A pivotal season begins this weekend when the Washington Commanders host the Arizona Cardinals.
On paper, Washington couldn't have asked for a better matchup. But the pressure will be high regardless of who the Commanders are playing, because it's the first game under new ownership. The first weekend of a new era. And potentially the last first game for Ron Rivera as head coach of the Commanders.
Nobody is sending Rivera on plank walk. It's Week 1; absolutely anything is possible. But most everyone would be remiss if they viewed 2023 as anything other than a prove-it season for the veteran coach.
Even Washington's new owner, Josh Harris, admitted that while he's satisfied with what he's seen from Rivera in his first few months as owner of the Commanders, this is a results-driven league.
"I've really enjoyed getting to know coach Rivera," Harris said on Wednesday, via ESPN's John Keim. "He's a good man; he's done a great job in terms of where the team is relative to where it was when he got here and relative to a lot of the distractions going on.
"He has a very capable front office. We're getting up to speed; we want to hear how you want to learn, how you make decisions. It's going really well. ... Ultimately we have to deliver wins on the field. You don't need to say anything. It's just out there. So far, so good."
The best part about the preseason is that the wins and losses don't count. Coaches get 12 quarters of game time to evaluate players in an attempt to compile the best possible roster for the start of another marathon of a season. And Rivera's squad could be surprisingly good, especially if his choice at quarterback -- second-year passer Sam Howell, who has just one start under his belt in his young career -- delivers a productive campaign.
But the time for boundless optimism is ending. Soon, the games will matter. The results will drive the narrative.
And as Harris noted Wednesday, that's what matters most.
As for how Harris might operate as owner -- regardless of who is coaching his club -- he staked a position on Wednesday that intentionally differs from a division rival located in Dallas. Harris said he kept out of the war room when Washington trimmed its roster to 53, explaining "you want professionals picking the players," per The Washington Post's Sam Fortier. Harris doesn't plan on entering the room in the future, either, leaving the job up to those on his staff.
He took another dig at the Cowboys when explaining his goals for returning the Commanders to prominence: "Dallas was not America’s team. Washington was."
We'll see if Rivera can help him make this a reality once more.