Washington Commanders preview 2023: Over or under 6.5 wins? Chances to claim NFC East title?

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Washington Commanders quarterback Sam Howell passes against the Cleveland Browns during the first half of a preseason NFL football game on Friday, Aug. 11, 2023, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

It’s NFL team preview time, and today we’re looking at the Washington Commanders. Each Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday from July 25 through Sept. 8, we will take an in-depth look at each team in the NFL with a 7- to 10-minute video going through impactful additions and departures, last year’s rankings and strength of schedule in 2023.

Home Field Sports analyst Jim Derry will then make a prediction on the team’s record this season and where they will finish in their respective division, along with the over/under win total, as posted at Caesars Sportsbook.

These stories are a brief summary of the accompanied preview videos – powered by the Dattitude Podcast (which will review each division every Friday until the season begins). The schedule for when each team will run is listed below with a link to each story and video that already has run.

 

WASHINGTON COMMANDERS

Coach: Ron Rivera (4th season)

2022 record: 8-8-1, 4th in NFC East; did not make playoffs.

Last season in a nutshell: Despite finishing last in this tough division and being the only team not to make the playoffs from the NFC East, one would have to say it was a success of sorts for a team many predicted to be a 5- or 6-win team. Some had high hopes for Carson Wentz coming in to take over at quarterback, but that soon was by the wayside, and Taylor Heinicke wasn’t much better (although his record was).

Wentz is gone, and Heinicke is backing up Desmond Ridder in Atlanta, so rookie Sam Howell took over in the final game and went 11-of-19 for 169 yards and a touchdown in a 26-6 win over Dallas. Apparently, that was good enough for the franchise to commit to him for the entire 2023 season.

Running back Brian Robinson, who was back from a gunshot wound in Week 5 and became a national feel-good story, proved he has potential for a bright future by unseating Antonio Gibson as the Commanders’ primary running back as he rushed for just shy of 800 yards in 12 games.

Despite being double-teamed just about all season, Terry McLaurin continued to quietly prove why he is one of the league’s top receivers, as he caught 77 passes for 1,191 yards and five touchdowns. Meanwhile, rookie Jahan Dotson did about half that with two more touchdowns and looks to play a larger role in his second season.

All that, and it was Washington’s defense under a defensive-minded coach in Rivera that kept this team afloat. They ranked third-best in the NFL in yards allowed per game and seventh in points allowed.

And they did it mostly without defensive end Chase Young, who missed all but three games trying to recover from an ACL injury. In fact, he has played in just 27 games since being the second overall player drafted in 2020.

If Young is healthy this year, and Howell can come through to even be an average quarterback, could this be one of the surprise teams of 2023?

2023 bye week: 14

2023 Draft: 1 (16th overall), CB Emmanuel Forbes, Mississippi State; 2 (47), CB Jartavius Martin, Illinois; 3 (97) C Ricky Stromberg, Arkansas; 4 (118), T Braeden Daniels, Utah; 5 (118) DE KJ Henry, Clemson; 6 (193), RB Chris Rodriguez, Kentucky; 7 (233) LB Andre Jones, ULL.

Free-agent signings: T Andrew Wylie (from Kansas City), 3 years, $24M; G Nick Gates (from NY Giants), 3 years, $16.5M; G Trenton Scott (from Pittsburgh), 2 years, $3.02M; QB Jacoby Brissett (from Cleveland), 1 year, $8M; LB Cody Barton (from Seattle), 1 year, $3.5M; DE Abdullah Anderson (from Atlanta), 1 year, $1.7M; C Tyler Larsen, 1 year, $1.13M; WR Byron Pringle (from Chicago), 1 year, $1.08M; K Michael Badgley (from Detroit), 1 year, $1.08M.

What needs to go right: First off, if Howell isn’t the right call at QB and the coaching staff wants to be stubborn and not quickly switch to Brissett, you can close the book early on this season because Dallas and Philadelphia will be too far ahead. Will new coordinator Eric Bieniemy be the one making that decision?

Also with the seventh-toughest schedule, there’s even more pressure to start fast with games against the Cardinals, Broncos, Bears, Falcons and Giants in the first seven. If this team isn’t at least 4-3 by the time they host Philly in Week 8, it could be lights out with a tough stretch from Oct. 29 through the end of the season.

Plenty of eyes also will be on this offensive line with two new starters and a few others waiting to get a shot. The team brought over Gates from the division-rival Giants and will move him from guard to center. Also, signing Wylie to a big contract could pay off in the running game.

Still, most outlets have this unit ranked in the bottom seven (some even bottom four), so Howell could be running for his life.

On defense, Young already is questionable, and they absolutely must have him if they are to be as good as they were in 2022.

Key moments in video:

0:00 Washington Commanders

1:20 A surprise in 2022

2:05 Is Sam Howell the answer?

2:30 Eric Bieniemy OC or HC?

3:12 Brian Robinson leads run game

3:58 Terry McLaurin a top WR

5:07 A revamped O-Line

6:12 Chase Young leads defense

7:04 7th toughest schedule

8:22 Predictions, best bet

PREVIEW SCHEDULE / LINKS

AFC SOUTH

July 25: Houston Texans

July 26: Indianapolis Colts

July 27: Jacksonville Jaguars

July 28: Tennessee Titans

NFC WEST

Aug. 1: Arizona Cardinals

Aug. 2: Los Angeles Rams

Aug. 3: San Francisco 49ers

Aug. 4: Seattle Seahawks

AFC WEST

Aug. 8: Denver Broncos

Aug. 9: Kansas City Chiefs

Aug. 10: Las Vegas Raiders

Aug. 11: Los Angeles Chargers

NFC EAST

Aug. 15: Dallas Cowboys

Aug. 16: New York Giants

Aug. 17: Philadelphia Eagles

Aug. 18: Washington Commanders

AFC EAST

Aug. 22: Buffalo Bills

Aug. 23: Miami Dolphins

Aug. 24: New England Patriots

Aug. 25: New York Jets

NFC NORTH

Aug. 29: Chicago Bears

Aug. 29: Detroit Lions

Aug. 30: Green Bay Packers

Aug. 30: Minnesota Vikings

AFC NORTH

Aug. 31: Baltimore Ravens

Aug. 31: Cincinnati Bengals

Sept. 1: Cleveland Browns

Sept. 2: Pittsburgh Steelers

NFC SOUTH

Sept. 5: Atlanta Falcons

Sept. 6: Carolina Panthers

Sept. 7: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Sept. 8: New Orleans Saints

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