At the risk of making a grand proclamation about perhaps the most unpredictable sports league around, one glaring difference that sticks out between Washington's 2022 schedule and the schedule it faced in 2021 is the quality of quarterbacks on the slate.
When comparing whom the then-Football Team had to deal with a season ago versus whom the Commanders will meet this year, the latter's draw appears much more favorable.
Outside of the NFC East, the previous edition of Ron Rivera's club encountered Justin Herbert, Josh Allen, Patrick Mahomes, Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Russell Wilson and Derek Carr on the way to a second-consecutive seven-win effort. That's a crew of three future Hall of Famers, three guys who certainly seem pointed in the direction of Canton and another signal-caller who's quite proficient.
To that team's credit, it did manage to go 3-4 against those luminaries of the position, but the four losses — to Herbert, Allen, Mahomes and Rodgers — largely featured those stars roasting Rivera and Jack Del Rio's defense.
Fortunately, Washington's itinerary this time around doesn't include the same procession of potent passers.
Though Rodgers is still in the mix in Week 7 and Deshaun Watson looms in Week 17, the Commanders' non-NFC East matchups will pit them against unproven options like Trevor Lawrence in Week 1, Justin Fields in Week 6, Davis Mills in Week 11 and (possibly) Trey Lance in Week 16.
Then there are the contests with veterans who range from solid (Ryan Tannehill in Week 5, Matt Ryan in Week 8 and Kirk Cousins in Week 9) to below average (Jared Goff in Week 2, Marcus Mariota in Week 12, and in the event that the Niners don't trust Lance, Jimmy Garoppolo in Week 16 instead).
Of course, Dak Prescott (who's an astonishing 9-1 in "rivalry" tilts with Washington), Daniel Jones (who becomes a right-handed Steve Young when visiting FedEx Field or hosting its residents) and Jalen Hurts (who is mobile and just got paired up with AJ Brown) must all be wrangled a combined six times this year, as per usual. That trio is a group that'll test the Commanders.
Yet overall, there just isn't the same depth of quarterbacks to corral from early September to early January. There's no Herbert to handle in the opener like in 2021, or back-to-backs with Mahomes and Rodgers, or a three-out-of-four stretch of Brady, Wilson and Carr coming out of the bye.
Also, for those who want to (fairly) point out the danger of predicting what will happen in the NFL months before things actually begin happening, there's not that much risk with being excited about seeing many of these players.
Cousins, Tannehill, Goff, Ryan, Mariota and Garoppolo, for example, are known quantities on offense. Cousins is capable of awesome afternoons, yes, and maybe there'll be an unexpected twist such as Mariota ceding the job to an up-and-coming Desmond Ridder, but no one in that bunch will be an MVP candidate by season's end.
As for the younger Lawrence, Fields, Mills and Lance, that's a foursome of three first-rounders and one third-rounder. They wouldn't have been chosen that early in the draft if they weren't talented and potential difference-makers. However, Washington will gladly take its chances with them over more established leaders.
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Now, none of this analysis will matter if the Commanders' defense botches coverages and languishes as pass rushers as it did for the majority of last year. All three levels of the unit must be better, and since there haven't been many huge additions to that side of the ball, the contributors who struggled or got hurt in 2021 will be required to rebound in 2022. That's a dicey proposition.
If the team actually answers that challenge, though, the defensive improvements should only be multiplied thanks to the increase of questionable quarterbacks. If it doesn't, on the other hand, and gets lit up by the B- and C-listers of the NFL — well, let's not get bogged down in that right now, OK?