Maybe it was three years late, but Washington Football fans finally got something to be thankful for, making good on Dan Snyder’s promise of a happy Thanksgiving at Ron Rivera’s introductory press conference in 2020.
No, I’m not referring to the embarrassing 45-10 loss to the Dallas Cowboys in front of the third largest viewing audience for a regular season game in NFL history. That was painful and humiliating.
However, with loss, comes the promise of renewal. The silver lining to the cloud of defeat that settled over Texas Stadium on Thanksgiving Day is that the Commanders moved up in the draft order, and helped to ensure that Dan Snyder’s staff will be long gone by the time the next GM gets to use the bounty of draft capital.
Eyes on the Prize
When I wrote the introductory 2023 Tank Tracker, just two weeks ago, the earliest that I could plausibly project the Commanders to pick in the draft was fifth overall. The ensuing losses to the Giants and Cowboys, combined with some help from friends have changed everything.
The Commanders have now already moved up to fifth in the draft order, if the season ended today, and are well within striking of the 4th overall pick. While it is still mathematically possible for the Commanders to rise to first overall, doing so would require Arizona and New England to win at least two more games and Carolina to win four of their remaining six, all of which seems exceedingly unlikely.
But consider what it would mean for the Commanders to pick fourth overall. The 2024 draft features elite QB prospects Caleb Williams and Drake Maye who are expected to go with the first two picks. There are also two elite LT prospects at the top of most Commanders’ fans’ wish lists. Either Penn State’s Olu Fashanu (6’6”, 321 lbs) or Notre Dame’s Joe Alt (6’8”, 315 lbs) would be guaranteed to be available when the Commanders pick. There is a very good chance that both will still be on the board if the team picking third opts for the best remaining QB (Michael Penix or Bo Nix?) or an elite prospect like WR Marvin Harrison Jr, TE Brock Bowers or Edge Laiatu Latu.
With the extra picks the Commanders gained by trading Montez Sweat or Chase Young, the new GM will have the luxury of deciding whether to pick an elite prospect at a position of need or trade back in the first round to acquire multiple additional high draft picks to restock the talent pool which was depleted by his predecessors.
2024 Draft Position Watch
Following the loss to Dallas and wins by the Titans and Giants, the Commanders have risen two places in the draft order to fifth overall in Tankathon’s projection. Furthermore, the Bears’ surprise upset of the Vikings on Monday Night Football pulls Washington into striking distance of the fourth overall pick.
Room to Move Up
Going forward, the Commanders control the major part of their own destiny. If they don’t win any of their remaining games, the highest they could end up picking is seventh overall, as only two 4-win teams (Buccaneers, Jets) have weaker strength of schedule. That is well within their reach as they have already demonstrated with losses to the Bears and Giants that they are capable of losing to any team. If they insist on scoring a moral victory by winning another game, they could potentially find themselves dropping out of the top 10 altogether.
In order to rise any higher in the draft order, the Commanders will need help from the teams ahead of them. The primary target should be the Bears, who notched a fourth win by upsetting the Vikings on Monday night. If they win another game, the Commanders can overtake them and claim the fourth overall pick simply by losing out. The Bears have a very good chance to get a fifth win when they play the Cardinals (2-10) in Week 16. Their next weakest opponents are the Falcons (5-6) and Packers (5-6).
Moving any higher than fourth in the draft order will be very challenging. If the Commanders can avoid any further wins, the Cardinals (2-10) and Patriots (2-9) would each need to win two more games to fall behind them in the draft order, as they both have higher strength of schedule. Chicago’s first pick, via Carolina (1-10) is effectively out of reach, since Carolina has a weaker strength of schedule and would need to win four of their remaining six games to fall behind Washington.
Threats from Behind
The Commanders’ hold on the fifth overall pick is not guaranteed, even if they lose all their remaining games. The Buccaneers and Jets are both currently sitting at 4-7 and have weaker strengths of schedules. If either team loses out, they will leap ahead of Washington in the draft order.
If Washington wins another game, they will face additional threats from three more 4-win teams (Giants, Chargers, Titans) and three 5-win teams with weaker strength of schedule (Raiders, Saints, Packers).
Coaching Hot Seat
***FIRED*** Defensive Coordinator, Jack Del Rio. Following the embarrassing loss on Thanksgiving, we are told that owner Josh Harris consulted with Ron Rivera who recommended that DC Jack Del Rio be relieved of duties. Regardless of what actually happened, there was much rejoicing throughout the land.
Head Coach/Head of Football Operations Ron Rivera. It has been 1092 days since Ron Rivera was last fired from a head coaching job. With Del Rio sacked as an offering to appease an angry fanbase, it would appear that Rivera is safe until the end of the season. At least for now
That could change in an instant if the promised adjustments on defense do not yield immediate improvements to the NFL’s last ranked scoring defense and reduce the vulnerability to explosive plays. Rivera’s first test comes against the NFL’s top ranked scoring offense when the Commanders host the Miami Dolphins on Sunday, the football equivalent of the perfect storm.
