Earlier this week, Hogs Haven published a poll asking its readers to project the Commanders overall and divisional records after the first 5 games of the season.
Here’s the schedule for that 5-game stretch:
Washington is at home on odd weeks, playing the Jaguars, Eagles and Titans in Weeks 1, 3, and 5, respectively. They travel to Detroit in Week 2 and Dallas in Week 4.
The fans who responded to the survey were generally optimistic, with 69% projecting a winning record; the single most popular prediction was a 3-2 record, which was the answer given by nearly half the survey respondents.
Only 5% of fans project the team to open the season with less than 2 wins in the first 5 games.
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High confidence in a 2-0 start
Generally speaking, fans seem to have a lot of optimism about the first two games against Jacksonville and Detroit. Of course, those were the only 3-win teams in the NFL last season, which has a lot to do with why every team in the NFC East is projected to enjoy a weak schedule this season, if you calculate strength of schedule based on last season’s results.
Week 1 Jacksonville
Jacksonville has a new head coach in Doug Pederson, which is typically not a sign of a team expected to get off to a fast start. With the Commanders playing at home, fans expect the win. Of course, Carson Wentz opening up the season against his former head coach will be just one of several interesting storylines in Commanders games this season, but probably not the biggest in the month of September for #11.
Week 2 at Detroit
Dan Campbell is in his second year as the Lions head coach, which means that the road trip to Detroit could end up being tougher than a lot of fans expect. The Lions had a fantastic draft this offseason. The Lions draft started with the gift of Michigan DE Aidan Hutchinson, arguably this year’s best incoming player, ‘falling’ to Detroit at No. 2 before the Lions vaulted up 20 spots from No. 32 in order to get highly touted Alabama WR Jameson Williams, followed on Day 2 by Kentucky DE Joshua Paschal and Illinois S Kerby Joseph, players who can contribute immediately.
Detroit’s offense looks like it could be nasty when fully healthy. Jameson Williams not only gives the Lions the big-play weapon it’s been badly missing, but the rest of Detroit’s receiving corps, which includes DJ Chark, T.J. Hockenson, Amon-Ra St. Brown, and D’Andre Swift out of the backfield looks promising as well. Of course, Williams may not be ready to go after tearing his ACL, which offers one reason to be pleased about the early-season matchup.
Defensively, similar to Washington, there are still huge questions around the linebacker and cornerback rooms, but Detroit’s long-struggling pass rush suddenly looks like it could be a strength. Not only did they add Aidan Hutchinson and Josh Paschal in the first two rounds of the draft, but with Romeo Okwara potentially returning from injury after only playing four games last year, the Lions have serious pass rushing potential on the edges. Still, a team that is relying on so much youth may not be close to their potential as early as Week 2.
Fans may be generally dismissive of this Lions team because of their 3-13-1 record from 2021, but Detroit looks like it has the potential to be the NFL’s most improved team in 2022.
Let’s make it 3-0
While nationally, the Eagles are getting a lot of praise for their offseason, and many NFL pundits see them as the Cowboys’ only competition for the NFC East crown this season, Hogs Haven readers seemed generally less impressed. Many fans cite the inconsistency of Jalen Hurts, the fact that the Eagles did not beat a single team with a winning record in 2021, and the fact that Washington was relatively competitive in its pair of late-season games against the Eagles which were played with about half the Washington roster unavailable due to COVID, and quarterback Garrett Gilbert starting one of the games after being signed off the street on the Wednesday prior to the game.
There is also the small matter of Carson Wentz playing against the team that drafted him, gave him a huge extension, and then traded him away, taking a $33.8m cap hit in the process. For a number of fans, the revenge factor seems to be a consideration in giving the advantage to Washington in this early-season NFC East grudge match.
Of course, these rosy predictions are not universal among fans; many have different predictions for specific games, but generally speaking, commenters were most confident about the three opening games.
A 1-1 start in the NFC East
The most broad based pessimism seems to be focused on the road trip to Dallas in Week 4, with most fans expecting a loss to the Cowboys.
A whopping 62% of respondents expect the team to open up 1-1 in the NFC East, with most of those people expecting the loss to be against Dallas. When you throw in the 23% of fans who expect the Commanders to open up 0-2 in the division, it appears as if as much as 85% of the fan base could potentially be expecting a loss in Dallas.
At home against the Titans in Week 5
Again, while by no means universal, the general sentiment seemed to be that Washington will struggle against the Titans. Tennessee won the division title in a relatively weak AFC South last year with a 12-5 record before falling to the eventual AFC Champion Bengals in the Divisional round upset.
