Predictably Irrational: The Redskins Road To the 2017 Playoffs

By | November 10, 2017
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My life as a Redskins fan, for at least the past quarter-of-a-century, is best defined by one quote:

I wanted to think I could detach myself from this team, even just a little bit, after two ugly, double-digit losses to the hated Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys.

Given that this Redskins team was probably one of the three most injury-ravaged teams in the NFL, I wanted to mentally prepare myself for a 6-10 season, and pay a little more attention to the Washington Wizards and Washington Capitals, whom i’ve basically neglected entirely this Fall.

(Although, given the facts that nobody not named “Alex Ovechkin” can score any goals for the Caps this season, and that the Washington Wizards couldn’t stop a local rec league basketball team from putting up 110+ points on them, I don’t feel all that bad about the neglect).

Instead, i’m still riding the high of the Redskins win last Sunday, against the Seattle Seahawks. I don’t think you can overstate the magnitude or the importance of the win. For one, they went in and beat a team that will be in the playoffs this season, in the toughest stadium for road teams in the NFL. And while it might only be a one-game difference in the standings, a 4-4 record through eight games has a much better feel than a 3-5 record.

And now, even though I should know better, I’m pouring myself a tall glass of Burgundy and Gold Kool-Aid, and peeking ahead to the second half of the Redskins’ 2017 schedule, and convincing myself that a return trip to the playoffs is very realistic possibility.

Let’s start with this Sunday’s game against Minnesota. The Vikings will be somewhat rested and extra prepared, coming off a bye week. Their defense is ranked 9th in overall DVOA. Defensive end Everson Griffen is tied for second in the NFL for most sacks this season with 10; he’s one of only two players in the league to record a sack in every game he’s played in this year. In the secondary, cornerback Xavier Rhodes and safety Harrison Smith are playing at their usual Pro Bowl levels; both guys have been among the very best at their position all year long. But as good as the defense has been this year, it’s the offense that’s been the most pleasant surprise this season, to date. How many teams can play this well when they lose their starting quarterback and running back for a majority of the season? Yet backup quarterback Case Keenum has come in and played tremendously for Minnesota, to the point where the team is in no hurry to reintegrate incumbent quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who is close to being cleared for play after sustaining a gruesome knee injury before the 2016 season. And in place of Cook, running back Jerrick McKinnon has played brilliantly; in three of the last four games, McKinnon has accumulated 99 or more combined yards, and found the endzone at least once.

The following week, Washington heads to New Orleans, to play a Saints team that: 1) has won six straight games after losing their first two; 2) isn’t just winning games, but beating down opponents in the process (their average margin of victory in those six games is 15.3 points); 3) quietly turned Drew Brees into more of a “caretaker” quarterback — he’s currently 10th in the NFL in passing attempts, after leading the league in that stat every year he’s been in New Orleans — while leading with a smash-mouth running game featuring Mark Ingram (8th in the NFL in rushing yards) and rookie Alvin Kamara (a darkhorse rookie of the year candidate); and 4) somehow has a defense that’s not only ranked 8th in overall defensive DVOA, but ranked fourth in passing defense DVOA (rookie cornerback Marshon Lattimore could already be one of the top five or seven cornerbacks in the NFL , if not higher)

Trying to incorporate any semblance of pragmatism, while I pour myself another glass of the aforementioned Burgundy and Gold Kool-Aid, let’s say Washington splits those two games (I think they have a much better chance at beating Minnesota than they do New Orleans, to be honest). That puts them at 5-5, heading into their Thanksgiving Day game against the tanking New York Giants (as an aside: the worst thing that can happen to Redskins fans is if the Giants fire their hilariously incompetent head coach Ben McAdoo between now and Thanksgiving; the longer he coaches this team, the more certain I am that they’ll finish 1-15 this season).

BEST HALFTIME SPEECH, EVER.

And look at the schedule after Thanksgiving:

  • At home against the Arizona Cardinals, who currently rank 26th in the NFL in points scored per game (17.2) and have Drew Stanton at quarterback.
  • At home against the Denver Broncos, who 1) are 4-8 on the road since the start of 2016, and 2) have Brock Osweiler at quarterback. If you ranked all 32 starting quarterbacks in the NFL as of today, i’m not 100% sold that Osweiler is better than Brett Hundley (who’s looked god awful) and Deshone Kizer (who’s about five years away from being a viable starter), though i’m 99.9% sold on starting Jay Cutler, Drew Stanton, Mitch Trubisky, or even Tom Savage ahead of Osweiler. That’s how bad he is.
  • At New York, to take on a Giants team that could — or should — be starting Davis Webb by that point in the season.

Translation: if we come into Thanksgiving Day with a 5-5 record, it’s totally realistic to see the Redskins go 5-1 in that stretch of games, meaning a 10-6 record at season’s end is still very much on the table.

Think about it: the offensive line could/should get at least a little bit healthier over the next few weeks. We might not get Trent Williams back (I wouldn’t be surprised if they shut him down for the season at some point in the near future) but we could get Ty Nsekhe back to fill in for him. Maybe we get back Brandon Scherff back sooner rather than later as well, which can only help the chances that Kirk Cousins doesn’t get killed by the total lack of blocking provided by “TJ the Turnstyle” (TJ Clemmings) and “The Catalina Wine Mixer” (Tyler Catalina).

The defense is mostly healthy, outside of Jonathan Allen (damn it would’ve been great to have him for the rest of the season), Matt “King” Ioannidis (who we should get back for some portion of December). And even as undermanned as the defensive line is right now, Jim Tomsula has that group playing absolutely out of its mind. The rest of the defense is actually getting a bit healthier, save for the usual bumps and bruises suffered by players at this point in the season.

At 4-4, the Redskins are towards the back of the mosh pit in the NFC playoff race (though, again, they would’ve been MUCH further back in said mosh pit if they were 3-5). The NFC East crown is probably out of the question, given the way Philadelphia is playing. Seattle, Carolina, Dallas, Atlanta, and Detroit are all ahead of the Redskins, in the race for the two Wild Card spots. But, I still think Atlanta is well on their way to a 7-9 season. Dallas has one more game against us, and both their games against Philadelphia remaining. Who knows if the Seahawks defense can endure what looks like a season-ending injury to Richard Sherman. Three of Detroit’s four wins are against teams who are on their way to miserable seasons this year (the Cardinals, Giants, and Packers post-Aaron Rodgers), although they have a bunch of cupcakes on their remaining schedule as well.

But the Redskins are 7-4 over the last two seasons, in games played after Thanksgiving Day; ironically enough, they’re 4-1 in that span in road games. And three of the last five games they play this year are on the road.

In other words: “playoffs?!?” Yeah, we’re talking about the playoffs.

Now pour me another glass of that Burgundy and Gold juice; that’s some strong shit right there.

Week 10 Picks

Seattle (-6) at Arizona — pick made Thursday evening
Minnesota (-1) at Washington
Green Bay at Chicago (-5.5)
Pittsburgh (-10) at Indianapolis
LA Chargers at Jacksonville (-4)
NY Jets (-2.5) at Tampa Bay
Cincinnati at Tennessee (-4.5)
New Orleans (-3) at Buffalo
Cleveland at Detroit (-12.5)
Houston at LA Rams (-12)
Dallas at Atlanta (-3)
NY Giants (-2.5) at San Francisco
New England (-7.5) at Denver
Miami at Carolina (-9)

Last Week: 8-4
Season To Date: 52-57-2

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