How can the Washington Commanders defy expectations in 2023?

Ron Rivera
Ron Rivera / Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Could the Washington Commanders defy expectations and make the playoffs during a critical campaign for head coach Ron Rivera?

While there is an untold amount of hope off-the-field with Josh Harris' ownership group set to formally take charge of the Washington Commanders on July 20, things could go either way on the playing side. Head coach Ron Rivera is in one of football's hottest seats entering Year 4 of his tenure, with the respected figure yet to put a winning record together despite improving the culture and overall approach across the franchise.

Rivera has been around long enough to know what his fate will be if things don't go well. He's stuck to his guns in terms of roster building throughout the offseason, strengthening problem positions on limited resources, and leaving the squad in better shape than the one that concluded the 2022 season.

Commanders can make the playoffs in 2023

This has left many feeling a sense of cautious optimism surrounding the Commanders and their chances for progress in 2023. This was a sentiment backed up by Gary Davenport of The Bleacher Report, who tipped Washington to make the postseason with renewed hope and increased urgency across the franchise.

"The hype around the Washington Commanders has been a lot more muted this offseason. They were a .500 team in 2022, but they are breaking in a second-year quarterback in Sam Howell who attempted all of 19 passes in his one appearance last year. [Jahan] Dotson and Terry McLaurin are an excellent one-two punch at wide receiver. Brian Robinson Jr. and Antonio Gibson are a quality "thunder and lightning" duo in the backfield. The Commanders offensive line isn't great, but it's adequate. Washington could have the best defensive line in the league. That's right, better than the Eagles. The Commanders have a better, more balanced roster on paper than the Giants. With some decent QB play, a postseason berth is a real possibility."

Gary Davenport, The Bleacher Report

As Davenport stated, quarterback Sam Howell is the critical element of this equation. Rivera seems confident that the former fifth-round selection can thrive with extra responsibilities, but nobody could say what the future holds with any guarantee considering he has just one NFL regular season start to his name.

The Commanders have everything around Howell in order for him to thrive. They also happen to boast one of the league's most formidable defenses if their changes to the secondary have the desired effect and Chase Young avoids any unnecessary complications on the health front.

Everything has to go right for the Commanders to attain success in a highly-competitive NFC East. Rivera must also handle certain situational football elements in-game with better conviction to start coming out of close games with wins.

If the Commanders can accomplish this and Eric Bieniemy provides the spark on offense that's desperately needed, then Washington might just emerge into a playoff challenger with a strong start to the campaign. Of course, one couldn't dismiss the possibility of things completely capitulating, either.

Fans will be completely behind the team now that Dan Snyder is no longer around. That might not seem like much to most around the NFL, but it's significant for the Commanders thanks to the level of disenchantment during his incompetent stint as owner.

Could this be the catalyst behind better fortunes in a competitive environment? It'll be a stiff challenge, but one that Rivera and his players should be relishing to usher in the Commanders' new era.