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Higher expectations--but high enough?

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Higher expectations--but high enough?

Can the Redskins thrive under the spotlight of higher expectations?

A year ago, the Redskins were coming off of a 5-11 season, their third straight year with a double-digit loss total. Even though they had a new quarterback that everyone knew would be good eventually, the conventional wisdom was that it would take him a while to bring the Redskins back to respectability.

That was the conventional wisdom in Last Vegas, at least. The sports books there set the Redskins over-under for wins at 6.5. That line said that there was at least a 50-50 chance that the Redskins would endure another season with 10 or more losses.

As the team went into the bye week, it looked like those who took the under would be cashing in their betting slips. The Redskins were 3-6 and with a tough slate the rest of the way they appeared to be headed towards another lost season.

As we all know, the Redskins tore off seven straight wins to close out the season and the bettors who had the over are the ones who got paid. The young quarterback, Robert Griffin III, had one of the best seasons any rookie quarterback has ever had. RG3 and a rushing game revitalized by fellow rookie Alfred Morris propelled the Redskins to 10 wins and the NFC East title.

This year, the expectations are somewhat higher, although there doesn’t appear to be any irrational exuberance expressed in the Vegas line. The Atlantis sports book became the first to post their 2013 over-under lines and the Redskins’ number is nine.

I know that some will be offended by this and will point out that the Redskins won 10 games last year so that should be the starting point for figuring the over-under. And that’s fine and you might have a case that if Griffin’s knee is mended he should be better in his second year, the defense should be improved with some additions in the draft and by some player returning from injury and they learned how to win, so the Redskins should be better than they were in 2012.

And that’s a perfectly rational case, but what if Griffin’s knee gives him trouble during the season, if other key players are lost to injury, and the rookies face too steep a learning curve to offer much improvement this year? Will they still be a better team?

The Redskins line of nine wins is quite respectable. Only 10 other teams have higher over-under win totals. Of those 10 teams, all but three won more games than the Redskins did last year. One of those teams, the Ravens, won the Super Bowl. Their line is just half a game better than the Redskins’. The other two are the Steelers, who beat the Redskins in 2012, and the Saints. If you want to quibble about New Orleans being ahead of Washington, you might have a legitimate case.

The top of the NFC East is pretty tightly bunched. The Giants over-under is also nine wins (the same total they had last year) and Dallas is at 8.5. Philadelphia will have to exceed expectations to avoid the division cellar; their line is 6.5.

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Redskins offseason questions: Will Scot McCloughan go defense in 1st round?

Redskins offseason questions: Will Scot McCloughan go defense in 1st round?

The good news for the 2016 Redskins was that they didn’t collapse after winning the division the previous season as has been their pattern in the past. The bad news was that they didn’t take the next step and improve from a franchise that can compete to make the playoffs into one that is playing multiple postseason games year in and year out.

That work begins right now for Jay Gruden, Scot McCloughan and the players. In the coming weeks, Redskins reporters Rich Tandler and JP Finlay will examine the biggest questions facing the Redskins as another offseason gets rolling.

RELATED: #RedskinsTalk podcast: It's tag day

Will the Redskins go with a defensive player in the first round of the 2017 Draft?

Finlay: The Redskins haven't drafted a defensive player in the first round since 2011 when the franchise grabbed Ryan Kerrigan with the 16th pick. In fact, the team has only drafted five defensive players in the first round over the last 15 years. 

History suggests Washington will stay away from a defensive player, but sources in Ashburn have suggested otherwise. Assuming the talent is there when the 'Skins pick at No. 17, Scot McCloughan would like to bolster the team's defensive line specifically. 

Things will get complicated should Leonard Fournette or Dalvin Cook slide to 17. Rich Tandler certainly would like to see the Burgundy and Gold add a top-flight running back.

Tandler: Many fans believe that conducting a draft is like going into a grocery store with a list. Defensive lineman is at the top of the list so you go to aisle 12 and put a DL in the cart. Safety is next on the list so you push the cart over to that aisle and pick out one of those.

No, a draft is much more unpredictable. There might not be a defensive lineman who is close to worthy of the No. 17 pick when the Redskins are on the clock. Talk of taking the best available player is like fingernails on a chalkboard to some. But if you’re reaching for need in a draft, you’re losing that draft. Sure, if a player in a position of need is just a spot or two down from the best available you think about it. Still, staying true to your board is the way to build a team.

The other thing to consider here is that we haven’t gone through free agency yet. Needs will shift after that. Suppose the Redskins sign two starting-caliber D-linemen and lose both Pierre Garçon and DeSean Jackson in free agency? Defensive line is no longer a five-alarm priority and receiver will be. 

More offseason questions: 

What are reasonable expectations for Josh Doctson?

— Will there be a surprise salary cap cut?

— Should the Redskins defense switch to the 4-3?

— Is Spencer Long the answer at center?

— How many D-linemen do the Redskins need?

— Should the Redskins draft another QB? 

— With Sean McVay gone, will the Redskins run the ball more?

— Can Cravens handle the transition to safety? 

— Will the Redskins re-sign Pierre Garçon? 

— Will Rob Kelley be the lead running back in 2017?

<<<LOOKING AT REDSKINS DRAFT PROSPECTS>>>

Want more Redskins? Check out @JPFinlayCSN and @Rich_TandlerCSN for live updates or click here for the #RedskinsTalk Podcast on iTunes, here for Google Play or press play below. Don't forget to subscribe!

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Redskins free agent WR Pierre Garçon has simple question: 'Y'all hiring?'

Redskins free agent WR Pierre Garçon has simple question: 'Y'all hiring?'

Twice in the last five seasons Pierre Garçon logged more than 1,000 yards receiving as a member of the Washington Redskins, including the 2016 season. He's caught 376 passes in Washington for 21 touchdowns over 74 games.

Outside of a foot injury that cost his six games in 2012, Garçon has been arguably the Redskins most durable wide receiver, and he's known to be a hard worker in the weight room and the practice field. 

Despite all that, Garçon doesn't know that he will be back with the Burgundy and Gold once free agency opens. In fact, that uncertainty led the 30-year-old wideout to post a simple question on his Instagram page.

#YallHiring?

A post shared by Pierre Garcon (@pierregarcon) on

The top of the Redskins offseason questions remains QB Kirk Cousins. Garçon and fellow wideout DeSean Jackson are headed for free agency, as is standout defensive lineman Chris Baker. Reports show that the team has made little to no contact with any of the players or their representatives, though many conversations could be planned for the NFL Draft Combine in Indianapolis later this month. 

Garçon's question seems simple, but the answer remains a mystery. 

<<<LOOKING AT REDSKINS DRAFT PROSPECTS>>>

Want more Redskins? Check out @JPFinlayCSN for live updates or click here for the #RedskinsTalk Podcast on iTunes, here for Google Play or press play below. Don't forget to subscribe!