As I wrote yesterday, my first step in pre-training camp prep for the upcoming season was to study the Las Vegas odds.Step No. 2? Plunk down 50 at the local bookstore for a stack of preview magazines so you dont have to, assuming, of course, youre only interested in the CliffsNotes version.Heres a brief on the four previews I picked up:Athlon SportsRedskins predicted finish in NFC East: Last.Money quote: The Redskins return everyone in the defensive front seven, which was their biggest strength in 2011. also upgraded a punchless receiving corps. Considering that they lost six games by only one possession last season, dont be surprised if the Redskins compete for a playoff spot.Intriguing nugget: Robert Griffin III was tapped best rookie QB over Indys Andrew Luck and is predicted to be the NFCs offensive rookie of the year. Griffin will have more talent around him than him, the magazine says, Thus, Griffin should have more success this season than Luck. But, it continues, RG3 better bring his Superman socks to D.C.Lundys Predicted finish: Last.Money quote: Thanks to tackling machine London Fletcher and new comers Barry Cofield, Stephen Bowen and Ryan Kerrigan, the Redskins were much improved in 2011. Rookie running backs Roy Helu and Evan Royster showed promise. But after three straight-double digit losing seasons and four consecutive last-place finishes, hopes for a turnaround in Washington are in Griffins hands.Intriguing nugget: On Coach Mike Shanahans future: Turning the offense over to Griffin should buy Shanahan the fourth year on his contract. However, the 60-year-old Shanahan knows this is the last season hes playing with house money.Pro Football WeeklyPredicted finish: Last.Money quote: Robert Griffin III could be this years Cam Newton or Andy Dalton, and the Redskins weapons appear to be stronger. It could come down to the play of two key units the offensive line and secondary to determine whether this is a comeback season or another hear at the bottom of the still-loaded NFC East.Intriguing nugget: No position earned a grade higher than a B, which went to the defensive line and linebackers. Running backs received the lowest grade, a C-.Phil Steeles Pro FootballPredicted finish: Last.Money quote: Factors pointing upward this year are that they were -14 in turnovers last year, had two net close losses, were only -3.1 yards per game (like an 8-8 team) and had 65 starts lost to injury. On the negative side of the ledger us that the schedule gets a lot tougher this year (18 to 3) and they play in the same division with a pair of Top 5 NFL teams (NYG & PHI)Intriguing nugget: In Shanahans 32 games as the WAS HC, his QBs ran the ball 61 times total! The team wants Griffin to improvise on third down but also stay in the pocket as much as possible.As you can see, there are two common themes in each of the four previews: the Skins are expected to be division basement dwellers once again, but theres also optimism that RG3s arrival could signal the start of a turnaround.
When the Redskins won the NFC East in 2015 with a 9-7 record, most critics dismissed the division as weak. That theory was largely proved right when the Redskins got stomped at home in the first round of the playoffs by the Wild Card Green Bay Packers.
In 2016, however, the NFC East largely looked like the best division in football, or at least among the best divisions. Dallas won 13 games and took the NFC East title, the Giants won 11 and took the NFC's top Wild Card spot. The Redskins had a chance to make the playoffs in Week 17, but unceremoniously lost and fell short.
Still, Washington won eight games and Philadelphia won seven. In fact, the NFC East was the only division in the NFL without a team that lost 10 or more games. The AFC West - a division that some would argue was tougher than the NFC East - still had the Chargers and their 5-11 record.
What does it mean for 2017? If anything the only team expected to regress would be the Cowboys, and their regression could easily still have them looking to win around 10 games.
The Eagles have improved with young, star QB Carson Wentz. New York will be interesting, as they have some age at various spots on their roster but still feature a two-time Super Bowl winning QB in Eli Manning and one of the best defenses in the NFL.
As for Washington? The defense should be much improved. It almost has to be as the 2016 version struggled significantly. If the defense can just be average (and I'd argue it could push for Top 15) the offense should continue to move the ball well. Producing in the red zone needs to look different than last season too.
The NFC East looks like a beast yet again. It would be no surprise if both NFC Wild Cards come from the division.
Let us know what you think in the comments.
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Here is what you need to know on this Sunday, May 28, 16 days before the Washington Redskins start their mandatory minicamp on June 13.
—Training camp starts (7/27) 60
—Preseason opener @ Ravens (8/10) 74
—Season opener Eagles @ Redskins (9/10) 105
Note: I am on vacation this week in the Outer Banks. Need to Know will be a mix of new content and some of the most popular posts of 2017.
Redskins faced one of NFL’s toughest slates in 2016
(originally posted January 28)
As the Redskins came off their 2015 playoff season and looked towards 2016, one thing jumped out. Even before any games were played it looked like their path to a repeat playoff appearance would be difficult, more so than it was when they went 9-7 and took the NFC East title.
The 2015 schedule looked fairly easy when applying the eyeball test. They played just two games against teams that made the playoffs and those teams, the Patriots and Panthers, plus the Jets were the only teams they faced that finished the season with winning records.
The eyeball test was borne out by the numbers. According to the stat gurus at Football Outsiders the Redskins faced the 28th toughest schedule in terms of the DVOA of opposing defenses and the opposing offenses added up to the 24th most difficult.
The going was considerably tougher in 2016. The Redskins played seven games against teams that were in the playoff field. The defenses they faced stacked up as the toughest group of any NFL team. They played nine games against teams that finished in the top 11 in defensive DVOA. The offenses they faced were a little better than average, ranking 13th as a group.
While the Redskins’ season was widely regarded as a disappointment, it would be reasonable to say that given vastly improved quality of the competition that they did well in only having their record drop by half a game.
Of course, the goal is to be good enough to prosper and make the playoffs no matter what mix of teams the luck of the draw happens to put on the schedule. They will need to get there in a hurry. Awaiting the Redskins on their 2017 schedule are seven 2016 playoff teams plus one more that finished the year with a winning record.
The fortunes of NFL teams can’t always be predicted in advance, especially more than seven months before the season kicks off. But it’s safe to say that the 2017 slate will be challenging. If they are going to improve their record they are going to have to improve their level of play dramatically.