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Tuesday Take—The Road Ahead

Tuesday Take—The Road Ahead

I still don't know what the 2008 Washington Redskins are.

Are they a playoff team? Probably. They have five wins in the bank. If they get to 10, they should make it to the postseason. They have games against Detroit, Cincinnati, Seattle, Baltimore, and San Francisco. All of those are on the road, so even if they slip up once they have nine wins.

That means that they would need just one win in home games against the Steelers, Cowboys, Giants, and Eagles to get to 10. Even given the Cowboys' state of disarray, none of those is a given but it's hard to see them going 0-4 in those games.

But let's say that they sweep the games in the "easy" group (the finger-curl quotes are there, of course, because of the Rams game) and split the four home games. That gets them to 12 wins, a total they have not achieved since 1991.

If you win 12 games, you can generally expect to have at least a home playoff game and possibly a bye. But the Redskins currently trail the New York Giants in the division and the defending champions look like the best the NFC has to offer.

However, the Giants' 5-1 record has been built largely on the backs of some pretty bad teams. Since beating the Redskins, their wins have come against the Rams and 49ers, two teams who subsequently fired their coaches, the winless Bengals, who would fire their coach if they weren't too cheap to pay the balance of his contract, and the 1-6 Seattle Seahawks. Seattle's coach already has said that he will be done at the end of the season.

As I've said before, you only can beat the team that lines up in front of you so I'm not trying to devalue the Giants' record. It is fair to say, though, that the road ahead for the G-Men is much tougher than the stretch of road that they've already navigated. They have played only the one division game against the Redskins, so they have three NFC East road games left and they host the Eagles and Cowboys. They play at 5-1 Pittsburgh this Sunday. In November they play at Arizona and in December they host Carolina. Their season finale at Minnesota could be tough if the Vikings can play up to their level of talent. Only a Week 10 meeting against the Ravens in Giants Stadium could be considered a gimmie.

Are there three losses in those 10 games, a scenario that would get them into a tiebreaker set with a 12-4 Redskins team? I think so. Are there four, which would give a 12-win Redskins team the division outright? Possibly, but I doubt it.

(Note: I'm not going to go into the schedules of the Eagles and Cowboys here in the interest of brevity, but that doesn't mean that I'm writing them off as competition for the Skins. They face schedules that look more challenging than what the Redskins have ahead but less daunting that what the Giants are facing.)

The main concern, of course, is the Redskins getting to 12 wins. Clearly, they will have to play better than they have in the last two weeks in order to get there. The Redskins put together just four scoring drives against the Browns and Rams. They fumbled six times, losing four of them.

Yes, the defense has been strong but late drives by the other team led to the team having to watch late-game field goals fly through the air with the game hanging in the balance. You can't rely on the offense to kill the last two minutes in the Victory Formation every week.

Speaking of balance, a balanced offense is great but if the Smashmouth West Coast offense leads to just the aforementioned quartet of scoring drives in eight quarters it needs some tweaking. Clinton Portis spent more time in the trainer's room last week than he did on the practice field and the same scenario seems likely this week. You have to wonder what kind of shape he'll be in come December.

Fortunately, I'm not typing anything that Jim Zorn doesn't know. This isn't Norv "What We Do Works" Turner or Gibbs II. He knows full well that he'll have to score more and that's why he is resisting the notion that the Redskins are primarily a power running team.

Regardless of Zorn's play calling, I think that the Redskins are going to have to find a secret weapon on offense, someone who becomes a threat with which the opposition must deal. Think Mike Sellers in 2005. If you go back that far, think Ricky Ervins in 1991. Think of an offensive Chris Horton.

The obvious candidates here are the three second-round draft picks. Devin Thomas could become a deep threat to make the other team pay for doubling Santana Moss. Fred Davis could sneak into the secondary and haul in a few nice gains. Malcolm Kelly, if he can ever get onto the field, could become the guy to move the chains and provide a big Red-Zone target.

My dark horse to fill the new weapon role is Shaun Alexander. I don't think of him becoming a big threat as a runner but perhaps as a receiver out of the backfield. He was pretty good at it earlier in his career with Seattle, catching 59 passes for 460 yards in 2002. If he is willing to work at it over the next few weeks that might be able to find a role for the rest of the year and maybe beyond.

