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As an NFL punter breaking down the schedule release, Tress Way had to start with his weather takes.
He's "super jacked" about going to Buffalo in late-September since he played there in November of 2019 and described it as "brutal." He's also excited about being indoors for a few games later in the season, mentioning trips to Las Vegas and Dallas in Weeks 13 and 16, respectively.
"I heard it one time on Grant & Danny: it's just great to give Mother Nature the middle finger once in a while where, 'Hey, it's supposed to be cold and windy and raining, but nope we're going to play in a dome instead,' and I'm a big fan of that as a punter."
However, when circling his favorite matchups on the calendar each year, climate does not play a factor. He immediately looks at when the Washington Football Team is playing the rest of the NFC East.
"Any time you play somebody in your frickin' division on the road," Way told senior vice president of media and content Julie Donaldson on 2021 NFL Schedule Release Night. "If you can walk in and beat a division opponent at their place, best feeling in the world."
Unfortunately for Way, Washington will have to wait all the way until Week 15 to play its first NFC East road game in Philadelphia. It will then travel to Dallas a week later before closing out the season in New York two weeks after that. All of these matchups are a part of the team's first five-game division stretch since 1970 and the first for any franchise since the NFL expanded to 32 teams and the eight-division format in 2002.
Regardless of how fast or slow Washington starts the season, repeating as NFC East champions will likely come down to how it fares in December and January. Way said Washington will try and find its identity and "build up some cushion" so that it's as prepared as possible for that all-important stretch.
"I had a coach one time say that those divisional games are like one and a half," Way said. "Whereas every other game is just worth one, if you get those divisional games, it's worth one and a half. It's just something about that week. The coaches know each other really well, the players know each other really well, so it just carries that extra weight all week for sure."
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Other schedule highlights for Way include the Week 9 bye, which he says is ideal because it comes in the middle of the season -- "it's just a really great breather" -- and the three primetime contests in Week 2 against the Giants (Thursday night), Week 12 versus the Seattle Seahawks (Monday night) and Week 16 at the Cowboys (Sunday night).
"I'm kind of cheesy, so I dig being the only game on in town," Way said, but that's not the only reason he enjoys lacing up his cleats under the lights.
When he is home during the season, he and his wife sit on the couch after putting their kids to bed and watch whatever game is on that night. He imagines a lot of other football families having the same routine, so he is honored when he has the chance to be a part of those national events.
"It gives you a pretty good nod where they want to see you out there competing while everybody else is watching," Way said. "I'm not surprised [about the number of primetime games], and I'm also pretty jacked up for that. It's a lot of fun."
If Way had to pick a personal favorite game, though, it would be Washington's Week 6 home matchup with the Kansas City Chiefs. His family, like every other football fan, can't wait to see Patrick Mahomes go up against one of the league's best defenses, but Way will be keeping his eye out for a player who would prefer to go unrecognized: long snapper James Winchester.
Winchester was Way's long snapper at Oklahoma, and the two are the only members of Oklahoma's 2008 recruiting class still playing football. Way called Winchester one of his "very best friends," so he anticipates competing against him for the first time since 2006 will be a surreal feeling.
Even better is that the reunion will be at FedExfield, which expects to operate at full capacity in 2021 after a mostly empty stadium last season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The crowd likely won't impact Way or Winchester's effectiveness, but it could go a long way towards helping Washington succeed against a difficult home schedule.
"Having the fans there, it would have been so fun to feed off that," Way said, "and also where fans really come into play is your defense. And now that we are just kind of viewed as this defensive presence in the NFL, I'm really pumped that they're going to be back. I think that'll make a big difference where you'll see people getting pretty crazy against the Tom Bradys and the Pat Mahomes and even Justin Herbert Week 1, so I think it'll be cool."