Those were the curious words that Dan Snyder used to open the January 2, 2020 press conference where he introduced new head coach and franchise savior Ron Rivera. Perhaps fittingly, depending on how things go in a few hours, Commanders fans could finally get the Thanksgiving present he might have been alluding to.
Eyes on the Prize
When I wrote the introductory 2023 Tank Tracker, just a week ago, the earliest that I could plausibly project the Commanders to pick in the draft was 5th overall. That projection was based on an assumption that the Commanders couldn’t possibly lose to the 2-8 Giants, who were starting third-string rookie UDFA Tommy DeVito at QB. Fans were still ambivalent about the value of losing out, despite the Josh Harris ownership group signaling that they were already looking to next season when they forced trades of Montez Sweat and Chase Young for draft picks.
Sunday’s shock upset changes everything. By managing to lose the unlosable game, Ron Rivera’s hand-picked team has opened up myriad plausible scenarios to see them pick earlier than fifth overall, and possibly even as high as second.
The second overall pick has special value in the 2024 draft class, because two elite QB prospects are expected to go one and two. That creates opportunities for a team that doesn’t need a QB to trade back in the first round and acquire multiple early round picks, or for a team that does feel the need to upgrade the QB position to take a shot at Caleb Williams or Drake Maye.
Even if the Commanders don’t rise as high as second overall, picking in the top 5 provides the opportunity to draft one of the elite prospects, such as OTs Olu Fashanu or Joe Alt, who might not be available where they are currently slated to pick, or to trade back with a QB-needy team that is desperate for one of the next tier of signal callers or a team seeking another elite prospect.
2024 Draft Position Watch
Last week, Tankathon had the Commanders slated to pick 10th overall if the season ended then. Thanks to the improbable loss to the Giants, combined with wins by the Rams and Packers, the Commanders have risen three spots to seventh overall.
In last week’s Tank Tracker, I had projected what turned out to be a fairly optimistic “most-likely” scenario that would see the Commanders win three more games (Giants for sure, 1 game against Dallas, split the games against Rams and Jets) to finish the season with a 7-10 record. The Commanders have since lost the most winnable of the remaining games. If nothing else changed the most-likely scenario would drop to 6-11 which, coincidentally, is where Vegas had them at the start of the season.
However, the manner in which the Commanders lost to the Giants portends an even rockier road ahead. Despite sacking Tommy DeVito nine times and dominating most statistical categories, Ron Rivera’s team demonstrated once again that they are capable of losing to any team on any given Sunday. They have already lost three games to teams ahead of them in the current draft order.
There are so many possible ways for the Commanders to improve their draft position, that it would be pointless to work through all of them. The Chicago Bears would seem to have an unassailable grip on the first overall pick, thanks to their trade with the last-ranked Carolina Panthers for the right to draft QB Bryce Young (currently ranked 31st by Total QBR). Instead of trying to work through all the possibilities, I will limit myself to what it would take for the Commanders to rise to the coveted second overall pick:
Step 1: Lose Out
Last season, the two 4-win teams (Cardinals, Colts) picked third and fourth in the draft. The Commanders’ four wins are a significant handicap in the race to second overall, since there are six teams ahead of them with three or fewer wins. To have any chance of picking second, the Commanders will almost certainly have to lose all six remaining games.
The only real challenges on the remaining schedule will be losing to the 4-6 Jets, who have lost three in a row amid QB struggles, and the Rams, who have lost three of their last four and might have to start Carson Wentz at QB if Matt Stafford continues to struggle with a thumb injury. At this point, we are in with a real shot, barring an upset of one of the other remaining opponents.
Step 2: Get a Little Help From Friends
The Commanders face a one- or two-game handicap against all the other teams standing between them and the second overall pick. Losing out is not going to be enough. Some of those teams will have to win some games which could be a challenge. Let’s see how the Commanders’ rivals stack up:
6th Place - Tennessee Titans, 3-7
The Titans are currently last in the AFC South and riding a three-game losing streak. They are starting Will Levis at QB, and are struggling with injuries on the OL. They do have a home game this week against the 1-9 Panthers, and might look to pick up another win against the 5-5 Colts. Their other remaining opponents will all be heavily favored.
5th Place – New York Giants, 3-8
The Giants will be the easiest of Washington’s competitors to overtake. They only have to win one game to fall behind the Commanders in the draft order by virtue of the head-to-head competition tie breaker. Tommy DeVito’s breakout performance in the upset of the Commanders broke a three-game losing streak and is sure to have given the G-Men a big confidence boost as they head into the easier part of their schedule with remaining games against the Patriots, Packers and Rams. Aside from two games against the Eagles, every game is potentially winnable. They just need to win one.
4th Place – Chicago Bears, 3-8
The 3-8 Bears have lost three of their last four games, with the only win in that span coming against the Panthers. They have shots at picking up wins in remaining games against the Cardinals, Falcons and Packers. Like the Giants, they only need to win one to fall behind the Commanders due to the head-to-head competition tie-breaker.
3rd Place – New England Patriots, 2-8
This is where it starts to get tough. The Patriots are riding a 3-game losing streak. Their offense ranks 31st in points scored and Bill Belichick seems to be losing confidence in Mac Jones, while Robert Kraft might be entertaining plans to move on from Belichick. In order for the Commanders to overtake them, the Patriots would have to win three, since they have the advantage of the head-to-head competition tie breaker. As unlikely as that seems, Commanders fans can derive hope from the facts that one of New England’s two wins was against the Bills and their remaining schedule features a game against the Giants and only three games against teams with winning records.
