Posted on: August 19, 2023, 09:23h.
Last updated on: August 19, 2023, 11:09h.
Washington Commanders head coach Ron Rivera stated that Sam Howell will be the team’s starting quarterback in the season opener against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 1.
Howell becomes the sixth quarterback to start the season opener since Kirk Cousins left Washington in 2018.
The Commanders were 8-8-1 last season and bubbled an NFC playoff berth. Three teams from the NFC East secured spots in the playoffs, but the Commanders were not one of them. The NFC East was the only division in the NFL last season that did not have any teams with a losing record in 2022.
The Dallas Cowboys (12-5) secured the #5 seed, and the New York Giants (9-7-1) were the #6 seed as NFC Wild Card teams. The Philadelphia Eagles (14-3) won the NFC East, and also locked up the #1 seed and a first-round bye in the NFC Playoffs. The Eagles won the NFC Championship, but lost to the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LVII.
Howell Started (and Won) One Game as a Rookie
The Commanders selected Howell with a fifth-round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft out of North Carolina. He rode the bench during his rookie season until the final game of the season.
Carson Wentz was the starting quarterback of the Commanders last season. After the Commanders were eliminated from the playoff hunt, Rivera and the organization wanted to see what Howell could do. The rookie got his first start in Week 18 against the Cowboys.
Howell showed competence by completing 57.9% of his passes for 169 yards with one touchdown and one interceptions. He also rushed five times for 35 yards and a touchdown. Howell became the first Washington quarterback in a decade to throw a touchdown pass and rush for a touchdown in the same game. Robert Griffin III was the last quarterback to achieve that feat in 2012.
It is about the QB making plays they’re supposed to make, and every now and then when you need a big play, make a big play,” head coach Rivera said about Howell after the win.
Howell led the Commanders to a 26-6 victory. The Cowboys played their starters in Week 18 in an attempt to win a division title and secure a better playoff seed. Howell spoiled the Cowboys bid to win the NFC East, and he ended the season on a positive note.
The Commanders biggest offseason move was hiring Eric Bieniemy as their new offensive coordinator. The hiring was surprising because Bieniemy was a favorite to land a head coaching job. Bieniemy won two Super Bowls as the offensive coordinator with the Kansas City Chiefs, including a victory in Super Bowl LVII.
Riverboat Ron Gambles on Howell
The Commanders had Howell, veteran Jacoby Brissett, and inexperienced backup Jake Fromm on the roster entering 2023 training camp. The Commanders parted ways with Wentz in the offseason.
Brissett had a career record of 18-30 as a starter, including a 4-7 record in 2022 with the Cleveland Browns. He had started 30 games with the Indianapolis Colts, 11 with the Browns, five with the Miami Dolphins, and two games with the New England Patriots during his career.
Rivera knew that he could rely on Brissett to start if Howell was not ready. However, Howell looked good in training camp and played well enough in their first preseason game to earn the starting job. The Commanders defeated the Browns, 17-15, and Howell completed 9-for-12 passes for 77 yards and one touchdown.
This was about what Sam did,” Rivera said. “Jacoby has been a true pro and done everything asked, and he’s also helped mentor Sam. He’s a more than viable quarterback. There were certain things Sam had to show us, and everybody knew from my perspective it was Sam’s to lose, and he did nothing to lose it.”
Rivera had a long meeting with Bieniemy, and also consulted with quarterbacks coach Tavita Pritchard before they all agreed that Howell was ready to start.
“It means a lot,” said Howell. “All my work is ahead of me. This is only the beginning.”
“Sam is in a really good spot,” said Bieniemy. “He’s a guy that’s growing.”
“The biggest thing I’m really pleased about has been Sam’s decision-making, and that has been a big plus,” Rivera added.
Betting the Long-Shot Commanders
Rivera enters his fourth season as the head coach of the Commanders. He has a 22-27-1 record with the Commanders, but has yet to post a winning season since replacing Jay Gruden in 2020.
The NFC East was the weakest division in the NFL in 2020, which is why a team with a losing record won the division crown. Rivera led the Commanders to the 2020 NFC East division title and a postseason berth with a 7-9 record.
There’s been wild speculation that the Commanders hired Bieniemy under the assumption he would take over as head coach if Rivera did not produce a winning season in 2023.
Oddsmakers installed the Commanders with a win total of 6.5 over/under. The under pays -120 odds, and the over is even money at +100.
The Commanders are +300 odds to make the playoffs according to a prop bet by DraftKings. They are a favorite at -370 odds to miss the playoffs for a third season in a row under Rivera.
The Commanders won four Super Bowls between the 1982 and 1991 seasons including back-to-back championships in 1982 and 1983. They have not won a conference title or a Super Bowl since 1991.
The Commanders are +6500 odds to win Super Bowl LVIII, and +4000 odds to win the NFC Championship.
The Eagles are the consensus favorite to win the NFC East at -135 odds, followed by the Cowboys (+190), Giants (+850), and the long-shot Commanders (+1600).
Earlier in the week, the Indianapolis Colts named rookie Anthony Richardson their Week 1 starter at quarterback. The Tampa Bay Bucs are the only team that has yet to name a starting quarterback, but Baker Mayfield has the inside track over Kyle Trask.