The Washington Football Team enters its Week 9 bye with a 2-6 record, something head coach Ron Rivera has gone on the record to call "disappointing" after the franchise won the NFC East last season.
"We are where we are and as I said to you guys before, we’re a 2-6 football team right now trying to find ourselves and trying to find our footing," Rivera said Sunday following Washington's fourth straight loss.
Last year, Washington was able to turn a 2-7 start into an improbable division title, partially thanks to the overall poor play from the rest of the NFC East clubs. A similar turnaround is likely out of the equation this fall, though, as the Dallas Cowboys are already running away with the division at 6-1 right now.
But, just because Washington's season likely won't linger into mid-January doesn't mean the remainder of the team's games isn't important. Rivera is trying to build a winning culture in Washington, and these last nine contests could go a long way in establishing that.
Here is one specific reason to watch every remaining game on Washington's 2021 schedule...
Week 10 (Nov. 14) -- Washington vs. Buccaneers
Reason: Will Taylor Heinicke be able to replicate his postseason magic against Tampa?
The main reason that Taylor Heinicke is still a member of the Washington Football Team is because of what he was able to do against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense last January.
Heinicke, who had been out of football just weeks prior, was called on short notice to start Washington's playoff game against Tampa Bay last winter after Alex Smith was unable to play. Heinicke nearly led Washington to victory, throwing for over 300 yards, adding another 46 on the ground while accounting for three touchdowns.
Washington signed Heinicke this offseason on a two-year deal to remain with the team. After entering the season as the team's backup, Heinicke has started the past seven games following a Week 1 injury to Ryan Fitzpatrick.
The Heinicke experience has been up and down this season. He's led the club to a pair of wins, both courtesy of game-winning drives. But as of late, Heinicke and the offense have struggled to score points, despite moving the ball in between the twenties with ease.
Heinicke is Washington's starter -- for now. In the club's next game, he'll face that same Buccaneers defense he had so much success against in the postseason. For the 28-year-old, another great outing against one of the NFL's best defenses could go a long way in terms of keeping his QB1 status.
Week 11 (Nov. 21) -- Washington @ Panthers
Reason: Ron Rivera makes his return to Carolina.
This is an easy one. For the first time since he was let go by the Panthers, Ron Rivera will make his return to Charlotte -- this time as the boss on the visitor's sideline.
Rivera is the most successful coach in Panthers history, having led them to four division titles and a Super Bowl appearance. He will be applauded heavily by the crowd at Bank of America Stadium, and rightfully so.
Yes, Rivera faced his old team last season, but that game was in Washington. That's not nearly the same as returning to the city he called home for nine years and one that still loves him dearly.
Week 12 (Nov. 29) -- Washington vs. Seahawks (Monday Night Football)
Reason: Primetime struggles continue?
For the past several years, Washington has been absolutely terrible on Monday Night Football. Terrible might even be putting it too lightly.
Washington has played in 18 games at FedExField on Monday night since it opened in 1997. Their record? 2-16. Over that same span, Washington is just 6-23 on Monday Night Football. Not much better.
That doesn't even seem possible, but it's true. Washington will look to end those primetime struggles this Monday against Seattle, who could potentially still be without starting quarterback Russell Wilson due to a finger injury.
Week 13 (Dec. 5) -- Washington @ Raiders
Reason: Jack Del Rio faces his former team; it's in Vegas
Jack Del Rio was let go as the Raiders' head coach in 2018 despite having an overall winning record. Owner Mark Davis wanted to hire Jon Gruden, something he openly told Del Rio while he was the Raiders' coach, and the opportunity presented itself to do so. It's safe to say things didn't end on good terms.
Washington's Week 13 game will be Del Rio's first time facing his former team since he was fired. Yes, Washington's defense hasn't been playing up to its capabilities this season, but Del Rio will certainly have his guys ready for this one.
Additionally, this game will be the first time Washington plays in Vegas and the brand new Allegiant Stadium. The spectacle is one of the nicest places to watch a football game in the NFL. If you're a Washington fan and looking to travel to a road game this year, this is the one to attend.
Week 14 (Dec. 12) -- Washington vs. Cowboys / Week 16 (Dec. 26) -- Washington @ Cowboys
Reason: It's the COWBOYS, duh
No matter how good Dallas is or how bad Washington is, or vice versa, these games are always must-see television. Dallas vs. Washington is still one of the most historic rivalries in the entire sport, even if it's been one-sided as of late.
However, Washington is coming off a season sweep of the Cowboys in 2020, both coming in blowout fashion. Sure, Dallas was missing Dak Prescott in both games, but it doesn't change the fact that Washington beat its biggest rival in convincing style both times last year. Those two losses have certainly left a bitter taste in The Star.
If Washington can string a few wins together before this matchup, these two games could have playoff implications as well. We've seen the Cowboys choke down the stretch many times over the past decade-plus, so don't rule out a collapse in Big D this year, either.
Week 15 (Dec. 19) -- Washington @ Eagles / Week 17 (Jan. 2) -- Washington vs. Eagles
Reason: Ryan Kerrigan's return; measuring stick in the division
It will be weird, certainly, to see Ryan Kerrigan rocking the green and gold of the Philadelphia Eagles. But just because Kerrigan now reps rival colors does not change all that he accomplished in a decade with the Washington football team.
Kerrigan broke Washington's franchise sack record in 2020, cementing himself as one of the best defensive players to ever play for the Burgundy and Gold. Sure, his legacy might not be as great as Darrell Green's or Chris Hanburger's in Washington, but he'll certainly be celebrated when he returns to FedExField in Week 17.
Also, as the same with the Cowboys, facing the Eagles twice in a short stretch will be a great measuring stick for where Washington is currently at. With both games coming late in the year, it will give Rivera and his staff a great look at where the club needs to improve during the offseason to compete with the rest of the division.
Week 18 (Jan. 9) -- Washington @ Giants
Reason: Last time to see Brandon Scherff in Washington?
Every year, rosters change. And, with this game being the last of Washington's 2021 season (barring something unexpected), it will be the last time a handful of guys play for the franchise.
Think about Brandon Scherff, who made the All-Pro team last season -- Washington's first player to do so since 1995. He's a pending free agent. And, after Washington applied the franchise tag to him in back-to-back seasons, it's hard to imagine the two sides will agree to a long-term deal. Scherff's seven-year run in Washington could be coming to an end.
J.D. McKissic, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Cam Sims, Tim Settle, Bobby McCain, Adam Humphries, Jon Bostic, Charles Leno, Cornelius Lucas, DeAndre Carter and Kyle Allen all headline a list of 26 players who have deals expiring after this season. There's no guarantee any of these players will be back.
Then, there are players that are locked up long-term that could be cut this offseason, too. We saw Washington release longtime right tackle Morgan Moses last offseason. Something similar could happen to Landon Collins and others.
Roster turnover is the name of the game in the NFL, but next year's team will likely feature a lot of new faces.