2nd Place – Arizona Cardinals, 2-9
The biggest challenge to get to 2nd overall will be unseating Arizona. The Cards win the tie break due to the Commanders’ opening day win. We will need them to win three games to get past them. The Cardinals’ defense has been heavily depleted by injuries, but the offense has looked better in the two weeks since QB Kyler Murray returned from injury, although that side of the ball is also facing challenges with a beat up WR corps. They have games against the Bears and the Rams, but aside from that, it is hard to see where they could eke out a third win. Then again, they did beat the Cowboys earlier in the season.
1st Place – Carolina Pathers, 1-9
The Panthers have one of the easiest remaining schedules. Even so, there is just no way they will win three games to pull even with the Commanders at four wins. This seems to set the ceiling of the Commanders’ rise to 2nd overall.
Coaching Hot Seat
Head Coach/Head of Football Operations Ron Rivera
It has been 1,085 days since Ron Rivera was last fired from a head coaching job.
In last week’s Tank Tracker, I opined that Rivera’s job was probably safe until the end of the season, barring some major catastrophe, like an embarrassing loss to the 2-8 Giants. Now it is likely to be a week-to-week call until the end of the season or his tenure in Washington, whichever comes sooner.
Defensive Coordinator, Jack Del Rio
Del Rio might have earned an extra few weeks of job security when his defense opened the floodgates with 9 sacks on Tommy DeVito. If only they hadn’t given up 9 explosive plays to allow the Giants to capitalize on three of Washington’s six turnovers, or allowed the NFL’s last ranked offense to score 24 points, marking the second time this season they had scored more than 17.
Offensive Coordinator, Eric Bieniemy
Bieniemy should still be safe until the end of the season. His offense did commit five of the six turnovers that led to the Commanders’ demise against the Giants. But he is at least third in the firing line if ownership decides a midseason sacrifice is required to appease an increasingly restless fanbase. Who knows, he could even end up as head coach before the season is over.
Ones that Got Away Week 11 Updates
Updates on players that Washington should have drafted are taking a rest this week since the three players the Colts acquired from the Carson Wentz trade were all on bye in Week 11.
Week 12 Rooting Guide
Last of all, here is a handy guide to help you cheer for game outcomes which will help to improve the Commanders’ draft position.
Packers (4-6) vs Lions (8-2)
The Packers have the same win total as the Commanders and are a threat to potentially move ahead of them with some well-timed losses. Plus, everyone loves an underdog. Go Pack Go!
Commanders (4-7) vs Cowboys (7-3)
In parliamentary democracies, such as Australia, we have something called a conscience vote. Ordinarily, a member of parliament who votes across party lines risks being ejected from their party. On certain issues, however, the governing party allows its members to vote with their conscience, rather than sticking to the party line. Since it goes against deeply held beliefs to advise Commanders fans to cheer for a loss to the Cowboys, I am going to leave this one as a conscience vote. Root for whichever team you want to win.
49ers (7-3) vs Seahawks (6-4)
The Seahawks are two games behind Washington in the race for draft position, while the 49ers are likely to be picking with the playoff teams. Neither team is particularly worrisome, but the Seahawks are more of a threat than the 49ers. Be the 12th man.
Dolphins (7-3) vs Jets (4-6)
A Jets upset is unlikely, but it would help to neutralize the threat from one of the Commanders’ main rivals for earlier draft position. J-E-T-S Jets! Jets! Jets!
Saints (5-5) vs Falcons (4-6)
The Falcons are more of a threat than the Saints. Rise Up!
Steelers (6-4) vs Bengals (5-5)
The Bengals just lost Joe Burrow for the season and became a real threat to get in the Commanders’ way. The Steelers, on the other hand, don’t appear to need much of a QB to win. Who Dey!
Jaguars (7-3) vs Texans (6-4)
I don’t think it really matters. Your call
Buccaneers (4-6) vs Colts (5-5)
Baker Mayfield vs Gardner Minshew. Tough call, I can’t split them. Your call
Patriots (2-8) vs Giants (3-8)
We need both of these teams to win 2 or 3 games to get them out of our way. I suppose it’s more likely for the Commanders to overtake the Giants than the Pats. Go Big Blue!
Panthers (1-9) vs Titans (3-7)
The Panthers are too far ahead to worry about; while the Titans are beatable. Titan Up!
Rams (4-6) vs Cardinals (2-9)
The Rams could certainly threaten the Commanders draft position. But the Cardinals are already ahead of them and will have to be moved back for the Commanders to have a shot at the second pick. Tweety power!
Browns (7-3) vs Broncos (5-5)
The Broncos are more of a threat than the Browns. Uncommon! Really. That’s the Broncos’ motto. At least one NFL team is worse at branding than Jason Wright and Dan Snyder.
Chiefs (7-3) vs Raiders (5-6)
The Raiders are just one win behind Washington. Just win, baby!
Bills (6-5) vs Eagles (9-1)
Doesn’t matter. Your call
Ravens (8-3) vs Chargers (4-6)
The Chargers are the team to worry about here. Bolt up!
Monday Night Football
Bears (3-8) vs Vikings (6-5)
The Bears are one of Washington’s key challengers for early draft picks. Da Bears!
What is the best thing about Thanksgiving?
This poll is closed
Spending time with family
Turkey (includes stuffing)
A day off with three NFL games on