Last season, the Washington Commanders had one of the most demanding schedules in the NFL. They faced a gauntlet of top-tier quarterbacks like Patrick Mahomes, Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady. They played seven teams that went on to make the postseason — accounting for half of their 14 opponents.
That isn’t projected to be the case this year.
The Commanders are set to have one of the easiest schedules in 2022 as their opponents combined for a league-worst .462 winning percentage last season, according to the NFL. Only the Dallas Cowboys — also with a .462 strength of schedule — have it just as easy.
The league’s schedule is set to release Thursday at 8 p.m. The NFL has been slowly trickling out games in advance of the release. So far, of the dates unveiled, none have involved Washington.
But thanks to the league’s scheduling format, Washington’s opponents are already known. Beyond facing their division, the Commanders will match up against the AFC South (the Colts, Titans, Jaguars and Texans) as part of the league’s cross-conference play. In total, only five teams on Washington’s schedule made the playoffs last year. The Burgundy and Gold’s opponents went a combined 133-155-1.
As a refresher, here’s who is on the docket for Washington. The Commanders play the Cowboys, Giants, Eagles, Vikings, Packers, Titans, Jaguars, Browns and Falcons at home. And on the road, Washington will match up against the Cowboys, Giants, Eagles, Bears, Lions, Texans, Colts and 49ers. The precise order will be revealed later this week.
Washington’s schedule is good news for coach Ron Rivera, who has talked at length about the need for his squad to take a big leap in his third year. Rivera, who has gone 14-19 in two seasons, likes to compare Washington’s rebuild to his time in Carolina, and the Panthers improved from 7-9 to 12-4 in Rivera’s third year there.
The Commanders spent the offseason focused on upgrading at quarterback. The team traded for veteran Carson Wentz, who Rivera believes will help Washington jump another level. After acquiring Wentz from the Colts, Washington has had a relatively quiet free agency but added depth along the offensive line by signing guards Andrew Norwell and Trai Turner. In the draft, Washington focused on adding weapons around Wentz as the team selected first-round wideout Jahan Dotson.
Perhaps working in Washington’s favor: No team has won the NFC East in back-to-back years since the Philadelphia Eagles in 2003 and 2004. But the Cowboys — last year’s winner — could become the first team to do so thanks to their schedule. The Eagles, meanwhile, are also seen as a serious candidate to win the division after a splashy offseason in which they acquired star wide receiver A.J. Brown.
According to the NFL, the Los Angeles Rams are set to have the toughest schedule next season. The defending Super Bowl champs face a slate of opponents who combined for a .579 winning percentage a year ago.
Of course, a team’s strength of schedule hardly guarantees the outcome of games. Teams can improve dramatically or regress from year to year, and so just because a team’s schedule looks easy now doesn’t mean it will turn out that way.
At the very least, though, a weaker schedule on paper creates an opening for Washington to take a significant jump. It’ll be up to players and coaches whether the team takes advantage.