Football Team

One subplot to watch for in every Washington game in 2021

Football Team

When the 2021 NFL schedule was released on Wednesday evening, there are things that immediately jumped out to fans of the Washington Football Team fans.

When is the rematch against Tampa Bay? When does Washington host Dallas? When is Washington playing in primetime this year?

But for every game the Burgundy and Gold play in this season, there's at least one other underlying storyline. Here is one subplot to watch for in every Washington game this fall.

Week 1 (Sept. 12) -- Washington vs. Chargers

Subplot: Chase Young vs. Rashawn Slater

Rashawn Slater will have quite the tough matchup for his first NFL game -- against a player who helped originally put him on the map. That star? Chase Young.

The two squared off against one another in 2019, the year Young was the consensus best defensive player in college football. While Young's Buckeyes dominated Slater's Wildcats, the Northwestern left tackle held his own. Young had just one sack in the matchup, but it came against Northwestern's right tackle. 

When facing Slater, Young was held without a pressure. It was an outstanding performance from Slater, who ended up being a first-round pick despite opting out of the 2020 season. Now, his first matchup as a professional will come against a familiar foe.

Week 2 (Sept. 16) -- Washington vs. Giants (Thursday Night Football)

Subplot: Kenny Golladay vs. William Jackson III

 

Two of the bigger signings in free agency this past offseason -- Kenny Golladay, the top free-agent wide receiver that hit the market, and William Jackson III, arguably the best corner that found a new home this past March -- square off with the chance to make an early great impression for their new franchises.

When they last met, it was the new Washington cornerback that got the better in the matchup. Jackson held Golladay to just four receptions for 28 yards. However, that was four years ago, well before either was the player they are today.

Sure, this matchup won't have the anticipation that Josh Norman vs. Odell Beckham did when the Giants played Washington in 2016, Norman's first with the Burgundy and Gold. But, it should be a matchup that plays an integral part in the outcome of Thursday Night Football in Week 2.

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Week 3 (Sept. 26) -- Washington @ Bills

Subplot: The 17th game

For the first time in NFL history, the regular season will be 17 games. This season, the NFC East is paired with the AFC East for its added contest. And, with Washington and Buffalo both finishing 2020 in first place in their respective divisions, the two now face one another for the second time in three seasons.

This is a tough draw for Washington, as Buffalo was in the AFC title game just a few months ago and is considered one of the fastest-rising teams in the league. And, with the addition of the Bills to Washington's schedule, the Burgundy and Gold are the only team in the NFL that plays all four teams that were in their respective conference championships last season. Brutal.

Week 4 (Oct. 3) -- Washington @ Falcons

Subplot: The Alabama connection

Nick Saban will certainly have this game on his television come Oct. 3. This matchup will feature six of his former players, with a seventh (quarterback A.J. McCarron) serving as Matt Ryan's backup.

Washington has loaded up on Alabama products over the last few years, as they had as many as seven former Crimson Tide players on its roster in 2018. Now, four remain, but three of them -- Jonathan Allen, Daron Payne, and Landon Collins -- are major parts of Washington's defense. The fourth 'Bama alum on Washington's roster, Cam Sims, was the teams' No. 2 wide receiver last fall.

On Atlanta's side, both of its starting wide receivers are former Tide stars in Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley. Assuming Jones doesn't get traded, the Falcons have arguably the best 1-2 wide receiver punch in the NFL.

Week 5 (Oct. 10) -- Washington vs. Saints

Subplot: Finally, a home game for Washington vs. New Orleans

The last two times Washington and New Orleans have squared off, both games were played in the Superdome. And, both were quite memorable contests for Washington fans, but for all the wrong reasons.

 

In 2018, Washington and New Orleans played on Monday Night Football, where recently retired quarterback Drew Brees threw for 363 yards and three touchdowns while becoming the NFL's all-time leader in passing yards in a 43-19 blowout.

