seed position (and could return to that position again if the Giants go 0-2 while the Commanders go 2-0 in the final two weeks).

But losses to the Giants on Sunday Night Football in Week 15 and the 49ers six days later on Christmas Eve saw the Commanders’ record slip to 7-7-1. With the Giants, Lions and Seahawks all losing on Christmas Eve as well, the Commanders remained in the 7th seed spot, but the 0-2-1 December record prompted head coach Ron Rivera to reevaluate the quarterback position, and based on Carson Wentz’s two 4th quarter drives against the 49ers, he made the decision to switch horses, benching Taylor Heinicke and returning to the opening day starter, Wentz.

The effect on fan confidence of this rocky December has been predictable.

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Fan confidence, which peaked at 85% following that Falcons game, has tumbled to just 35% as the Commanders have failed to fully capitalize on opportunities over the past three games and the coaching staff has increasingly appeared to be without answers.

Ron Rivera seems to be a bit trapped between the short term and long term at the moment. There’s been at least one report that Carson Wentz will remain the quarterback with Heinicke as his backup for as long as the team remains in playoff contention, but that if the team is eliminated from the playoffs, then rookie Sam Howell would be given the chance to start.

The only way that the Commanders can be eliminated this week (giving Sam Howell the start against Dallas in Week 18) is if Washington loses to the Browns while the Packers beat the Vikings and the Lions beat the Bears. A win by Washington or a loss by Green Bay or Detroit keeps Washington in the playoff race all the way to the end.

The Snyder effect

It seems unusual for a fan base to have so little confidence in a team that has fought back from a 1-4 start to get into playoff contention, and which still controls its own destiny. If the Commanders simply win two home games, then they will finish the regular season with 9 wins and a spot in the playoffs — probably as the 7th seed, facing the Vikings on wildcard weekend and, if they win that game, the Eagles in the divisional round. Washington played both teams in the regular season, losing on field goal with seconds to play against the Vikings, and actually beating the Eagles the following week. In many ways, the situation couldn’t be more attractive, and I imagine that if most fans had been told prior to the season that this would be the situation heading into the Week 17 game, they’d have seen it as a pretty good outcome.

But the confidence question in our Reacts survey asks about the direction the team is headed. On field results were okay in October (2-2), positive in November (3-1), but disappointing in December (0-2-1). Coaching decisions, both tactical during games and more strategic in terms of personnel decisions from March to December, have been spotty.

But in Washington in the 21st century, the dark cloud that hangs over every discussion of the future of the NFL franchise is always the ownership situation. Dan Snyder has been a curse on the franchise for 23 years, and for a decade or longer, most fans have hoped for nothing team-related more fervently than for Danny Boy to sell the team. Part of the reason why confidence numbers peaked in early November in Reacts polling was because the win against the Falcons came just days after Dan & Tanya Snyder announced that they had engaged Bank of America to “consider potential transactions”; that is, they hired BoA to find buyers for all or part of the Commanders franchise.

Forbes magazine at that time clarified that Dan and Tanya “are exploring all options and a transaction could be for the entire NFL team or a minority stake.”

That announcement was greeted with nearly unanimous enthusiasm by Washington fans, and many of the comments in our Reacts polls in November referenced the impending sale as the underlying reason for a ‘yes’ vote on the confidence question.

No news is bad news?

After the initial rush of speculation and reporting following the early November announcement, there has been very little actual reporting about the sale process, leading many observers to question whether the Snyders will actually go through with the sale. A number of people have pointed out that the Snyders have yet to say unconditionally that they will sell the team; others argue that, as a practical matter, the owners can’t go as far down the road as they have apparently gone and then not sell.

A situation that seemed reasonably clear in early November now seems murky and ambiguous in late December. Who else but Dan Snyder could get 6 weeks into a process that he initiated and announced and have the entire fan base confused and concerned about whether it is even taking place?

Personally, I suspect that the dearth of information is due to the ongoing 2022 NFL football season. The owners and the Commissioner like to push all distractions into the offseason as much as possible — and the sale of the Washington franchise definitely qualifies as a distraction. I imagine we’ll see a strong uptick in actual reporting about the potential sale of the team after the Commanders’ season comes to an end, whether that comes with the final whistle of the Cowboys game or some time later.

In the meantime, the continuing ownership of Dan Snyder and the lingering doubts about his intention to sell the team are a factor in the lack of confidence among Washington fans.

We are 9 days away from that Week 18 matchup against the Cowboys that will mark the end of the regular season. Everything beyond that seems unclear, from the team’s playoff hopes, to the sale of team.

In the best of outcomes, the Commanders win their final two games and get into the playoffs, where they are able to win games; Dan & Tanya sell the team in the weeks that follow, and the new owners return the franchise to respectability off the field and dominance on the field, and build a shiny new stadium for that successful football team to play in.

We live in hope.

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