Offensive Coordinator, Eric Bieniemy. Bieniemy’s offense struggled again in Dallas, posting their third lowest score of the season. However, that was only the fourth time they have scored fewer than 20 points this season, something they did nine times in 2022. Bieniemy has overseen the development of Sam Howell as a viable starting QB and can make a strong case that his unit’s shortcomings have a lot to do with the substandard offensive line he was given to work with, with the exception of Andrew Wylie, who will be difficult to distance himself from.
Barring another catastrophe, Bieniemy is probably safe for the rest of the season. That said, at the rate the catastrophes have been coming, nobody on the coaching staff should feel comfortable.
Week 13 Rooting Guide
The big picture is that Washington will face stiff competition for draft position from a handful of teams with similar records for the remainder of the season. The most immediate opportunities and threats come from teams with 4 (Chicago, Tampa, Jets) or 5 wins (Raiders, Saints, Packers) and lower strength of schedule. After them, it will help protect the Commanders’ draft position if any 4- or 5- team wins more games. Cheer for all of those teams to get hot in the final six weeks of the season.
With that backdrop here is a handy guide to help you cheer for game outcomes which will help to protects and improve the Commanders’ draft position.
Thursday Night Football
Seahawks (6-5) vs Cowboys (8-3)
The Seahawks are not really much of a threat to the Commanders’ draft position but they are playing Dallas. Be the 12th man!
Dolphins (8-3) vs Commanders (4-8)
It’s not likely to make any difference, so go ahead and root for your team. Just remember, if the Dolphins do happen to plant 70 on Ron Rivera’s leaky sieve of a defense, it means we are one step closer to drafting an elite left tackle. Hail to the Redskins! OR Lose a few for Fashanu! Your call.
Chargers (4-7) vs Patriots (2-9)
Which team you root for depends on how ambitious you are.
On the one hand, the Commanders could pull ahead of the Patriots into third place, but doing so would require Washington to lose out, while the Patriots win two more games and the Bears win one more. That seems highly improbable, but is at least mathematically possible.
On the other hand, the Chargers are an immediate threat to overtake Washington if the Commanders win another game. The latter scenario is more likely, so root for a Chargers’ win to give the Commanders some buffer space to absorb another win of their own. Bolt up!
Lions (8-3) vs Saints (5-6)
The Saints are another team that could threaten Washington if Ron manages to conjure up another win. Who dat?
Falcons (5-6) vs Jets (4-7)
While either team could figure in Commanders’ draft position scenarios, the Jets are among the Commanders’ top three threats. J-E-T-S Jets! Jets! Jets!
Cardinals (2-10) vs Steelers (7-4)
The Cardinals are currently in second place, and could be overtaken if they suddenly go on a winning streak. The Steelers are irrelevant at this point. It’s in the Cards!
Colts (6-5) vs Titans (4-7)
The Commanders currently enjoy a strength of schedule advantage over the 4-win Titans. However, another Commanders’ win would move the Titans past them if the Titans don’t keep pace with one of their own. Titan up!
Broncos (6-5) vs Texans (6-5)
The outcome of this game is not likely to matter, and it’s impossible to tell which team would be a bigger threat in a multiple-Commanders-win scenario. Pick ‘em
Panthers (1-10) vs Buccaneers (4-7)
The Buccaneers will move ahead of Washington in the draft order if they somehow manage to lose this game. On the other hand, the Bears’ grip on the first overall pick via the Panthers is practically unassailable. Raise the Flags!
Browns (7-4) vs Rams (5-6)
The Rams could become a threat to the Commanders’ draft position if Washington wins two more games. The Browns would not. Scary sheep!
49ers (8-3) vs Eagles (10-1)
This game is irrelevant to the Commanders’ draft position, but we hate the Eagles. Tastes like chicken!
Chiefs (8-3) vs Packers (5-6)
The Packers could become a problem if the Commanders win a game. Go pack!
Monday Night Football
Bengals (5-6) vs Jaguars (8-3)
Even without Joe Burrow, the Bengals only become an issue if the Commanders win two more games. But they are still more relevant than the 8-3 Jaguars. Who dey?
What was the best part about the embarrassing loss on Thanksgiving?
This poll is closed
Gaining two places in the draft order
Getting Jack Del Rio Fired
Turning off the game and eating more turkey and pie
Turning off the game and drinking heavily
Listening to Tony Romo
Everything - Cowboys fan
Setting the Cowboys up for disappointement when they bomb out of the Wild Card round