It is finally time for the new Arizona Cardinals to take the field.
Maybe the only organization with a bigger offseason culture change was their first opponent, the Washington Commanders, as the Daniel Snyder era is finally over for fans.
We talked with KyleSmithforGM of Hogs Haven to discuss the Commanders and get us ready for Sunday.
1. It is the Sam Howell era now. How do the fans feel about it?
Fans are almost universally excited, and a bit nervous, about the start of the Sam Howell era. It’s no secret that Washington has had a revolving door at QB since Kirk Cousins left after 2017, and that the group that followed him has aspired to attain average QB play.
In Howell, selected in last year’s draft, there’s still doubt among national pundits as to whether a 5th round “sophomore” is capable of amounting to anything, but many Washington fans recall that Howell was on track for a high first round grade if he had come out after his second season at UNC. In any case, between Howell’s apparent maturation and the addition of Offensive Coordinator Eric Bieniemy, there’s more enthusiasm for the potential of Washington’s offense than there has been in a very long time.
2. We are still waiting on some injury clarity between Chase Young and Terry McLaurin, which one is more important to have back by Sunday?
I think Washington can get by without either player in Week 1, and based on reports, they may have to. Young’s “stinger” has developed into a multi-week mystery where he hasn’t even been allowed to have contact in practices. If he sits out, his replacement will be James Smith-Williams (JSW), who played most of 2022 in Young’s stead and was stable, if unremarkable. Young has a higher ceiling, but JSW is a solid fill-in.
In the case of McLaurin and his turf toe, I suspect he could probably play if it were a critical end-of-season match-up, but the reality is, wide receiver is probably Washington’s deepest position group. Sitting Terry against the Cardinals (and the Broncos, if need be) would be a welcome move if it improves his prognosis for the rest of the season. In his absence, keep a close eye on Jahan Dotson.
3. Year four of Ron Rivera, what are the expectations?
I think many fans would answer this with: “An average record.” In Ron’s 12 seasons coaching, he has 3 winning seasons. He got Washington to the playoffs at 7-9 in 2020, and has subsequently gone 7-10 and 8-8-1. His career winning percentage is .521. I would answer this question in the following way though: “Ron either wins a playoff game this year, or he’s out.” With the new ownership group in town, I think they see this roster and recognize it should be very competitive. If Ron fails to deliver this season, I think the coaching and front office turnover process begins.
4. It seems like the Daniel Snyder era ending has rejuvenated the fanbase. Outside of early Snyder years, is this the most enthusiasm you can remember?
Absolutely. The enthusiasm for the team has come back far faster and more dramatically than I expected it to. When Snyder bought the team in 1999, Washington was the most valuable franchise in the league and had one of the best fanbases in the country.
Over 24 years, he squandered the team’s value and drove off millions of fans, ceding much of the surrounding fanbase to the Ravens (to the north) and Panthers (to the south). In the days after the sale was finalized, thousands of fans turned out to training camp, and to the pre-season games, and it was just recently announced that the game against the Cardinals is a sell out. For many teams, that wouldn’t be a big deal, but for a team that was selling out decades straight before Snyder bought the team, and whose home games often felt like away games more recently, it’s a big deal.
5. DraftKings Sportsbook has the Commanders as 7-point favorites, are they covering and what is the final score?
I definitely think Washington will cover the spread, and I’m hoping they’ll win by multiple touchdowns. It’s important for the offense, which has been anemic for years, to demonstrate to the league that it’s capable of putting lots of points on the board. I also wouldn’t be surprised by a defensive score from this group. My prediction is 31-7, Commanders.