Alex Smith, Washington Clinch 2020 NFC East Title with Win vs. Eagles

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistJanuary 4, 2021

Washington Football Team's Logan Thomas (82) and J.D. McKissic (41) celebrate McKissic's touchdown as Chase Roullier (73), Terry McLaurin (17) and Alex Smith (11) look on during the first half of the team's NFL football game against the Dallas Cowboys in Arlington, Texas, Thursday, Nov. 26, 2020. (AP Photo/Ron Jenkins)
Ron Jenkins/Associated Press

The Washington Football Team was crowned the NFC East champion thanks to its 20-14 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles in the final game of the regular season.

Washington Football Team @WashingtonNFL


Washington Football Team @WashingtonNFL

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Expectations weren't high for Washington entering the season. B/R's consensus power rankings put the team in 29th prior to Week 1.

Washington won three games in 2019 and didn't radically overhaul the roster. Ron Rivera's preparations ahead of his first year in charge were also sidetracked somewhat as he became a front-facing figure for the organization as it pivoted away from its old nickname.

A 1-5 start seemed to justify all the existing concerns about the franchise's short-term direction.

When Alex Smith took over for an injured Kyle Allen after a Week 8 bye, it made for a great story as the three-time Pro Bowler completed an improbable comeback from a leg injury that required 17 surgeries. Few expected Smith to make a meaningful difference given his lengthy layoff, and Washington proceeded to drop its first two games with him under center.

Then the WFT reeled off a four-game winning streak, a run that included a 41-16 win over the Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving. Rivera's squad followed that up by handing the Pittsburgh Steelers their first loss.

B/R's Brad Gagnon wrote after that result about how Washington had transformed into an imposing opponent:

"Now, courtesy of a prime-time-ish, standalone win that will hold a place in the hearts of Washington football fans for years to come regardless of how this season ends, America has to acknowledge the WFT. 

"Against a Super Bowl contender attempting to maintain its grasp on the top seed in the AFC, we got to see Young, Daron Payne and Montez Sweat play difference-making roles as part of a defensive front that features five first-round picks. We got to see an epic goal-line stand in which the Steelers were shut down on five consecutive plays at the Washington goal line, we got to see that unit hold Pittsburgh to 21 total rushing yards on 14 carries, and we got to see Smith's best performance yet under extremely challenging circumstances."

Early in the season, the NFC East was a punching bag—and for good reason. A six-win division champion seemed to be a plausible outcome at one point. Though that's exactly what happened, Washington has almost single-handedly restored a sheen of respectability.

The WFT might have the worst record in the postseason field, but nobody will be savoring a matchup against them. Prior to Week 17, they were only allowing 310.5 yards per game, fourth-fewest in the league, which compensates for what has been a below-average offense.

The Steelers win was a blueprint for how Washington could topple its Wild Card Round opponent. It made a goal-line stop and forced another turnover on downs when Pittsburgh was deep into opposition territory. The offense, meanwhile, avoided any critical mistakes and wore down the Steelers defense in the second half.

Will the WFT win a Super Bowl? Probably not, but don't be surprised if they play the role of spoiler when matched up with the fifth-seeded Tampa Bay Buccaneers.