It's been nearly 20 years since an NFC East team won consecutive division titles, and for the Washington Football Team to achieve that feat this year, many things will have to fall in place.
Ron Rivera certainly believes his team has the talent to do so, but football is a funny game. Things evolve over the course of a now 17-game season, and what's true in September and October can certainly look different in November and December.
To be crystal clear, this is not an attempt at normal predictions for the 2021 season. That would look like this: A good young defense and an improved but uneven offense combine for a 9-8 record and a Wild Card spot.
Instead, these are bold predictions, intended to be provocative and incendiary. If that's not what you're shopping for, turn away.
- QB Carousel - Look this isn't fun to write and it's not fun to read, but the facts show that Washington has started at least three quarterbacks in each of the last three seasons. Check it if you want, but here are the names, in order, with repeats, since the 2018 opener: Alex Smith, Colt McCoy, Mark Sanchez, Josh Johnson, Case Keenum, Dwayne Haskins, Colt McCoy, Haskins, Kyle Allen, Smith, Taylor Heinicke. That's a lot. A lot. Now enter Ryan Fitzpatrick as the starter to go with Heinicke as backup and Allen in third string. It would be terrific for Fitzpatrick to start all 17 games this year. Should that happen it's safe to assume Washington will win double-digit games, however, for a variety of different reasons Fitzpatrick hasn't started a full season since 2016. History tells us to expect multiple QB starters in Washington.
- Cole in the stocking - Washington drafted Jamin Davis in the first round to shore up its linebacker group, and the rookie could prove to be a tackling machine. In 2022. This season, expect third-year pro Cole Holcomb to lead Washington in tackles. He's got sideline-to-sideline speed and a clearer understanding of his role after a full season in Jack Del Rio's defense. Last year fellow linebacker Jon Bostic led Washington with 118 tackles. Safety Kam Curl ranked second with 88 and then Holcomb in third with 72. Expect those spots to flip between Bostic and Holcomb this season.
- Big-time players - It's time to start expecting big things from Washington's best players. Seriously. In a 17-game season and with a quarterback happy to throw downfield and let his playmakers take chances, Terry McLaurin should get to 1,300 receiving yards and flirt with 1,400 yards. He went over 1,100 yards last season with subpar QB play and a group of passers scared to take big shots. That won't be the situation with Fitzpatrick on the field. More importantly, expect McLaurin's yards-per-reception to jump back over 14, and look for more touchdowns. McLaurin scored seven times as a rookie but saw that total slip to four TDs in 2020. Double-digit scores isn't out of the question this fall.
- Double Double - Montez Sweat and Chase Young breakthrough for double-digit sacks. They could combine for 25. They're monsters and ready to rock. Somehow oddsmakers have them slated for fewer than 20 combined, but on this one, the oddsmakers are wrong.
- Name names - Washington's new name will be the Commanders, and the word will get out before the 2021 season finishes. You heard me.
- Bold bonus - Listen up - After the offense finishes 10 spots higher than it did a year prior, and the young Washington defensive backs continue to develop into possible Pro Bowlers, expect to hear Scott Turner and Chris Harris as hot names in coaching searches for the 2022 cycle. Young coaches with impressive profiles and pedigrees, Turner and Harris will be on the radar around the NFL.
Kickoff is set to take place at 1 p.m. on Sunday. Coverage begins with Washington Football Kickoff Live on NBC Sports Washington and the MyTeams app at 12 p.m. and Washington Football Postgame Live immediately following the game.