The year prior, Washington blew a 15-point lead with less than five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter before losing on a field goal in overtime. Yikes.

So, yes, trips to the Bayou have not been pleasant for Washington recently. That's why hosting a now Brees-less Saints team in 2021 should be a lot better of a matchup than the two previous.

Week 6 (Oct. 17) -- Washington vs. Chiefs

Subplot: Old friends coach against one another

Andy Reid and Ron Rivera have coached against one another before, but the two have great respect for one another and have known each other for multiple decades. Just look at what Reid had to say about the job Rivera did in Washington last year.

“This first year in Washington with a name change, without an offseason and just the whole COVID [situation], what he did was phenomenal,” Reid said. “Then [he] takes in a team where Alex [Smith] is hurt and then he works through the quarterback situation and ends up with a kid that nobody knows and they dang-near win [a playoff] game. They put on a great performance."

Rivera is part of Reid's coaching tree, as the Washington head coach served as an assistant under Reid in Philadelphia in the early 2000s. 

Week 7 (Oct. 24) -- Washington @ Packers

Subplot: Aaron Rodgers ... revenge game?

OK, that's a little bit of a stretch. Green Bay remains adamant that they won't trade their disgruntled quarterback anywhere despite Rodgers wanting out. But, if he does get traded, could Washington be an option?

Washington still needs to find its franchise quarterback, but most of the roster now is ready to win. Its defense is elite and the offense is going to be a lot better in 2021. There's a reason Richard Sherman thinks Washington would be a "cool opportunity" for Rodgers, while multiple other analysts have begun to come up with trade ideas between the two teams. There are some connections between Rodgers and Washington, too.

As of this writing in May, will it happen? Probably not. But, just imagine the possibilities if it did.

Week 8 (Oct. 31) -- Washington @ Broncos

Subplot: Hello, Ronald Darby

Speaking of revenge games, Washington will face its former cornerback in Ronald Darby when they travel to Denver on Halloween this season. Darby, who graded out as the best cornerback on Washington's roster last season per Pro Football Focus, agreed to a three-year deal with Denver this offseason.

 

Is this truly a revenge game? Eh, especially since Darby only spent one season with Washington. But, he'll now get the chance to face several of his former teammates, while also watching his shiny new replacement in William Jackson III star in Washington.

Week 9 -- BYE

Week 10 (Nov. 14) -- Washington vs. Buccaneers

Subplot: Will Chase Young FINALLY get that coveted sack?

The rematch of this past year's Wild Card game between Washington and Tampa has been much-anticipated in the nation's capital for multiple reasons. For one, a Taylor Heinicke-led Washington team came a few plays away from knocking off Tom Brady and the Bucs. Four weeks later, Brady was hoisting his seventh Lombardi Trophy, with Washington arguably giving Tampa its toughest test.

Washington's defense certainly has this game circled on its calendar after a subpar outing to end the 2020 season. And for Chase Young, he's been hoping to sack Tom Brady for a long, long time.

Brady and Young are cool, as the two even exchanged jerseys following that game. But, best believe come November 14, Young is going to be gunning for that sack he was unable to get this past January. 

Week 11 (Nov. 21) -- Washington @ Panthers

Subplot: Ron Rivera returns to Carolina.

Sorry, no subplot here.

While Rivera might try to downplay this the week of, his return to Carolina is certainly a big deal.

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 (hopefully full) 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)

Subplot: Will Washington's Monday Night Football woes continue?

For the past several years, Washington has been absolutely terrible on Monday Night Football. In fact, terrible might not do it justice.

Consider this: Washington has played in 18 games at FedExField on Monday night since it opened in 1997. Their record? 2-16. Yes, you read that right. Over that same span, Washington is just 6-23 on Monday Night Football. Not much better.

