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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 Playbook: 2017 schedule reveals some good news for Kirk Cousins

Redskins Playbook: 2017 schedule reveals some good news for Kirk Cousins

The Redskins offense performed at a high level in 2016, moving the ball well though the unit struggled in the red zone. Much of the success comes from Kirk Cousins' ability to quickly advance through his progressions and release the football before he takes too many hits.

Expect more of that in 2017, especially early in the season.

The Redskins don't face their first Top 5 sack defense until Week 9 when they travel to Seattle. From there, Cousins will face another Top 5 sack team when the Vikings visit FedEx Field in Week 10. 

After that, Washington's schedule doesn't feature a Top 5 sack defense until nearly Christmas. Unfortunately for Cousins, those two teams will come back to back in December when the Redskins host the Cardinals and the Broncos.

Sacks should not drive too much worry for Redskins fans. The Washington offensive line only allowed 23 sacks last season, two less than the Cowboys vaunted offensive line gave up on Dak Prescott. Cousins quick release and mastery of Jay Gruden's offense helps too. 

The Redskins have plenty to worry about in 2017, though facing fierce sack opponents shouldn't be too high on the list. 

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Need to Know: The top five running backs the Redskins will face in 2017

Need to Know: The top five running backs the Redskins will face in 2017

Here is what you need to know on this Sunday, June 25, 32 days before the Washington Redskins start training camp in Richmond on July 27.

Timeline

The Redskins last played a game 175 days ago; they will open the 2017 season against the Eagles at FedEx Field in 77 days.

Days until:

—Franchise tag contract deadline (7/17) 22
—Preseason opener @ Ravens (8/10) 46
—Roster cut to 53 (9/2) 69

The top five running backs the Redskins will face in 2017

Here are the five running backs on the Redskins’ schedule who gained the most yards in 2017. We looked at the top QBs last week.

Ezekiel Elliott, Cowboys, 1,631 yards in 2016—The NFL’s leading rusher didn’t pop for a big day against the Redskins as a rookie last year. He still did plenty of damage in two games with a combined 180 yards and three touchdowns. We’ll find out in Week 8 just how much the Redskins’ rushing defense has improved.

David Johnson, Cardinals, 1,239 yards—Yeah, him again. He chewed up the Redskins in Arizona last year, picking up 84 yards rushing and another 91 yards receiving. I think I might pick Johnson over Elliott in a draft simply due to Johnson’s versatility.

LeGarrette Blount, Eagles, 1,161 yards—Blount picked up those yards with the Patriots last year and rushed for 18 touchdowns for good measure. He averaged 3.9 yards per carry, 27th among qualifying running backs. It should be noted that the Eagles probably have a better offensive line than the Patriots do. It’s safe to say Blount is one dimensional; none of the top 50 in rushing yards had fewer than his seven receptions.

Mark Ingram, Saints, 1,043 yards—While Ingram had a good year, the Saints apparently weren’t overly impressed. They signed Adrian Peterson as a free agent and they drafted RB Alvin Kamara in the third round. We’ll have to see who is healthy and on the field in Week 11

Melvin Gordon, Chargers, 997 yards—The 2015 first-round pick missed the last three games and most of another one with an injury. When healthy, he was very effective. His stats projected over 16 games come to over 1,300 yards.

Best of the rest: Carlos Hyde of the 49ers just missed the top five with 988 rushing yards last year Besides Kamara, the only running backs drafted in the first three rounds the Redskins will face are Dalvin Cook (Vikings) and Kareem Hunt (Chiefs). It will be interesting to see if new Rams coach Sean McVay can revive Todd Gurley, who followed a 1,100-yard rookie season with a 4.8 per carry average by gaining 885 yards with a paltry 3.2 average in 2016. Marshawn Lynch comes to town with the Raiders after spending a year in retirement; with the Seahawks, he picked up 111, 72, and 132 on the ground against the Redskins. 

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page Facebook.com/TandlerCSN and follow him on Twitter @Rich_TandlerCSN.

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