Commanders matchup against the 49ers has immense magnitude
Following a loss that saw their playoff odds drop by over 40%, the Washington Commanders’ Christmas Eve matchup in Northern California has increased importance. Currently, Washington holds a slim half-game lead over the Lions for the final wild-card spot.
The Lions’ schedule is fairly favorable to end the season playing three teams — the Panthers, Bears, and Packers — with losing records. So, Washington shouldn’t expect any form of help from Detroit given that schedule. They will need to win football games.
Unfortunately, Washington is playing San Francisco at the wrong time. They are winners of seven straight, with their collection of playmakers, their solid offensive line, and elite defense making them legitimate contenders in the NFC. They are so good they can insert the last pick from the 2022 NFL Draft in at quarterback and not miss a single beat.
Exiting Levi’s Stadium with a win on Saturday afternoon will be difficult. Washington made it difficult losing though, and exiting with a win will be very important. Furthermore, it will serve as a litmus test for how threatening Washington could be if they secured a playoff spot.
Coming off an excruciating loss, facing less-than-ideal circumstances against a superior opponent, much will be learned about the Commanders on Saturday afternoon.
A significant Christmas Eve bout for the Commanders in San Francisco
Red zone woes, an inconsistent passing game, an ignorance of adding talent to the offensive line, and key defensive injuries have led Washington to this point. A tie and a loss to the Giants have put them at 7-6-1, plummeting their playoff chances, with the surging Lions nipping at their heels, and New York two games ahead now with the tiebreaker.
And with two teams with double-digit wins still on the schedule, the Commanders made their path to earn their spot in the Playoffs much more difficult. A must-win game on the West Coast, against one of the hottest teams in football, is not the most friendly of situations.
The Commanders enter as seven-point underdogs. Their odds of pulling off the improbable upset are steep. Washington has their backs against the wall, in a must-win situation. Not only does the team face circumstances like this but other players do as well.
Most notably, Taylor Heinicke. Since defeating the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday Night Football, the offense has sputtered over the last four games. At times, it has been simply inept. Heinicke injected life into the team when he was inserted as the starter when Carson Wentz went on IR.
However, this rendition of the offense may have reached its peak performance capabilities. Adding to that, Wentz didn’t have a fully healthy Brian Robinson before his injury nor was the defense playing at this level before he went to the injury report. Heinicke may offer an ability to create off-schedule behind a poor offensive line but Wentz offers the ability to provide a more consistent passing attack.
The change would have already been made if Wentz had performed better before the injury. But if the offense that could only muster 12 points, while also allowing a defensive touchdown on Sunday Night, does not improve the coaching staff will have a tough decision to make. Ultimately, the number one priority is making the Playoffs, so the staff will ride the hot hand. Heinicke keeps his job if he keeps the offense on schedule, if he doesn’t, a tough Christmas conversation could be on the horizon.
The matchup with the 49ers has immense magnitude, which was amplified by the loss on Sunday. It affects the Commanders’ path to the Playoffs, it affects who could be the signal caller moving forward, thus potentially affecting Washington’s offseason plans. Saturday will say a lot about where this team is in the long run. Can this team go blow for blow with a Super Bowl Contender in their own house?
One positive heading into the week for Washington is that Chase Young will be officially active on Saturday, as he suits up for the first time since November 2021. Hopefully, good news on Benjamin St-Juste comes soon, as well. The Niners haven’t faced a defensive line like this, and for Washington to have a chance they will need to be game wreckers.
One thing is for certain if you are a fan of the Burgundy & Gold: cheer hard for a Panthers and Chiefs win Saturday, on top of the Commanders pulling off the upset.