Commanders in driver’s seat to clinch playoff berth after Week 14 bye
By Jonathan Eig
So I’m watching Philadelphia thoroughly outclass the fading Giants on Sunday, and I am reading dozens of tweets on my feed which all say the same thing: “How did we not beat this team?” And I’m thinking, “Yeah, that’s a good question. But then again, Abd-er Rahman really should have trounced Charles Martel at Tours back in 732, but he didn’t. If he did, more people would be visiting the Grand Mosque in Paris than Notre-Dame. And they’re not.” Point is – the Washington Commanders tied the Giants last week. Get over it. Move on.
Actually, there is a silver lining to that tie. It makes figuring out the Commanders playoff chances a lot simpler. You don’t have to look at tiebreakers with the likes of Seattle, Detroit or Tampa Bay because it is unlikely that any of them will finish with a tie. Washington will be a half-game ahead or behind most of the teams they are competing with.
Except the Giants. That’s why this week’s Sunday night game is as big as any played under Ron Rivera. It may be the biggest regular season game Washington has played in the past decade.
Everything seems lined up for the Commanders. They are coming off a bye in which players should have had time to rest. They have been preparing for the same team for three weeks now. They are at home. The Giants, meanwhile, are coming off a dispiriting performance against the Eagles and are slipping out of the playoffs.
But this is a division game and the Giants know they can beat Washington. If Graham Gano had a couple more Red Bulls last week, they would have already done it. Washington needs to come out strong and play a full 60 to put away Brian Daboll’s crew.
After Philly beat New York, and Carolina upset the Seahawks at Lumen Field, the Commanders jumped to the No. 6 seed in the NFC after entering the weekend in the No. 8 spot. They also saw their playoff probability increase from 69% to 74%, as revealed on “Football Night in America.”
Commanders playoff odds: Updated look at NFC playoff picture after Week 14
If they do, the playoffs are there for the taking. After the Giants, Washington finishes with two difficult game and one tough-but-very-winnable one. They will have to beat the Giants and then probably beat Cleveland at home on New Years Day. Defeating San Francisco on a short week, even without Jimmy G and Deebo, seems like a very tall order. But if they can handle the Giants and Browns, the Commanders will head into a final game against Dallas with a 9-6-1 record.
Washington did not play well against Dallas early in the season, but these games have a way of tightening up. Dallas has its own set of problems and I wouldn’t be shocked if Washington pulls that game out. Still, I would favor Dallas, thus giving Washington a final record of 9-7-1. And that should be good enough.
Only three teams in contention for the final two Wild Card spots could move ahead of Washington in that scenario. The Giants would have to win out to do so, and that seems unlikely given how they are playing. I could see them upsetting a struggling Vikings team, or getting lucky by playing the Eagles in the final week, when Philly may well be resting players. But still, winning out seems like hitting the Power Ball for New York.
The Commanders must keep pace with Seattle to stay ahead of them. If Washington does finish at 9-7-1, Seattle will have to win three of four against the 49ers, Chiefs, Jets, and Rams in the final month. If they do, they will move ahead of Washington, but again, I wouldn’t bet on that outcome.
The only other team that could supplant Washington for the playoffs is actually the team I am most scared of right now. Detroit has turned into the most unlikely offensive juggernaut in the league and they have four winnable games coming down the stretch. But they would have to win them all to pass Washington, and, come on – they’re still the Lions.
The best part is that even if one of these unlike scenarios happens, Washington is still in. They need to be passed by two team to miss out on the playoffs.
So they really do control their destiny. They do not have to win games in which they will be big underdogs. They have to beat the Giants and the Browns. The last time the Commanders played the Browns was Week 3 of 2020 and it didn’t go well. But both teams are very different now. In that game, Washington’s two TD passes were from Dwayne Haskins to Dontrelle Inman. The Browns leading passer was Baker Mayfield and their leading receiver was Odell Beckham, Jr. They can still run the ball with Nick Chubb but their offensive line has not played as well as it did back in 2020. Their defense has been mediocre, especially against the run.
And of course, they will have a rusty Deshaun Watson under center. Cleveland is dangerous, but very beatable.
Actually, if you want to get greedy, start pulling for Minnesota to lose another game this season. Maybe not against the Giants on Christmas Eve, but the following week – New Year’s Day in Green Bay. Under the scenario I am spelling out, Washington almost certainly finishes in the No. 6 position in the NFC.
Right now, the Commanders would have to travel to San Francisco for their Wild Card game. But if the 49ers win out and Minnesota loses another game, then Washington goes to Minnesota. I’ll take my chances against the Vikings. I haven’t done the research yet, but I’m wondering if a team has ever had a 10-3 record with a negative point differential, as Minnesota currently does.
It probably has happened. It may have even been true of the Umayyads under Abd-er Rahman.