When Washington and Denver see one another this weekend at Empower Field at Mile High, the two franchises should also see themselves in the other.
And that's not exactly promising for either side.
Though the Burgundy and Gold and the Broncos will occupy opposite sidelines, sit in different locker rooms and wear different uniforms on Sunday, each organization is figuratively in the same place when it comes to its standing in the NFL: mired in mediocrity with similar-looking structures.
Washington's head coach, Ron Rivera, comes from a defensive background. The ex-linebacker was most notably a defensive coordinator for the Chargers and Bears before assuming power in Carolina and now his current post.
The same can be said about Denver's Vic Fangio. Fangio never played at the level of Rivera, but he's got a résumé that resembles his peer's; his list of stops includes defensive coordinator gigs with the Panthers (long before Rivera), Texans, Colts, 49ers and Bears (long after Rivera departed).
Rivera's in the middle of his second season with Washington, while Fangio is working through his third with the Broncos. Despite the way the sport is heading — scoring and creativity on offense have never been more of an emphasis — Rivera and Fangio were hired within the past couple of years instead of more offensively-focused minds.
With where the two coaches have come from, it should be no surprise where the majority of the money lies on their rosters.
Per salary website OverTheCap, no one in pro football is spending more on defense in 2021 than Denver, which is dedicating more than $98 million to that side of the ball. That's roughly $30 million more than what they've committed to the offense.
Washington, meanwhile, is seventh on the list of defensive spending at $89.8 million. The gap between that and their bill for the offense ($76.5 million) isn't as wide as the Broncos, yet it's still significant.
Now, since Rivera is only in Year 2, it's not entirely fair to draw a direct line between Washington's present budget situation and his construction of the team (Landon Collins and his giant contract, for example, didn't occur on Rivera's watch). However, he has acquired the likes of Kendall Fuller and William Jackson III, so he has had a major hand in the defense's tab.
With that sort of devotion to defense, both philosophically and financially, Washington and Denver made a point of landing veteran quarterbacks in the spring.
The hope was that the two passers — Ryan Fitzpatrick and Teddy Bridgewater — could capably move the ball and lean on their experience to make intelligent reads on their one-year contracts (that plan seems to fit the latter much better than the former, but that can be the topic of another story). That hope was better than the results so far.
Fitzpatrick, unfortunately, suffered a serious hip injury in Week 1 and doesn't appear to be all that close to returning to the lineup. Going to injured reserve wasn't really under his control, but regardless, Rivera and Washington haven't gotten what they wanted out of him.
Bridgewater, on the other hand, has compiled solid surface stats; his completion rate is above 70% and he's thrown 12 touchdowns against just five interceptions. But if you evaluate the Broncos' schedule, there's been a clear decline between his performance against the soft opponents he battled with early on (the Giants, Jaguars and Jets) and the better foes he's crossed paths with since (the Ravens, Steelers, Raiders and Browns).
Overall, Fitzpatrick and Bridgewater may have spots on their respective teams in 2022, but neither will be entrusted like they were going into 2021.
Then there's the final intersection between Washington and Denver: they're bad right now and have been bad for quite some time.
Rivera's club will enter Week 8 on a three-game skid and at 2-5. Fangio's bunch will bring with them a four-game slide and a 3-4 record. As a whole, neither franchise has finished above .500 since 2016, and their success in that campaign was extremely measured (Washington went 8-7-1 and the Broncos were 9-7).
Whoever wins on Sunday will earn a temporary reprieve from what's been a painful last month. That said, no relief is coming for these two teams in terms of their long-term futures.
Washington and Denver are both desperate to experience the glory they once knew, and in their attempts to do so, they're relying on head coaches who specialize in defense and who are trying to squeak by with average QBs. That path feels rather narrow, yet each is heading down it anyways.
At least they'll find company in one another come kickoff.