The Washington Football Team is playing its best football and holds first place in the NFC East, and people are starting to take notice of its accomplishments.
It was easy for national analysts to write off Washington near the middle of the season. An ugly 30-10 loss at the hands of the Los Angeles Rams followed by a 20-19 defeat to the 0-5 New York Giants had the team at 1-5, and any optimism it had earned after a 27-17 comeback victory over the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 1 was withering away.
But then Washington returned to FedExField the following week and handedly beat the Dallas Cowboys, and that kicked off a sudden upswing for the team. It has won five of its last seven matchups, including a four-game winning streak that featured a win against the Cowboys on Thanksgiving, a victory over versus the undefeated Pittsburgh Steelers and last week's 23-15 triumph over the San Francisco 49ers -- last year's NFC Conference champions.
With three games left in the regular season, Washington controls its own destiny and has a chance to earn its first playoff appearance since 2015. Here's how Washington ranks among the other teams ahead of Week 15.
Last Week's Ranking: 26
Current Ranking: 18
John Keim: "This is what everyone anticipated entering the season: The defense would have to lead this franchise, and it has. With five first-round picks along the defensive line and the No. 2 overall pick in Chase Young, that's how it should be. Washington's defense ranks in the top 10 in both yards and points allowed; it hasn't finished a season that way since 2008.
The offense needs work and remains inconsistent; that, too, hasn't been a surprise. At season's start, coach Ron Rivera said it might not be until 2021 that the offense really starts humming. This team is better with quarterback Alex Smith but still inconsistent. The special-teams coverage has been good, and punter Tress Way has been terrific."
Last Week: 19
Dan Hanzus: "Chase Young is transforming into the dominant player Washington thought it was getting when it selected the Ohio State All-American with the second overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. In Sunday's 23-15 win over the 49ers, Young became the fifth player since 2000 to record a sack, force a fumble, recover a fumble, record a defensive touchdown and have two passes defensed in one game. Washington's defensive front is loaded with talented players, but no one jumps out quite like Young, a born playmaker who possesses a rare combination of size and speed. The win, coupled with a Giants loss to the Cardinals, puts Washington all alone atop the NFC East with three games to play. Young looms as an X-factor."
Last Week: 18
NFL Staff: "The Washington Football Team offense was anemic against the San Francisco 49ers. Quarterbacks Alex Smith and Dwayne Haskins went a combined 15-of-32 for 95 yards and an interception, and Washington finished with less than 200 yards of total offense.
And yet, Washington now sits all alone in first place in the NFC East after notching an eight-point win. It can thank its defense for that. Washington's pass rush made Nick Mullens miserable, sacking him four times and racking up a dozen QB hits. It scored twice on defense, including a scoop-and-score fumble return by second overall pick Chase Young."
Last Week: 17
Mark Maske: "Chase Young made a huge play with the TD return on the fumble recovery, and suddenly Washington is the team to beat in the NFC East. This has become a reasonably proficient team, and Coach Rivera and QB Alex Smith deserve a ton of credit. But Smith's injured calf is a major concern."
Last Week: 21
Pete Prisco: "Their defense is good enough to win the NFC East. They get more dominant by the week on that side of the ball, but here comes Russell Wilson."
Last Week: 22
Cam Ellis: "Chase Young is going to absolutely RUIN one of the NFC's elite QBs next month."
Last Week: 20
Vinnie Iyer: "Ron Rivera needs some coach of the year consideration given what adversity he, his team and his organization have gone through. He is still a heck of a defensive-minded coach, one armed with a cornerstone named Chase Young."
Last Week: 21
Jenny Vrentas: "With four straight wins, Washington is now in the driver's seat of the NFC East. They beat the 49ers without scoring an offensive touchdown; its defense, instead, found the end zone twice."
Last Week: 20
Danny Kelly: "It all starts up front for Washington, whose talent-loaded front line sets the tone like few other units in the NFL. That was definitely the case in their 23-15 win over the 49ers on Sunday, when rookie Chase Young and a bevy of others controlled the game from start to finish. In total, Washington's defense sacked quarterback Nick Mullens four times, hit him another 12 and forced two turnovers -- one of which was scooped up and run back for a touchdown by Young himself in the second quarter."