How Far Can the Washington Football Team Go Next Season?

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The Washington Football Team was one of the stories of the 2021 season. Led by a spectacular defense that opened the season among the three best in the NFL, this scrappy NFC East team fought and clawed its way to the top of the division after the Cowboys, then Giants, then late-charging Eagles appeared poised to take the crown.


Instead, it was these hard-workers led by Ron Rivera who managed to push to the playoffs. Despite the fact that the Football Team had no offense to speak of, leaning on Dwayne Haskins for a good bulk of the season as Alex Smith worked his way back, it still managed to instill fear in its opponents. Rookie Chase Young and Montez Sweat came around the edges to form perhaps the best pass rushing duo in the league last season, and key pieces in the secondary like Kendall Fuller and Ronald Darby helped capitalize on the pressure those two applied on the line.


So, after a 7-9 finish led Washington to the playoffs, and nearly a miracle upset win over the Super Bowl champion Buccaneers, can they do it again? Just how far can this team make it? Well, the answer to me is pretty simple. The Football Team will go as far as new quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick can take them.


Fitzpatrick has been in this situation before, with the New York Jets. He joined a team on the cusp of the playoffs with a defensive-minded coach, a great defensive unit, and some talented pass-catchers. He proceeded to have a career year in 2015, winning a career-high 10 games and throwing for 3,905 yards and 31 touchdowns, against just 15 interceptions. The problem? Three of those picks came in Week 17, when the Jets needed to win just one game over the 7-8 Buffalo Bills, to make the postseason.


Fitzpatrick was a disaster, turning the ball over an aforementioned three times and throwing for just 181 yards, never giving New York a chance. Buffalo would score just 22 points on this strong defense, but it was useless, as the offense could never get going.


The fear for the Football Team, of course, should be something similar happening again. Many times in his career Fitzpatrick has found greatness on teams with low expectations, which is no surprise considering he’s somewhat of a gunslinger and takes bold chances. He can afford to do that in Washington, where no one expects much after a seven-win season. But, what happens if the Football Team begins to win some games? I’d fear that Fitzpatrick reverts back to that Week 17 in 2015, playing too carefully and skittishly. That’s not his game; Fitzpatrick needs to be playing freely.


The defense, to its credit, should be able to drive this team to the doorstep of the playoffs almost all by themselves. Washington ranked fifth in points per game allowed last year, giving up just 21.2 on average, ranked fourth in yards per play (5.0), and second in red-zone scoring rate (50%). It put on nothing short of a masterclass in 2020.


The Football Team added to that defense with corners William Jackson III and Darryl Roberts, who will replace Ronald Darby and Fabian Moreau. More impressively on offense, though, the Football Team not only went out and got Fitzpatrick, it also signed speedy wideouts Curtis Samuel and Adam Humphries.


Considering most of the defense will be returning for Washington, maybe aside from Ryan Kerrigan who is still a free agent, I see no reason to believe that it can’t repeat its performance from 2020. The pair of free-agent signings at quarterback should more than make up for the loss of Darby. On offense, too, the Football Team may now have some reason for optimism. Fitzpatrick has proven to be a competent quarterback, and his new weapons in addition to Terry McLaurin and Logan Thomas should give this unit a good chance of winning football games. And, if Fitzpatrick doesn’t work out, Taylor Heinicke as a failsafe isn’t a bad look, either.


So, how far will they go? As I mentioned, that’s all dependent on Fitzpatrick. If he can atone for his sins from 2015, I don’t see why this team can’t win at least 10 games and contend for the division and lock up a playoff spot of some kind. Chase Young and Montez Sweat are that good, and we saw last year with the Buccaneers, all you really need is a stellar defense, and it will take the pressure off the offense and set them up for greatness. If the defense can gift-wrap Fitzpatrick and the boys some great field position all season long, he won’t fumble it away like Haskins did in 2020. Things could work out.

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