Posted 09/04/2011 at 11:57 AM
Last season Washington got off to a 3-2 start and the wins were not of the cheap variety, beating Dallas, winning at Philadelphia, and the knocking off Green Bay. The Redskins needed overtime to beat the Packers but Washington also lost an overtime game against Houston in week 2 and could have just as easily been a 4-1 team at that point in the season. Washington then lost a 3-point game against the Colts and then won in Chicago for a healthy 4-3 start to the Mike Shanahan era. Things went downhill from there. Week 8 was the controversial game against the Lions where Shanahan benched McNabb in favor of Rex Grossman in the final two possessions. This was a game Washington had led 25-20 halfway through the fourth quarter and the move backfired with a fumble return sealing the game. Amidst the controversy and distractions the Redskins were hammered on Monday night following the bye week against the Eagles and then won just two games the rest of the way. Four of the final five losses came by just four points or less so while the Redskins finished 6-10 they were in most games. Washington allowed 377 points last season which tied for second best in the division and if you take out the 59-point game against Philadelphia Washington had very respectable defensive numbers for the year.
For most Washington still projects as the clear #4 team in the NFC East but that does not mean an improved record can not happen. The NFC East faces all four NFC West teams and Washington should have opportunities to win each of those games. As a benefit of finishing fourth in the division last season, the Redskins are the only NFC East team that gets to play Carolina and Minnesota, two rebuilding teams that could struggle this season. Washington does have to play the four AFC East teams which will be a challenge but the Jets and Patriots both must play at Washington so an upset is not unthinkable. Washington also has a relatively easy first half schedule which should allow for a positive start to the season that could carry some momentum into the tougher games later in the year. Washington has the first two games of the season at home and in the first eight games will play Arizona, Dallas, St. Louis, Carolina, Buffalo, and San Francisco, six teams that all had losing records last season. The final five weeks of the season will be a big challenge but Washington is a team that could actually be in the playoff picture most of the season with a very respectable record.
Preseason wins certainly do not mean anything but what Washington has done this preseason is important. The Redskins were one of the worst rushing teams in the NFL last season, averaging only 91 yards per game, better than only two other teams. That was from a Mike Shanahan coached team that thrived running the ball in Denver. In the preseason the Redskins have rushed for 140, 215, and 103 yards in three games and the low rushing mark of 103 came against a Baltimore defense that is committed to stopping the run. The Redskins lack a proven star RB but Tim Hightower has looked very effective in the preseason and can be a threat in the rushing and passing game. While John Beck and Rex Grossman are not as established as Donovan McNabb, the move will be positive for the Redskins as it should keep the team with a rush-first persona. The defense has some elite playmakers and while the teams above Washington in the NFC East look like more talented teams, none of the three is without flaws and certainly could be ripe for an upset in the right situation. All in all Washington is a team that has a favorable schedule and is probably just an upset or two away from a winning season.