Patriots fans looking to root for another team this season, with New England’s record at 5–6, would probably not find themselves rooting for the Washington Football Team. Maybe they would choose the Dallas Cowboys who, between Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, CeeDee Lamb and Amari Cooper (and Andy Dalton, of course), had the makings of a fun team to watch. Or maybe Patriots fans can put aside their broken hearts and root for Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Or, if all else fails, they can cheer on whoever had the chance to deck Drew Brees in a given week. It’s safe to say that Patriots fans most likely won’t find themselves falling for the Washington Football Team. Surely the Patriots would stay as good as ever and nothing would change the team’s chemistry despite the departure of the greatest quarterback of all time, right?
Watching the Pats has become significantly harder recently, so fans might need a way to get some sort of winning feeling every week. Something about watching the Washington team, which is currently tied for the lead in the NFC East despite its 4–7 record, is exciting. Let’s talk about why.
Washington’s offense, numbers-wise, is in the bottom 25 of almost all major offensive categories.
Many of the offense’s problems can be traced back to the lack of a quarterback. Dwayne Haskins has been a bit of a bust (through no fault of his own), Kyle Allen suffered the second-most brutal injury to an NFC East quarterback this year and is done for the season and Alex Smith is, well, old. However, under a veteran like Smith who plays patient football and is seasoned enough to make your basic throws, the team can get drives going.
Additionally, the trifecta of wide receiver Terry McLaurin and running backs Antonio Gibson and J.D. McKissic makes Washington one of the most exciting offenses to watch. When Gibson, a rookie wide receiver who became a running back, is talented enough to get fellow running back Adrian Peterson released, you know you have something. Then, add J.D. McKissic, who has the second-most receiving yards among running backs this year behind Alvin Kamara, and McLaurin, who is first in his draft class (which included wide receivers A.J. Brown, D.K. Metcalf, Darius Slayton, and Hollywood Brown) in receptions and receiving yards. Suddenly, Washington has one of the best two-back combos in the league. Washington’s offense is missing a lot of pieces: a franchise quarterback, a slot receiver and, most importantly, a standout O-line. But they definitely have a few of the most underrated and explosive skill players in the NFL, something that keeps fans coming back every week.
When it comes to defense, Washington is far better off. Ranking toward the upper side of almost all defensive categories (yards per game, points, sacks), Washington has a solid defensive unit. Undoubtedly, the most exciting part of the defense is the pass rush, whose front four is made up of former first-round picks Montez Sweat and Chase Young, both defensive ends, along with Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne, defensive tackles. That terrifying front has helped to get Washington 36 sacks, good for second overall in the NFL.
Now, to be honest, the defense doesn’t help the argument that Washington is a fun-to-watch football team; most fans watch for the offense. However, there is something to be said for a defense that allows the offense to operate under less pressure and creates a game script that gives their offensive tools the chance to run their best plays. It also doesn’t hurt that the defense is led by Young, the 2019 second overall pick, who has the potential to be one of the rare players in the NFL who makes defense just as entertaining to watch as the offense.
The final part of Washington’s appeal comes from the stories that have emerged in their 2020 season. This team has stories that make fans want to root for them. The first of these is coach Ron Rivera’s battle against cancer, for which he completed chemotherapy a few weeks ago. A talented coach who took a struggling Panthers team to success a few years ago and made the most out of a very poor situation toward his latter years with Carolina, he’s a smart coach who deserves NFL success. Speaking of terrible medical circumstances, a once-injured Alex Smith is now starting after two years out of the NFL. Smith is coming back from a compound fracture that almost led to amputation, and he looks to be in pretty good shape. The fact of the matter is that Washington is a team with stories that make you want to root for them, with good people overcoming massive adversity.
Watching Washington is not like tuning into a serial action show, where fans know that they will get a heart-pounding, tense and explosive result every episode. It’s closer to a slow-build, will-they-won’t-they romance arc on a comedy. Maybe one week there will be a moment that makes spectators go, “Oh! That was almost it!” Some weeks there won’t. But what matters is that this team is going somewhere. Fans might not know when it will happen, but at some point, sparks will fly.