How Rivera's first 25 WFT games compare to first 25 in Carolina


Washington's victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers marked the 25th game of Ron Rivera's tenure as head coach of the franchise. Arguably, it was the biggest win in his 25 games guiding the club but it also marked a point that his start to this coaching stop was better, even just so slightly, than his last. 

Through 25 games, Rivera has accumulated a 10-15 record and a playoff berth to show for it. His first 25 with the Carolina Panthers gave him a 9-16 start. It's ever so minor, but reflective in many ways of how he is following a similar rebuilding path. That will be on display again on Sunday when Rivera and WFT travels to Charlotte to face his former franchise. 

Rivera's start with Washington stands fourth-best through 25 games among the seven coaches Snyder has hired for the full-time role since he took over ownership of the franchise in 1999:

Marty Schottenheimer: 8-8 (1 season - fired)

Steve Spurrier: 11-14

Joe Gibbs: 9-16

Jim Zorn: 11-14

Mike Shanahan: 9-16

Jay Gruden: 8-17

Ron Rivera: 10-15

But back to how this first year-plus looks like compared to Rivera's work with the Panthers. Let's think of his situation on the offensive and defensive side of the ball as complete opposites of each other with both teams.

Both Washington entering the 2020 season and Carolina entering the 2011 season were dreadful on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. Since Rivera was brought in after the firing of another head coach in each occasion, that's not a surprise. 


In Carolina, he inherited a team that was 32nd on offense and 26th on defense in terms of points. In Washington, he took over a team that was 32nd and 27th, respectively. Entering his first season both times he had a top-two pick in the NFL Draft.

Of course, everyone knows that Rivera went offense with Cam Newton in 2011 and defense with Chase Young in 2020. He reiterates, though, that both were selected in different manners. 

"I go back to Carolina, one of the best things that happened when we got there was there were playmakers there," Rivera told NBC Sports Washington's JP Finlay. 

"We had the playmakers around our guy, then we were able to protect [Newton]."

That team had veterans Steve Smith, De'Angelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart playing their skill positions. When they traded for tight end Greg Olsen it just bolstered the offensive production that allowed the offense to explode with Newton. The offense was ready for the next step. Can't say the same for Washington.

But in a similar fashion, Washington was stacked on the defensive side. When Washington drafted Young it already had three first-rounders playing on the defensive line. Defensive studs Jonathan Allen, DaRon Payne and Montez Sweat were playing alongside veteran Ryan Kerrigan. The blueprint was there, Young just took Rivera over the top - at least last season when WFT won the NFC East.

Look at the improvement by both groups over time:

Carolina Rankings (Rivera takes over 2011): 


2010: 32nd

2011: 6th

2012: 19th


2010: 26th

2011: 27th

2012: 18th

Washington Rankings (Rivera takes over 2020):


2019: 32nd

2020: 25th

2021*: 28th


2019: 27th

2020: 4th

2021*: 20th

* denotes the rankings are through the first 10 weeks of the season instead of a full season.

The instant progression - and slight regression in Rivera's second year - are near identical for Carolina's offense in 2012 and Washington's defense in 2021. Some of that could be attributed to the schedule based on the team's positioning, but overall there are parallels.

Rivera's challenge in Carolina was building up the defense, now in Washington it is getting the offense to make the next jump - while still maintaining the level on the stronger side of the football. It's a balancing act.  

In Carolina, Rivera said the notable change came when drafting star linebacker Luke Kuechley.

"Then we were fortunate to draft Luke Kuechley and so we put it together. That's what I'd like to see us [put together the offense] as well," Rivera said. 

Weapons have slowly come in with the established Terry McLaurin at wide receiver and drafting Antonio Gibson among some key free-agent signees (Logan Thomas at tight end, the still-injured Curtis Samuel at wide receiver).

Of course, the biggest missing piece in Washington is the never-ending search for QB X, which is a whole different task than improving a defense. But, through 25 games, Rivera is right on pace with the rebuild in D.C. as he was in Charlotte. 


The rebuilds are eerily similar when factoring in opposite factions. The good news for Washington fans is that once Rivera found the linchpin for success on both sides of the ball in Carolina, it led to a sustained period of four playoff appearances in five years and an NFC title.