Do the Redskins have enough to make the playoffs?
Expectations have started to build throughout the offseason. Fans and media have had a chance to watch a new look offense, and deeper defense, take the field during OTAs. Gruden’s seat will be slightly warm going into 2018, but not hot. Alex Smith is coming off a career year and looking to duplicate that performance. Rookies Derrius Guice and Da’ron Payne are hoping to be the answers to two glaring holes on the roster last year. Josh Doctson will be looking to prove he is a number one receiver.
The Las Vegas sports books have the Redskins over/under for wins at 7. Bleacher Report has said the Redskins are one of five teams that could surprise the league. What we do know is that the NFC East has improved, and the defending Super Bowl champions reside there.
We are now a few days away from training camp and only 49 days away from the Redskins first game in Arizona. Below are game by game predictions along with what I believe the Redskins final record could be. Do I believe the Redskins have what it takes to make the playoffs? Is there a division title within their grasps? Let’s take a look.
Week 1 at Arizona
The Redskins new look run defense will get an early test as they travel to play David Johnson and the Cardinals in Week 1.
They will see a heavy dose of Johnson as the Cardinals will want to protect the china doll that is Sam Bradford. The match-up on offense to watch throughout the game will be Larry Fitzgerald against the Redskins secondary. Will Josh Norman shadow the All-Pro receiver the entire game, or will the Cardinals coaching staff get creative and try to find ways to avoid this?
The Cardinals defense will also have a little bit of a different look after releasing Tyrann Mathieu. Losing Mathieu will free up more favorable match-ups for Crowder, Richardson and Doctson. The Redskins could test their big play ability early and often against an average secondary. Also look for Derrius Guice to have a 100+ yard debut against what should be a less than stellar run defense.
With all the good that the Redskins will bring into Week 1, you cannot overlook that a Jay Gruden coached team is 0-4 in Week 1. Unfortunately, history will repeat itself and the Redskins will leave Arizona with a disappointing loss that will loom large later in the season.
Prediction – Loss (0-1)
Week 2 vs Indianapolis
The home opener, and Alex Smith’s debut, could not have come against a better opponent to rebound against.
The Indianapolis Colts are still trying to find their identity with Andrew Luck’s shoulder still a question mark. Whether Luck is in the line-up will ultimately decide how close of a win this is going to be for the Redskins. Without Luck playing, the young and hungry pups on the defensive line will swallow up any sense of a rushing attack and force Jacoby Brissett to beat them. Brissett has some talent, but he is not there yet.
The Redskins offense should be on showcase again against an inferior defensive opponent. Guice, Smith and Richardson will all shine in their Redskins home debut with each putting up numbers that will have everyone salivating. Guice will have his second 100-yard rushing game, with Smith passing for over 300 yards and Richardson will flirt with his first 100 yard receiving game.
Prediction – Win (1-1)
Week 3 vs Green Bay
This match-up against the Packers will be the first grab bag, but a must win for the Redskins to make the playoffs this year. There are too many games in the back half of the schedule that are risky to rely on deeming them winnable.
A big weakness for the Packers last year was their pass defense. They worked on improving the cornerback position through the draft by drafting Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson. Both players should see significant playing time in 2018. The Packers will be the first real test for Alex Smith and the offense. But, the veteran presence of Reed, Crowder and Richardson should be able to out match the young secondary. Rodgers will be a test for the Redskins secondary, but their pass rush will be what frustrates the Packers offense the most.
The Redskins are 2-2 against an Aaron Rodgers led Packers team since 2008 including a win at home in 2016. While the Redskins will have a fairly “easy” game against the Colts, the Packers will be coming off a rough and tumble divisional game against the Minnesota Vikings. The Redskins will go over .500 against Rodgers in what will be a close win heading into an early Bye Week.
Prediction – Win (2-1)
Week 5 at New Orleans
A Jay Gruden coached Redskins team is 2-2 after the Bye Week including winning the last two years. You could see the Redskins putting up a fight in New Orleans to avenge last year’s season debilitating loss. Their defense is much improved and should be healthier than their last meeting with the Saints, but their youth will show.
The Redskins offense will need to keep up with the high-powered Saints offense, especially Alvin Kamara. Smith has shown that he can put up points with the best of the best, but the Saints defense is a year older and wiser. I expect the Saints coaching staff to consistently change up looks and keep Smith forcing throws short and in tight pockets. Crowder and Thompson could have decent games, but not being able to really get the run going will hamper play action and the deep ball.
The Redskins will suffer the same fate as last year in New Orleans, minus the season crushing injuries.
