Commanders’ 2023 NFL schedule offers few favors from the league


The good news is there will be a Washington-Dallas duel on Thanksgiving again this year.

The bad news? The NFL did the Commanders no favors with the rest of their 2023 schedule, which could be their first under new ownership. Among the features:

• A Week 14 bye, just as Washington had last season.

• Only one prime-time slot.

• Only one game over a 23-day span after Thanksgiving.

• Matchups with the Aaron Rodgers-led New York Jets, the San Francisco 49ers and Cowboys to close the season.

The Commanders will open their season Sept. 10 against the Arizona Cardinals at FedEx Field, a matchup that will probably pit presumed starting quarterback Sam Howell against former Washington signal caller Colt McCoy. Cardinals starter Kyler Murray is recovering from a torn ACL suffered in December and could miss the opener, according to reports.

The game is a rematch of sorts between Washington offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy and Cardinals Coach Jonathan Gannon —Bieniemy, who was previously the Chiefs’ offensive coordinator, helped Kansas City to a Super Bowl LVII win over the Eagles in February, when Gannon was Philadelphia’s defensive coordinator and at least on paper, the Commanders should have the edge.

Rating every game on the Commanders’ 2023 schedule

Although there was some hope that Washington would get an international game, the team wasn’t selected for any of the NFL’s five games in Europe. Instead, the Commanders will stay stateside with one of the more challenging schedules in the league; based on opponents’ winning percentage in 2022, Washington has the eighth-most difficult schedule.

Under a scheduling formula that started in 2002, all teams play each other on a rotating cycle. This season, the Commanders will face all four teams in the NFC West as well as the AFC East.

The Commanders also will play two interconference games and one nonconference game based on their fourth-place divisional ranking last season. In Week 5, on “Thursday Night Football,” Washington will host Chicago, the NFC North’s fourth-place finisher last year. The game will be a rematch of last year’s Thursday night game at Soldier Field.

In Week 6, the Commanders will hit the road to take on Atlanta Falcons, which signed former Washington quarterback Taylor Heinicke in free agency and added running back Bijan Robinson in the first round of the draft.

Washington’s other nonconference matchup will be a road game in Week 2 against the Denver Broncos, who will have Coach Sean Payton on the sideline. Washington is 7-8 all-time against the Broncos, but only 2-6 in Denver. The last time Washington won in Denver, Marty Schottenheimer was its coach and Tony Banks its starting quarterback.

The schedule-makers loaded the middle of Washington’s slate with difficult stretches, including a Week 3 home game against Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills, followed by a road meeting with Jalen Hurts and the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 4 and the Bears on a short week.

Washington will face the Giants at MetLife Stadium and host the Eagles in Weeks 7 and 8, then crisscross the country for back-to-back road games. In Week 9, the Commanders will head north to play the Patriots at Gillette Stadium. In Week 10, they will fly west to face Geno Smith and the Seahawks in Seattle.

Two more critical division games await the Commanders when they return — first a home game against the Giants and then the Thanksgiving game against the Cowboys in Dallas.

The game will be Washington’s 13th game on Thanksgiving and 11th against the Cowboys (Dallas has won eight). Their last meeting was in 2020, when Washington played in a partially filled AT&T Stadium because of the coronavirus pandemic and crushed the Cowboys, 41-16, to move into first place in the NFC East.

Washington’s final game before its bye is a Dec. 3 matchup with the Miami Dolphins, featuring quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and a defense now led by coordinator Vic Fangio.

The can’t-miss games on the 2023 NFL schedule

That game will be the only Commanders game in a span of 23 days, creating a potentially jarring closing run for players and coaches. After the lull, they will play the Rams at SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles in Week 15 and the Jets at MetLife Stadium in Week 16.

The Commanders’ final two games have the potential to be their toughest. In Week 17, they host the 49ers, whose coach and play-caller (Kyle Shanahan) and myriad playmakers — running back Christian McCaffrey, wide receiver Deebo Samuel and tight end George Kittle — give defenses fits.

Washington closes the season at FedEx Field against the Cowboys, a division game that could have significant playoff implications if the race is tight. As in previous seasons, the league did not yet assign days and times for that weekend but will announce them no later than Jan. 6.

For 2023, the NFL also expanded flexible scheduling to include “Monday Night Football” as well as “Sunday Night Football.” During flex scheduling windows, only Sunday afternoon games or those with slots not yet determined are eligible to be moved into the Sunday night or Monday night window.

The league also will announce the dates of two of the three preseason games at a later time. Washington will open its three-game slate in Cleveland against the Browns, then host the Ravens on Aug. 21 in an 8 p.m. game on ESPN. The Commanders’ preseason finale against the Bengals at FedEx Field will offer one final tryout for before rosters are pared.

The Commanders’ first and last preseason games, against the Browns and Bengals, will air locally on NBC4 and include former Washington returner Brian Mitchell as an analyst, Chick Hernandez as the play-by-play announcer and former tight end Logan Paulsen as the sideline analyst.

They aren’t the only changes though.

The team also may change ownership in the coming months. A group led by Josh Harris, the owner of the Philadelphia 76ers and New Jersey Devils, reached a tentative agreement to purchase the Commanders from Daniel Snyder for $6.05 billion. But the timing of approval from owners was called into question this week after the league’s eight-owner finance committee met in New York.

Although there is still hope of the sale going through, the concerns raised during the meeting about the tentative agreement could slow the momentum for ratification from the rest of ownership (24 of the NFL’s 32 team owners must vote to approve the sale).

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