For the Washington Commanders, the first quarter of their 2023 season may be the most critical juncture of their season. Due to new ownership, Washington cannot afford to lose an ounce of the momentum they have accumulated over the past few months, as fans and additional stakeholders (sponsors, politicians, etc.) alike have bought back into Washington. Sure, some stakeholders won't go anywhere, especially those with the potential of doing business with Washington in the near future, but for the fans, losing in the same fashion as they have in previous seasons will not cut it. Even though ownership creates long-term optimism and excitement among the Commanders fans, that won't buy the team time to overcome another slow start under head coach Ron Rivera.
What are realistic expectations for Washington over their first four games?
The Cardinals have continuously been viewed as a cakewalk week-one opponent for the Washington Commanders. Additionally, it is hard seeing Washington losing to what could be a Josh Dobbs or Clayton Tune-led Cardinals offense along with rookie head coach Jonathan Gannon. Alternatively, though, it would be irresponsible to suggest that there is no way that the Arizona Cardinals could win this upcoming Sunday. It's not as if the Cardinals are short on weapons; receivers Hollywood Brown and Rondale Moore are still three-level threats on the perimeter. Tight ends Zach Ertz and Trey McBride are very quarterback-friendly and could be a tremendous help to whichever quarterback the Cardinals decide to play. Lastly, James Conner is a good, versatile running back with an excellent motor. This should be a win for Washington, but I don't think it's unfair to believe Arizona has a good amount of weapons in place to challenge Washington's defense.
The Broncos are heading into year two under veteran quarterback Russell Wilson, who is looking to bounce back from a terrible 2022 season. Whether Wilson is officially back or not, a road game against the Broncos' defense will be a solid test for offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, quarterback Sam Howell, and Washington's offensive line. The Commanders lost a very winnable game against Denver in 2021 and will have a chance to redeem themselves two seasons later, this time against a future Hall of Fame head coach in Sean Payton.
The Buffalo Bills and Philadelphia Eagles boast two of the league's best quarterbacks and offenses in the NFL. Josh Allen and Jalen Hurts are elite mobile QBs with accurate arms to threaten any defense if they do not stay disciplined. There are not many people who expect Washington to beat the Bills and Eagles, but from a competitive standpoint, where there are many people who expect Washington to be in a lot of their games. Can Washington steal one of the two games as they head into the second quarter of the season?
When accounting for the structure and composure that Washington's offense displayed in training camp and its preseason games, the belief that they can be more productive under a Bieniemy and Howell duo has increased. Believing in the growth and development of this offense does not translate to wins; however, it can enable you to think that there is a fighting chance in most games if the defense lives up to the hype and Washington's offense is at least average in points per game. In a realistic best-case scenario for Washington, I can see three wins in the first quarter of the season, with Washington upsetting either the Buffalo Bills or Philadelphia Eagles.
Regarding realistic worst-case scenarios, Arizona could be the only team they beat in the first quarter. Last season, Washington struggled to control the line of scrimmage offensively, and it would be another long season if that were the case again in 2023. A question to consider in the worst-case scenario is Howell's ability to function in Bieniemy's offense once the bullets are live. Lastly, on the defensive side of the football, if there was a noticeable regression from that unit, which could be exposed within their first four games.
What are your realistic best-case and worst-case scenarios for the Commanders' first four games?