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The Washington Football Team's schedule has arrived, and it's never too early to start previewing the 17-game slate.
To help, senior vice president of media and content Julie Donaldson spoke to four NFL media members to learn about what Washington will be up against throughout the 2021 campaign.
Of the quarterbacks Washington beat last year, none of them were nearly as good as Justin Herbert, who ran away with Offensive Rookie of the Year honors behind 4,336 passing yards and 36 total touchdowns compared to 11 turnovers. Herbert was supposed to sit and learn behind veteran Tyrod Taylor, yet he ended up setting rookie records for most passing touchdowns, total scores, completions and 300-yard games.
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"We know they have the quarterback," said Dan Hellie, who is a sportscaster for several networks. "We know the offensive line has been remade. They signed All-Pro center Corey Linsley and they drafted Rashawn Slater, who's one of the top tackles in the draft. They were lauded to be able to pick him up where they did."
Combine that with perennial Pro Bowl wideout Keenan Allen and versatile running back Austin Ekeler, and this looks like another top 10 offense under first-year head coach Brandon Staley.
The bigger questions reside on defense, though the return of All-Pros Joey Bosa (defensive end) and Derwin James (strong safety) from injury will certainly help a unit that ranked 10th in total yards allowed per game. The Chargers also bolstered their secondary by selecting Asante Samuel Jr. in the second round.
"This is a very good seven-win team that had seven of their nine losses by one score," Hellie said. "So this is not going to be an easy task for Washington."
Other AFC West Opponents:
Week 6: vs. Kansas City Chiefs (Oct. 17) -- BUY TICKETS Week 8: at Denver Broncos (Oct. 31) Week 13: at Las Vegas Raiders (Dec. 5)
Washington has lost five straight games to the Giants -- its longest losing streak since 2015 -- but it will look to change that when it hosts the Giants on Thursday Night Football.
Quarterback Daniel Jones has had success against the burgundy and gold over his first two seasons, and now he'll have even more weapons with the return of running back Saquon Barkley and the additions of wide receiver Kenny Golladay (free agent), tight end Kyle Rudolph (free agent) and wide receiver Kadarius Toney (first-round draft pick). However, turnovers have been the issue for Jones, and Washington will be hunting for interceptions and forced fumbles when he comes to FedExField in mid-September.
"This is all about Daniel Jones this year," NFL Network reporter Kim Jones told Donaldson, "and I am going to be fascinated to see Chase Young, Montez Sweat and all the guys on that Washington defense getting after the quarterback, including Daniel Jones."
Defensively, the Giants signed former first-round cornerback Adoree' Jackson. If he can stay healthy and play to his potential, Jones said the Giants could have one of the better secondaries in the league with veteran defensive back Logan Ryan and 2020 Pro Bowl cornerback James Bradberry coming back.
Atlanta's receiving core was already its strength with seven-time Pro Bowler Julio Jones and 2020 All-Pro Calvin Ridley, and it got even stronger when it selected Kyle Pitts fourth in the 2021 NFL Draft -- the highest pick ever for a tight end.
"I think [first-year head coach] Arthur Smith is going to make this offense fun again," NFL Network host Andrew Siciliano said. "I am fascinated to see what he does creatively now that he has Kyle Pitts. ...If you look at what Arthur Smith has done with tight ends -- Jonnu Smith notably last year in Tennessee -- this offense is going to be fun to watch."
Defensively is where the problems lie, and the Falcons did not seem to do much in free agency to improve a unit that allowed the fourth-most yards per game in 2020.
"They have to rebuild the defense," Siciliano said, "and that is a work in progress and may take a little bit."
Other NFC South Opponents:
Week 5: vs. New Orleans Saints (Oct. 10) -- BUY TICKETS Week 10: vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Nov. 14) -- BUY TICKETS Week 11: at Carolina Panthers (Nov. 21)
The Cowboys are going to score points with quarterback Dak Prescott coming back from injury, but it's the defense that must step up if they intend to compete in the NFC. Their personnel department knew that, too, which is why they spent their first six picks on defenders, including drafting linebacker Micah Parsons 12th overall.
"They really have to slow down the run," NFL Network reporter Jane Slater told Donaldson. "That was one of the things that really hurt them last year, specifically when you go back to that Baltimore Ravens game; I believe they put up nearly 300 yards in the run game. And so that was an area that they not only addressed but were also hyper focused on."
The Cowboys did not make many offensive changes this offseason, which leads Slater to believe they feel good about starting offensive linemen Tyron Smith and La'el Collins, both of whom missed significant time last season because of injury. Add in all of the playmakers already in place, and this attack should once again be a problem for defenses across the league.
"I think the big thing for the Cowboys if they want to be successful, it's not necessarily Dak Prescott and how he's going to perform; it's going to be can this defense do them any favors because they certainly weren't doing that last year."