Chase Young-led defense is again Washington's best hope

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WASHINGTON (7-10)

New faces: QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, CB William Jackson, WR Curtis Samuel, WR Adam Humphries, TE Sammis Reyes, LB Jamin Davis, OT Sam Cosmi, WR Dyami Brown, G Ereck Flowers, OT Charles Leno, EDGE Shaka Toney, DB Benjamin St-Juste, LS Camaron Cheeseman.

QB Alex Smith, OT Morgan Moses, LB Kevin Pierre-Louis, CB Fabian Moreau, CB Jimmy Moreland, EDGE Ryan Kerrigan, LB Ryan Anderson, OL Geron Christian, WR Dontrelle Inman, TE Jeremy Sprinkle, LS Nick Sundberg.

Strengths: The defense led by AP Defensive Rookie of the Year Chase Young could be just as good as last season after ranking second in the NFL. Young, fellow edge rusher Montez Sweat and stalwart defensive linemen Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne should torment opposing quarterbacks, and the linebacking corps is better with the addition of first-round pick Jamin Davis. The return of veteran safety Landon Collins and some other secondary changes could pay big dividends for defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio's unit.

Weaknesses: The offense is still a major question mark now with 38-year-old Ryan Fitzpatrick running the show as the undisputed starting quarterback. Coach Ron Rivera is expecting Fitzpatrick, running back Antonio Gibson, top receiver Terry McLaurin and tight end Logan Thomas to help Washington have at least an average offense after being among the worst in the league on that side of the ball last season.

Camp Development: The lack of drama, injuries and roster flux during training camp was refreshing for an organization that used to bathe in controversy. The most impressive development is actually a majority of unvaccinated players getting inoculated against the virus after Washington went into camp with one of the lowest rates in the league. Rivera has tried to stress the importance of vaccination not only because of his health as a cancer survivor but the potential impacts on player availability this season.

Fantasy Player To Watch: Gibson is the guy in all situations now after the release of short-yardage back Peyton Barber. A receiver at Memphis, Gibson could be Rivera's next version of Christian McCaffrey because he can do it all on the ground and in the passing game. A toe injury slowed Gibson late in 2020, but he's healthy now and will be a centerpiece of the offense.

FanDuel Says: Win Super Bowl: 50-1. Over/under wins: 8 1/2

Expectations: Unless injuries or virus absences derail Washington, Rivera's bunch should again be in the mix to contend for the NFC East title and a playoff berth. The defense alone makes that possible despite matchups against Tom Brady's defending champion Buccaneers, Aaron Rodgers' Packers and Josh Allen's Bills. If Fitzpatrick limits interceptions and manages the offense with any consistency, there's no reason to think Washington won't give the Cowboys and Giants a good run for first place.

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More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

The Associated Press

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