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Need to Know: Should the Redskins be the NFC East favorites?

Need to Know: Should the Redskins be the NFC East favorites?

Here is what you need to know on this Monday, April 25, three days before the NFL Draft.

Timeline

Schedule @ Redskins Park: 12 noon, Scot McCloughan pre-draft news conference; 1:15 Josh Norman

—The Redskins last played a game 106 days ago. It will be 140 days until they host the Steelers in their 2016 season opener.

Days until: 2016 NFL draft 3; Rookie minicamp 18; Redskins training camp starts 94

Hot topic

Are the Redskins now the favorites to win the NFC East?

That’s what Adam Caplan, who is one of the few no-agenda, no-B.S. NFL analysts on ESPN. He believes that the addition of Josh Norman to the Redskins defense pushes them over the top and makes them the “clear favorites” to take the division.

That’s a pretty bold prediction. Is it out of whack? Maybe. The other three teams have their strengths but they also have prominent weaknesses.

—The Cowboys have a top QB and WR combo in Romo and Dez but their defense is shaky, especially in their first four games when Randy Gregory and DeMarcus Lawrence will be under suspension for substance abuse violations.

—In Philly, the Eagles have a solid-looking defense but their quarterback group will consist of the perpetually disappointing Sam Bradford, career backup Chase Daniel, and a rookie who attempted 208 passes at North Dakota State last year. A rookie head coach, Dough Pederson, will be in charge.

—The Giants have Eli and OBJ but just about everything else is suspect including their running game, pass rush, and secondary. They did throw a bunch of free agent money at their defensive issues but that is far from a certain cure. New York also has a rookie head coach in Ben McAdoo.

It's not as though the Redskins are loaded for bear going into 2016. In fact, right now it’s hard to find a strength that the Redskins can hang their hats on. Kirk Cousins had a fine 2015 but he’s hardy the established, consistent starter that Eli and Romo are. The running game was atrocious last year as was the defense against the run. The secondary did pretty well considering all of the injuries, but the presence of Norman could improve it by a quantum leap and the unit would still be middle of the pack. And see the Giants comment above on the certainty of a free agent signee making a major impact.

It’s easy to paint a rosy scenario here. Say Cousins builds on last year, Jordan Reed emerges as one of the game’s top tight ends, the line gels enough so that a running back by committee can put together a decent ground game, Junior Galette, Preston Smith, and Ryan Kerrigan terrorize opposing quarterbacks and Norman is in All-Pro form again and sparks the secondary to a solid performance.

Each of those possibilities is realistic. But the chance of all of them happening is fairly slim. It’s like drawing to an inside straight.

The good thing for the 2016 Redskins is that they don’t need everything to fall right for them. Cousins-to-Reed clicking, a better rushing attack, and the secondary picking off a half dozen more passes could make the best team in the division.

It may be going too far to say that the Redskins are the favorites in the division. But unlike previous years, it’s not difficult to see them having a realistic path to the division title.

Stat of the day

The Redskins have not had back-to-back winning seasons since 1996-1997. They have not made the playoffs in consecutive seasons since 1991-1992.

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Redskins offseason questions: Can Kirk Cousins take the next step in 2017?

Redskins offseason questions: Can Kirk Cousins take the next step in 2017?

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: Is Kirk too nice?

Will Kirk Cousins take the next step in 2017?

Finlay: The better question might be what constitutes the next step for Cousins? And going one step further, will it be with the Redskins? Answering the second part first, Cousins will be the 'Skins quarterback in 2017. Taking the next step is trickier, since the passer has thrown for more than 9,000 yards in the last two seasons.

For me, Cousins can still get much better, particularly in the red zone. If the Redskins scored at the same pace they pile up yards, this team would have won 11 games in 2016. 

In 2016, Cousins ranked 3rd in the NFL in passing yards, yet outside of the Top 10 in TDs with 25. To really enter the next phase of his career, Cousins needs to lead an offense that scores more, and that means 30+ touchdowns. He can do it. 

Tandler: I don’t look at the next step for Cousins being about numbers. Sure, maybe he can throw for 5,000 yards and 30-plus touchdowns on year. But being a top quarterback is more than that.

I want to see him go into Seattle next year and rally the Redskins from a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter. I want to see him go into a playoff game and, unlike what happened against the Packers after the 2015 season, will the team to a win when the Redskins aren’t playing their best and when a QB like Aaron Rodgers is on the other side. I want to see him glare at a lineman who missed an assignment and correct a receiver who went the wrong way on a route.

To be sure, he has led the team to some comeback wins and he has played very well in some key games, like the division-clinching win in Philadelphia in 2015. But a top-flight quarterback can’t essentially negate one of those with a play like the season-ending pick against the Giants. Sure, any quarterback is going to have an off day. But you have to have more pluses than minuses on the ledger.

Cousins has been a starter for just two years so maybe he can develop into a top-shelf quarterback. Putting up good stats is part of the picture but he won’t be there until he elevates and motivates those around him. Maybe he can take that next step but until he does there is no way of knowing if he will. 

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?

— Defense in the first round?

— Will they make a change at left guard?

<<<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 iTuneshere for Google Play or press play below. Don't forget to subscribe!

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Some good news from Redskins Park: Josh Doctson running, catching football (VIDEO)

Some good news from Redskins Park: Josh Doctson running, catching football (VIDEO)

There hasn't been much good news out of Redskins Park lately, as the team deals with pending free agency for QB Kirk Cousins and others combined with rumors of infighting among the front office. So video of 2016 first round pick Josh Doctson running and cutting comes at a great time for beleaguered 'Skins fans. 

Doctson posted the video to his Snapchat account. When he last spoke after the Washington season ended, Doctson made clear he was feeling much better and that '100 percent health' is his main goal this offseason.

His rookie year, however, was a different matter.

The receiver out of TCU missed all but the first two games of the year. Even in those games, he played a very reduced role. Drafted 22nd overall, he had just two catches all year as an obscure Achilles' injuries landed him on the injured reserve. His plight could not be figured out by a slew of doctors and specialists, and the team finally decided to sit down their prized rookie.

A breakout year in 2017 would serve Jay Gruden's squad well, as the team stands to lose DeSean Jackson and/or Pierre Garçon to free agency. It looks likely the 'Skins will lose at least one of their starting WRs, and losing both is a distinct possibility. That could result in more than 2,000 receiving yards leaving the Redskins offense, and the team will need Doctson to pick up a good chunk of that production.

<<<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!