The Washington Commanders caught a scheduling break, but fans nationwide will never know because the team is barely on prime time.
No Thanksgiving or Christmas games. No international contests. Aside from a Thursday night at Chicago on Oct. 13 and Monday nighter at Philadelphia on Nov. 14, Washington plays the backwater starts of 1 p.m. Sundays. Indeed, it's the first time in FedEx Field's 25-year history the team has no night games or even 4 p.m. starts.
Better light that tailgate fire early.
Ironically, it could be the team's first 10-win season since 2012. The Commanders are tied with the Dallas Cowboys for the softest schedule with a couple freebies to start against Jacksonville and Detroit. If Washington isn't 2-0, FedUp Field will be empty come October.
At least the NFL didn't repeat that cutesy five-game NFC East ending of last year that doomed Washington to a 7-10 finish. Division games are sprinkled apart aside playing the New York Giants before and after its Dec. 10 bye. A week 14 bye seems late, but this team is always so battered that a late break might be a good respite before finishing its final three games.
Indeed, maybe the schedule makers sense something because Washington hosts Dallas in the finale on Jan. 7 or 8. You want Dallas? Well, you're going to have to wait.
The schedule is mostly alternate home/away games aside two spots in the season. So, no month-long gap on the road.
The hardest stretch is weeks 4 through 10. Washington plays at Dallas, hosts Tennessee, visits Chicago, welcomes Green Bay, travels to Indianapolis, returns against Minnesota and heads to Philadelphia. Playoff hopes demand at least 4-3, but Chicago is the only soft opponent.
Ten wins are possible. It means splitting the divisional games versus Dallas, Philadelphia and the New York Giants. Washington must beat Jacksonville, Detroit, Chicago, Minnesota, Houston, Atlanta and Cleveland. Naturally, the Commanders will lose a couple of those games so Washington will need an upset versus Indianapolis and San Francisco.
The worrisome part is coach Ron Rivera's teams are historically slow starters. Maybe it's treating the preseason like pesky scrimmages, but the first two seasons saw poor starts before rebounding. Playoff teams don't get such grace periods.
Washington's offense figures to have six new starters, including quarterback Carson Wentz and an interior offensive line. It needs a big rebound by the defense, including defensive ends Chase Young and Montez Sweat plus cornerback William Jackson.
There are plenty of ifs, and or buts for this team, but if it can leverage a weak schedule and play to its potential, the Commanders can earn their first winning season since 2016.
Rick Snider has covered Washington sports since 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @Snide_Remarks.