Washington played one game on Monday last year, a contest the Burgundy and Gold actually won over the previously undefeated Pittsburgh Steelers. But, that game started at 5 p.m. and was not on national television (the matchup was originally scheduled for Sunday, but was moved back one day due to accommodate the Steelers' schedule after their previous opponent, Baltimore, had COVID-19 issues). So, that doesn't really count.

 

Week 13 (Dec. 5) -- Washington @ Raiders

Subplot: Jack Del Rio faces his former team.

For the first time since the Raiders fired him following the 2017 season, Washington defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio gets to go up against his former team.

Sure, the Raiders might only have a few carryovers from that team -- heck, they don't even play in the same city anymore -- but best believe there is some bitterness there. Del Rio told SI shortly after he was fired that Raiders owner Mark Davis told him they were going to hire Jon Gruden if he got the chance, even when Del Rio was still the team's head coach. Yikes.

Week 14 (Dec. 12) -- Washington vs. Cowboys

Subplot: Dak is Back, how will Washington's D react?

The Washington Football team swept the Dallas Cowboys in 2020 for the first time since the 2012 season. Washington also turned in its best performance of the year against Dallas last fall on Thanksgiving, when they blew them out in the second half behind a trio of Antonio Gibson touchdowns.

But, this year will be different for no other reason than who Dallas' quarterback is. Dak Prescott, who has a career record of 7-1 against Washington, missed both games against the Burgundy and Gold last season with a fractured ankle.

Now, healthy and fresh off a four-year extension, it'll be interesting to see how Washington's defense will match up against Dallas' offense. Jack Del Rio's unit had its way against the Cowboys last year, but Andy Dalton and Ben DiNucci won't be under center for Dallas this time around.

Week 15 (Dec. 18 or 19) -- Washington @ Eagles

Subplot: Late arrival

In three of the past four seasons, Washington and Philadelphia have squared off in Week 1 of the regular season. So, each squad is accustomed to seeing what the other has each year right out of the gate.

That's not the case this year, as the two NFC East foes don't meet until the last month of the regular season. What that ultimately means for this matchup is yet to be seen, but it sure feels weird not seeing the Eagles as Washington's Opening Day opponent.

Week 16 (Dec. 26) -- Washington @ Cowboys / Week 17 (Jan. 2) -- Washington vs. Eagles

Subplot: WHO MADE THIS SCHEDULE?

From Weeks 13-16, Washington will play four games against ... two teams. Dallas. Philly. Dallas. Philly. What kind of schedule is that?

Yes, the NFC East was awful last year. So, it makes sense that the NFL wanted to stack division games at the end of the year, so at the very least the division would come down to the wire if a few squads were similar in record with just a month or so left.

But this, with two games against the same team within a four-week span, is not right. It's the NFL, not the NBA or NHL. Every game carries so much weight, especially divisional games. Don't put almost all of them at the end of the season!

 

To conclude: there would be no issue if Washington ended its season with three division games in a row. But five? That's a competitive disadvantage, especially to any team that suffers brutal early-season injuries like the Cowboys did with Dak Prescott last year. 

Week 18 (Jan. 9) -- Washington @ Giants

Subplot: No crying this time around, Giants fans

Last year, Washington's Week 17 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles raised plenty of controversies. No, it had nothing to do with what Washington did, but what everything former Eagles head coach Doug Pederson pulled.

With Washington needing a victory to win the NFC East on Sunday Night Football, Pederson pulled started Jalen Hurts in what was a close game in favor of Nate Sudfeld for reasons many are still hoping to figure out. The Eagles wouldn't score another point and Washington would go on to win the division.

So, why does this impact the Giants? Well, if Washington had lost that Week 17 game to Philly, the 6-10 Giants would have won the NFC East and made the playoffs. Several of their players took to Twitter to complain about the Eagles pulling Hurts, as if New York deserved to make the playoffs for finishing four games under .500.

Now, the Giants will face Washington in Week 18. So, if there's a playoff spot coming down to the wire between the two clubs once again this season, New York will have the chance to take matters into its own hands.