Each year as the NFL playoffs approach, labels are given out to certain teams. For example, you have the favorites, contenders and pretenders.
Yet, one of the best characteristics thrown out there is the "team no one wants to see." It typically refers to a team that didn't have many expectations or got off to a slow start, but that is now hitting its stride down the stretch. Playing good football, it's like when a bruising running back gets in the open field: no one wants to get in the way and be bulldozed.
Looking at the group of teams that are currently in the playoff picture, could that label belong to the Washington Football Team in 2020?
Typically, those streaking groups feature a unit that does something exceptional, as well as possesses leadership and experience at important positions.
Examining the Washington Football Team, they check those boxes.
The phrase "defense wins championships" is cliche, but it can still ring true even if the Kansas City Chiefs and others are trying to put it to bed. With so many explosive offenses, having a defensive unit that can slow down opposing teams and make the quarterback uncomfortable can come in clutch during games in January.
Based on what was displayed on Monday, Washington's defense has the potential to play at a high level against elite opponents. Not every moment was perfect, but the group made a talented Steelers offense inconsistent and found ways to impact the game with big stops and turnovers. With the talent they possess along the defensive front, the potential to disrupt the game is always there.
Other invaluable traits for postseason play are leadership and experience, especially when it comes in the form of the quarterback and head coach. Again, Washington has that.
Alex Smith may not have the ceiling that he once did, but he's demonstrated an ability to command the offense and perform in big moments. His five trips to the postseason will help as well, as the moment won't be overwhelming for him. That will be big for an offense that is rather young outside of the position.
As for Ron Rivera, he's exactly who other teams won't want to see at the helm of their opponent in the playoffs. In his first year, he's quickly instilled a culture change in Washington that has his players competing and fighting no matter what the score or situation is. That type of mentality is crucial in the win-or-go-home games.
Moreso, Rivera has seen just about all ends of the spectrum of playoff success. From leading a No.1 seed to the Super Bowl to winning a playoff game with a 7-8-1 team. The latter may be more influential for Washington in 2020.
Clearly, when it comes to under-the-radar teams that could give a favorite a problem, Washington has some of the qualities that fit the label. Some may say the New York Giants are that team, but while New York does have a great defense, they don't have the same experience.
Daniel Jones is growing, but he's still a young quarterback with no playoff experience and who is prone to turnovers. Joe Judge has done an exceptional job turning around his team in a short time, but this is his first season as a head coach. The Giants can definitely cause problems, but Washington does have the advantage of some familiarity with the postseason at key positions.
Now, the only thing left for Washington is to actually make the playoffs. Doing so would mean winning more games down the stretch, only furthering the reputation of being a team that is heating up at the right time.
Many made jokes that the NFC East team that snuck into the field would end up winning a playoff game despite a record below .500. Maybe now, Washington can make that come true.