While fans may be underestimating the Lions based on last year’s results, there seems to be at least a decent chance that they may be overestimating the Titans for the same reason. Tennessee had a surprising 2022 NFL Draft. They traded away star wide receiver AJ Brown and used the main draft capital to select Arkansas WR Treylon Burks with the 18th overall pick. There have been early questions about Burks’ conditioning and commitment to football. That could mean a big step backwards in the Titan’s passing attack in ‘22.
They didn’t re-sign former wide receiver Julio Jones so they look like they are going to rely even more on running back Derrick Henry. By Week 5, Washington’s run defense, which ranked 8th in the NFL in yards per carry allowed in 2021, may be ready for the huge and talented back. Other notable additions include tight end Austin Hooper and wide receiver Robert Woods who they acquired from the Los Angeles Rams.
With Ryan Tannehill under center for the Titans, there is a good chance that — in a huge change from recent years — the Commanders could be sporting the more explosive offense in this game. On the other hand, Tannehill was 2-0 in games against Carson Wentz last season, when they were both in the AFC South.
The Wentz factor
All in all, Washington fans seem to be buying into the idea that Carson Wentz makes the team much better — maybe even a playoff contender. In at least two previous polls, fans have shown their growing confidence in Wentz as the team’s new signal caller.
First of all, Wentz showed by leading the Colts to 9 wins last year that he remains a starting-caliber NFL quarterback despite the meltdown that took place in Philly in 2020.
Since he is stepping in to replace a limited passer in backup QB Taylor Heinicke, who still managed to lead the team to 7 wins in 15 starts, there is a lot of confidence that Wentz will provide an upgrade. With the Commanders set to face an easier schedule and a less talented lineup of quarterbacks than in 2021, fans expect the won-lost record to show a significant improvement from last year’s 7-10 result.
This has all been bolstered by generally positive reports out of OTAs and minicamp, which include consistent comments from players and reporters about the ‘cannon’ of a right arm that Wentz possesses — something that hasn’t been seen in Ashburn in a while.
Another common theme is that the Commanders offer Wentz the most talented offense that he’s had in his NFL career, with a solid offensive line coached by John Matsko, and a balanced attack comprising plenty of weapons:
Running backs: Antonio Gibson, Brian Robinson, JD McKissic
Wide receivers: Terry McLaurin, Jahan Dotson, Curtis Samuel, Dyami Brown
Tight Ends: Logan Thomas, John Bates, Cole Turner
Predicting the outcomes of NFL games is a foolish pastime; it is a league of parity and upsets. Trying to predict the outcomes of 5 regular season games before training camp even starts is bound to provide some results that will be laughable when seen in retrospect, but the exercise of asking fans to predict the record after 5 games seems to be a good way of “taking the temperature” of the fan base with training camp less than a week away.
There seems to be a bit of tempered optimism that, with the additions of Wentz, Dotson and Robinson, Washington finally has the playmakers needed to put an explosive offense on the field for the first time since the Kirk Cousins era.
The defense got off to slow starts in each of the past two seasons. In 2020 the unit rebounded to finish near the top of the league statistically. Last season, it finished near the bottom. In each case, the final result was probably driven in part by the play of the quarterbacks. Alex Smith was skilled at protecting a defense; Taylor Heinicke less so.
With a normal training camp unencumbered by COVID restrictions this year, there are no excuses for lack of communication, lack of maturity, or lack of anything else. In his 3rd season in Washington, Ron Rivera, who has final say on all roster decisions, should have “his” roster, insofar as any coach can ever get the roster he wants. There really aren’t any excuses in 2022, and the fans are clearly expecting the Rivera era (the RivEra?) to hit its stride this season.
It will be interesting to see what happens to fan confidence if the team does, indeed, jump out to a 3-0 start, only to lose the next 2 games and head to Chicago trying to break a losing streak. But that’s the future. Buckle up for the expected roller-coaster ride; training camp starts on Tuesday, and we’re just three weeks away from the first preseason game.
Let’s have fun.
The Eagles are overrated & will implode.— Tim Meek (@TimIndySkinsFan) July 21, 2022
The Cowboys are underrated because they lost a few overvalued players.
Washington will win the division on the season finale when both teams are sitting at 10-6 & we win 11 games for 1st time in 30+ years, like I’ve been saying since Feb pic.twitter.com/fSZ29e1Bz2