As the National Football League (NFL) gets ready to begin the season, it’s clear the Washington Football Team (WFT) is getting better. Finally.

For the past 20 seasons, the WFT has had only five winning seasons and has won one playoff game. That’s one of the worst records in the NFL.

Ron Rivera, however, is turning things around. In 2020, his first season as Washington’s head coach, Rivera led the WFT to a National Football Conference East division title and a spot in the playoffs. The team record of 7-9

(seven wins, nine losses) was not great, but five of the losses were by seven points or fewer. For the first time in years, Washington had a competitive team.

So how do things shape up this season, which begins Sunday against the Los Angeles Chargers? Let’s take a look.

The WFT has a new quarterback, veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick is not a great quarterback. If he were, he would not be playing on his ninth team in 17 seasons in the NFL. Teams usually try to keep great quarterbacks.

Still, Fitzpatrick should be a big improvement over last season’s WFT quarterbacks. Alex Smith was a great story coming back from a devastating leg injury, but the WFT offense was 30th (out of 32 teams) in yards gained and only 25th in points scored.

Fitzpatrick should be able to throw to plenty of targets. Wide receiver Terry McLaurin (87 catches and 1,118 yards last season) is back along with tight end Logan Thomas (72 catches) and running back Antonio Gibson. Curtis Samuel should help when he gets healthy.

The WFT defense was terrific last season. It was ranked second in yards allowed and fourth in points allowed. The defensive line led by four first-round draft picks — Chase Young, Jonathan Allen, Daron Payne and Montez Sweat — is as strong a unit as there is in the NFL.

The linebackers should be more athletic with 2021 first-round draft pick Jamin Davis of the University of Kentucky starting in the middle.

An improved offense and a rock-solid defense should mean a winning season, right? Not necessarily. The WFT may be better, but it has a brutal schedule.

Washington plays five teams — the Buffalo Bills, New Orleans Saints, Kansas City Chiefs, Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks — that won their divisions last season with a combined regular season record of 64-16.

The WFT also has to play the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers and their legendary quarterback, Tom Brady.

That’s six games when the the team could play well and still lose. That means the Washington players will have to win a lot of their remaining 11 games to have a winning season.

I think they will fall short at 8-9. But they will be better.