The Washington Football Team is coming out of its bye week and entering the next phase of the 2021 season.
Head coach Ron Rivera often likes to separate the season into quarters, and even though there are now 17 games on the schedule, it's still a fairly easy exercise to execute. In the first half of the season, Washington's flashes and short-lived positives were not enough to hang with some of the top teams and resulted in a 2-6 start.
But as Rivera has pointed out before, there are still plenty of games left, and anything can happen. Washington still has not played the brunt of its division schedule, but in the meantime, it has four more games against challenging opponents. So, here's a look at how Washington's month will unfold.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
2021 record (as of Week 10): 6-2* Notable wins:* Week 1 vs. Cowboys (31-29)
Overview: Guess what? Tom Brady is still good at football.
Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers got hot at the right time last season, winning its last four games of the regular season, and turned that into a Super Bowl victory. Clearly, they're still feeling the effects of that, as they've jumped out to a 6-2 start and have a hold on NFC South bragging rights.
Offensively, the Buccaneers are one of the best units in football. Brady is second in passing yards and first in passing touchdowns, which has fueled the league's best air attack that averages 327.5 yards per game. Mike Evans is predictably Brady's favorite target in terms of touchdowns (8), but Chris Godwin is statistically the most productive and leads the team with 660 yards.
The Buccaneers' defense isn't quite as dominant as it was a year ago, but it's not far off, either. It's still a Top 10 unit in yards allowed (7th), and it's held opponents to just 22.9 points per game. Its performance on the ground is the pride of the unit with its 2nd-best 78 yards per game. It's certainly not an easy way to step out of the bye week, but it will be another measuring stick for Washington.
2021 record (as of Week 10): 4-5
Notable wins: Week 2 vs. Saints (26-7)
Overview: The Carolina Panthers were one of the hottest team of the season with their 3-0 start, but since then the conversion has considerably calmed down.
In the first month of the season, newly-acquired quarterback Sam Darnold was playing well in multiple facets. He was completing 68% of his passes; he threw for at least 300 yards in two of the team's first three games; and he had three touchdowns to just one interception. That was a formula for success in Matt Rhule's second season leading the franchise.
Darnold has been on a slump, though, and that has played a role in Carolina losing five of its last six games. Darnold has thrown 10 interceptions in that span, compared to just four touchdowns, and thrown for more than 200 yards just once. In the Panthers' most-recent game -- a 24-6 loss to the New England Patriots -- Darnold completed 16-of-33 passes for 177 yards while tossing three interceptions.
Aside from Washington hoping to climb out of a sub-.500 hole, it will also be Rivera's first time coaching at Carolina with a different team.
2021 record (as of Week 10): 3-5
Notable wins: Week 8 vs. Jaguars (31-7)
Overview: Russell Wilson made the announcement Monday morning on Twitter: he's coming back from a finger injury sooner than expected. That means Wilson, not Geno Smith, will be trotting on the field for Washington's Monday Night Football game against the Seattle Seahawks on Nov. 29.
The Seahawks were off to an uneven start prior to Wilson's injury. The team was 2-2, including a convincing 30-17 loss to the Minnesota Vikings. But the situation has steadily turned even more sour with three losses during Wilson's absence.
Having Wilson back should ignite a Seahawks' offense that has struggled over the past month. Seattle averaged nearly 26 points per game with Wilson under center; it drooped to 19 points in the four games without him and is 19th overall.
Las Vegas Raiders
2021 record (as of Week 10): 5-3* Notable wins:* Week 1 vs. Ravens (33-27)
Overview: Derek Carr is off to one of the better starts of his career in his eighth season. He's currently third in passing yards (2,565), while completing 67.3% of his passes. Although the Los Angeles Chargers currently hold the lead in the AFC West, the Raiders have the same record. The Chargers hold the tiebreaker thanks to a 28-14 win over the Raiders in Week 4.
Any offensive production the Raiders have starts with tight end Darren Waller, who leads the team with 470 receiving yards and is fifth among tight ends. In the Raiders' 23-16 loss to the New York Giants, Waller paced the team with seven receptions for 92 yards. He has at least 50 yards in six of seven games.
Defensively, the Raiders have been efficient at getting to the passer with their 21 sacks, which is tied for ninth in the league. Nine players have recorded at least 0.5 sacks on the unit, but defensive end Yannick Ngakoue, who the team signed in March, has been a catalyst for its success with six sacks. He's currently tied for 11th in the NFL in that category and also has 17 tackles and three pass breakup to go along with it.
Washington's offensive line has generally performed well protecting the passer, but it will need to figure out an answer for Ngakoue when the time comes.