Prediction – Loss (2-2)
Week 6 vs Carolina
History does not favor the Redskins when it comes to playing the Panthers. Carolina is 5-0 since 2009 in what have been dominating wins for the Panthers. Cam Newton has proven to be difficult to contain. Newton has a stat line of 73-117 (62% completion) for 1,003 passing yards and 9 passing touchdowns to go along with 112 yards rushing and 2 rushing touchdowns. That has culminated in a 4-0 record. In recent years, Cam has beaten the Redskins with his arm more than his legs, but they still must account for his ability to create on the run.
The game against Carolina will be the proving ground for the Redskins healthy and new look front seven. The best way to get to Cam is to provide pressure up the middle which Payne, Allen and Ioannidis can do. This will create more room for Kerrigan and Smith to collapse the pocket and force turnovers. The deciding match-up in this game will be Luke Kuechly vs. Alex Smith. Smith’s veteran leadership and ability to quickly breakdown coverage schemes will provide an edge to the Redskins. It won’t be a stat packing game, but the Redskins will come away with their first win against Carolina since 2006.
Prediction – Win (3-2)
Week 7 vs Dallas
It’s Dallas week and the Redskins first divisional game of the season. The Cowboys are a good team with one of the best offensive lines and running backs in the NFL. That alone with test the Redskins front seven throughout the game. The Redskins defense will most likely stack the box and force Dak Prescott to beat them through the air. Josh Norman and company will feast at home against this average receiving core and could come down with a couple of picks.
There is always one receiver that comes out and has a breakout game in wins against Dallas. This year will be Josh Doctson. The Cowboys will have to focus on containing Jamison Crowder and Chris Thompson which will open routes along the sideline. The Cowboys secondary is also still trying to find that magic and could be taken advantage of on play action. The Redskins win in a close one heading into their first meeting against the Giants.
Prediction – Win (4-2)
Week 8 at New York Giants
Every season there are trap games. Those where you are either looking ahead at your next opponent, or you just do not rise to the challenge to beat an inferior one. This will be a case of the later.
The Giants are still trying to find an identity on both offense and defense. The Redskins front seven will have just been in a battle against Elliott the week before and could be banged up. Couple that with Saquon Barkley not having hit the rookie wall and he could see a 125+ rushing game. Eli Manning will keep the Redskins in the game with an ill-timed interception or two, but it won’t kill the Giants.
The Redskins offense will be on point, but it is just going to be one of those games.
Prediction – Loss (4-3)
Week 9 vs Atlanta
Week 9 will be a make or break point for the Redskins season. If they are sitting at 4-3 heading into this game, it will be the first of a couple must win games to have a shot at making the playoffs.
The Falcons are still young and hungry on defense. They will also be coming off a bye week and refreshed. Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and Devante Freeman are still really, really good. With that being said, the Redskins will come in extra prepared and focused to play the Falcons.
The Redskins will have been embarrassed and humiliated in New York with the local media starting to question if this team is ready for primetime. Jay Gruden’s manhood will be questioned, and his seat will start to get a little toasty. However, this will be a game where the positional coaches will be the difference. Most notably Jim Tomsula. The defense will come hungry for redemption and ready to eat. This will be one of the defenses most dominant games against what could be a playoff team.
Prediction – Win (5-3)
Week 10 at Tampa Bay
Tampa Bay was one of the most disappointing teams of 2017. Jameis Winston was supposed to have a breakout year and play for a wild card spot in one of the toughest divisions in the NFL. Fast forward to 2018 and the Buccaneers have addressed some key issues on defense. They drafted Vita Vea and signed perennial pain in the ass Jason Pierre-Paul to add to their pass rush. Head Coach Dirk Koetter will be coaching on the hot seat the entire year with Winston suspended for the first three games. This team will be playing with a fire under it the entire year.
The pass rush that the Buccaneers have assembled will set up well for the Redskins screen game. Chris Thompson could wind up with a seven-catch game if the Bucs defensive line gets to anxious. Guice and whomever his immediate back-up will be are going to have to grind out 125-yards rushing minimum. Doing that will keep the pit bulls from pinning their ears back and teeing off on Alex Smith. Either Reed or Davis will be critical in the short passing game and crossing routes.
The Buccaneers will be coming off a divisional road game in Carolina. They will be battered, bruised and looking up in the standings with both the division and a wild card spot. The Redskins will be coming off a home win against a less physical team and an offense that will find a way to break the Buccaneers defense’s spirit. The Redskins will put together a nice little two game winning streak heading into a match-up against the Texans.
