Washington Football Team schedule has unusual divisional quirk

Washington Football Team helmet. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Washington Football Team helmet. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images) /

There are many interesting storylines to follow within the Washington Football Team’s 2021 schedule. But the most intriguing might reside toward the end of the 17-game slate.

The 2021 schedule was released on May 12, and with it came the inevitable debate about how the Washington Football Team will perform over its season.

However, thanks to a rare scheduling quirk, the second half of Washington’s schedule will be far more significant than the first half. Washington will become the first team since divisional realignment in 2002 to close the season with five consecutive divisional games.

After returning from the team’s first trip to Allegiant Stadium to face the Las Vegas Raiders on December 5, Washington will not leave the division for the remainder of the regular season. The closing stanza of the schedule includes a pair of matchups against the Dallas Cowboys (Dec. 12 and Dec. 26), a pair of games against the Philadelphia Eagles (Dec. 18, Jan. 2) and the season-closing game at MetLife Stadium against the New York Giants on January 9.

The only other game Washington has in the NFC East comes in Week 2, when Washington faces the Giants at home on Thursday Night Football.

Teams typically close the season with games within the division, but a run of five consecutive divisional contests to end the season comes with little precedent. The last team to end the season with five intra-division games was the 1995 Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Playing in what was then known as the NFC Central division, the Buccaneers went 1-4 in their season-ending divisional stretch. The franchise’s only win was a Week 15 overtime win over the Green Bay Packers. Tampa Bay finished the season 7-9, last in the NFC Central.

While unusual, it is difficult to say four months before the season kicks off if this scheduling quirk is a good thing or not for the Washington Football Team. On one hand, having games that matter clumped at the end of the season means that Washington can easily rebound from a slow start by rattling off wins in December. Even though Washington has a revamped roster from 2020’s 7-9 campaign, a wild card berth is far from a guarantee. Going on a tear in December is the easiest path for Washington to make the playoffs.

On the other hand, by December, players are more likely to be banged up and nursing injuries. In a perfect world, Washington would be facing these high-stakes games with a full roster. While in theory a team gets better at knowing who will fill what roles as the season goes on, there is no substitute for full health. Backloading these divisional games leaves Washington vulnerable to having a couple of badly-timed injuries derailing the season.

The franchise is no stranger to season-altering injuries. Washington is only two and a half years removed from Alex Smith’s devastating leg injury in 2018, which caused a 6-3, division-leading Washington Football Team to stumble across the finish line with a revolving door of quarterbacks.

Regardless, head coach Ron Rivera and the Washington staff are certainly looking to capitalize on these divisional matchups. Of Washington’s seven wins in 2020, four came against NFC East opponents. The only blemishes in Washington’s NFC East schedule came courtesy of the New York Giants, who swept Washington last season.

Perhaps fortunately for Washington, the Giants are the only team Washington does not face twice during the closing stretch of the season. The Giants have won five consecutive matchups against Washington dating back to 2018. Of Giants quarterback Daniel Jones‘ eight career wins as a starter, four have come against Washington.

Roster turnover and staffing changes year-to-year make this more of an interesting coincidence than a trend, but with a pivotal Week 18 game on the road against the Giants looming, it is important for Rivera and company to break this slide.

Regardless of the past, the incoming Washington Football Team roster is a team with a defense capable of being elite and an offense that is a level up from the recent past. It is important for Rivera and the team to perform to the ceiling of those expectations and keep that level of performance up through the entire season.

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With so many division games at the end of the season, one thing is for certain: Washington will be playing meaningful games through the end of 2021.