Prediction – Win (6-3)
Week 11 vs Houston
Houston’s defense has improved going into 2018 with the return of J.J. Watt and the signing of Tyrann Mathieu. Deshaun Watson will be coming off a knee injury and looking to play in a full 16 game season in his short NFL career. If healthy, the Texans offense will create nightmares as the Redskins have historically been bad against “running quarterbacks.” The schedule makers also gave the Texans a break by giving them a Bye Week in Week 10.
What this game will ultimately come down to is whose team has better depth. Injuries will have crept in at this point and who knows if Jordan Reed, Mason Foster and Trent Williams will be healthy enough to play. But, even with those concerns, the Redskins roster is more talented than the Texans. The Redskins will match their win total from last year with six games to play heading into a short week.
Prediction – Win (7-3)
Week 12 at Dallas
Thanksgiving against Dallas. The last time we had this match-up it did not end well. While the Redskins will have just come off a home game and the Cowboys traveling back from a game at Atlanta, the short week and types of games each team will have played contrasts. What could ultimately come down to deciding this game is which team is healthier. If Dallas’ defense is in shambles, the Redskins will come away with a win. But, playing in Dallas has not been an easy task.
Prediction – Loss (7-4)
Week 13 at Philadelphia
The second game of a back half of a schedule that is brutal comes against the defending Super Bowl champions. The Eagles offense and defense look essentially the same coming into the 2018 season with some minor adjustments. Trey Bruton, who has had timely catches against the Redskins, is now gone. LeGarrette Blount is now on the Lions giving Jay Ajayi the starting duties. And, Carson Wentz should be back to his MVP form from last year. The Eagles will also be coming into this game with the chance to run away with the division. As much as the Redskins roster will be improved, they will be outmatched and out coached.
Prediction – Loss (7-5)
Week 14 vs New York Giants
The Giants will be completely out of it in their second meeting of the season. People will start questioning if Eli Manning will retire or if the Giants will move on. Saquon Barkley will have hit the rookie wall with the amount the Giants will rely on them. With no solid back-up they will struggle to run the ball. Odell Beckham, Jr. will continue to be an issue in the locker room, and with his pending free agency looming in the final few weeks, he will have been checked out. The Redskins will bounce back from back to back divisional losses and deliver a dominant win at home teeing up meaningful late December games for a playoff spot.
Prediction – Win (8-5)
Week 15 at Jacksonville
Jacksonville is still young and hungry. They will not have forgotten what happened to them in the playoffs last year and they will be looking to return. The Jaguars may have a playoff spot locked up coming into Week 15, but the division could be won against the Redskins.
Coming off a win against the Giants will give the offense confidence, but the Jaguars defense is going to be too much for Smith, Guice and company to handle. It might not be a blow out by the Jaguars, but the score will look closer than what it will feel like. The Redskins will be going into the final two games needing to win out to make the playoffs.
Prediction – Loss (8-6)
Week 16 at Tennessee
Former Washington Redskin Will Compton will make his return to Washington for the first time as a Titan. He will be extra motivated to show out against his former team. He is not that type of playmaker. I like Compton, and he will fill up the stat sheet in this game, but he is not someone you game plan against.
There are too many questions on the Titans defense, but their offense should put up a fight. Corey Davis and Derrick Henry should show up with some bright spots, but Marcus Mariota will need to be near perfect for the Titans to have a chance at winning. The Redskins will scheme specifically to slow him down and make sure that Delaine Walker’s involvement is limited. Alex Smith will ball out along with Crowder and Thompson for a Redskins victory and a chance at a playoff spot in Week 17.
Prediction – Win (9-6)
Week 17 vs Philadelphia
A post season spot will be on the line going into the final game of the season. What will be working for the Redskins favor is the Eagles will already have the division locked up along with a first round bye. If the one seed is within reach for the Eagles, they may play their regulars the entire game. If not, then we may not see the regulars the full sixty minutes if at all.
With that being said, this is the difference having Alex Smith as your starting quarterback. Smith understands the grind and what it will take to reach the postseason. Smith will also not make critical turnover mistakes in the red zone. Guice will be physically tested at this point with the rigors of a sixteen game NFL season wearing on him. But, the veterans on this team will push them across the finish line against what will be against mostly back-ups.
Prediction – Win (10-6)
Final Record Prediction
The Redskins will finish the 2018 season with a 10-6 record and looking down the barrel of a Wild Card spot. However, with all the excitement of making the playoffs, it will be another early exit in the first round. They will be improved across the board, but they are one more offseason away from making a consistent push for the division. This finish will quiet the conversation about whether Jay Gruden should return. The Redskins will go into the offseason with their two biggest needs being Left Guard and Tight End with the potential departure of Jordan Reed. But, the future will be looking brighter than it has since 2012.
Final NFC East Standings Projection