If the Redskins can get their scoring totals out of the teens and into the 20's and occasionally the 30's it's all there for them.

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Enemy Intel: Yes, Redskins fans, you need to root for the Cowboys again

Enemy Intel: Yes, Redskins fans, you need to root for the Cowboys again

Here is my weekly Redskins-centric spin around the NFL:

Before we get going, let’s line up the NFL wild card contenders by current seed and their remaining four games.

Giants (8-4): Cowboys, Lions, @Eagles, @Redskins
Bucs (7-5): Saints, @Cowboys, @Saints, Panthers
Redskins (6-5-1): @Eagles, Panthers, @Bears, Giants
Vikings (6-6): @Jaguars, Colts, @Packers, Bears
Packers (6-6): Seahawks, @Bears, Vikings, @Lions
Cardinals (5-6-1): @Dolphins, Saints, @Seahawks, @Rams
Saints (5-7): @Bucs, @Cardinals, Bucs, @Falcons
Eagles (5-7): Redskins, @Ravens, Giants, Cowboys

—The Redskins can knock the Eagles out of any practical chance of making the playoffs with a win on Sunday. An Eagles loss would mean they could finish no better than 8-8 and that is highly unlikely to get it done this year.

—For a second straight week, Redskins fans need to root for Cowboys to win. Or for their opponent to lose. Some wanted to make that distinction last week when Cowboys played the Vikings and the optimal outcome for the Redskins was a Dallas win. However you want to look at it, a Giants loss to Dallas could move the Redskins to within a half game of the No. 5 seed.

MORE REDSKINS: Assessing the four remainig opponents

—There should be no hesitation about pulling for the Saints to beat the Bucs. A Washington win and a Tampa Bay loss puts the Redskins back into playoff position with the No. 6 seed. The Bucs are 2.5-point favorites at home. They are the hot team, coming in with four straight wins while New Orleans has lost three of four. The Saints are on the fringe of contention but Redskins fans need to pull for the teams ahead of Washington in the standings.

—The Redskins can’t look for much help when it comes to the team immediately behind them in the standings. The Vikings visit the Jaguars, who are locked in to yet another season of double-digit losses. You might be tempted to look for the home underdog to put up a fight and they might. But Blake Bortles has thrown three pick sixes this year and the Vikings have returned two interceptions for TDs this year. Look for such a play to be decisive and for the Vikings to remain tight with Washington in the standings.

—The other team a half game behind the Redskins is the Packers. They host the Seahawks in what could be very snowy conditions in Green Bay. Seattle is a three-point favorite but if the weather gets crazy anything could happen. Redskins fans need to root for the Seahawks, for obvious reasons.

RELATED: Three Redskins out on Sunday, Reed questionable

—The Cardinals creeped back into contention with their win over the Redskins. That win and the fact that they have a tie on their ledger means that the Redskins do not want to finish with the same record as Arizona. This is one of the few situations where a tiebreaker would matter. It’s an easy call to pull for them to fall to the AFC Dolphins.

—I went 2-1 last week, winning with the Patriots over the Rams and the Seahawks over the Panthers. I have four NFL picks this week, all of them road favorites: the Redskins -1 on the road over the Eagles, the Cowboys -3 at the Giants, the Falcons -6 over the Rams in L.A., and the Seahawks giving three to the Packers.

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Need to Know: Assessing the Redskins' four remaining opponents

Need to Know: Assessing the Redskins' four remaining opponents

Here is what you need to know on this Saturday, December 10, one day before the Washington Redskins play the Philadelphia Eagles.

Timeline

Today's schedule: No media availability

Days until: Panthers @ Redskins 9; Redskins @ Bears Christmas Eve 14; Giants @ Redskins, New Year’s Day 22

Injuries of note:
Out:
G Long (concussion), S Blackmon (concussion), DE Lanier
Limited: TE Reed (shoulder), G Scherff (ankle), DE Jean Francois (knee/foot), DE Baker (ankle), G Shawn Lauvao (groin)
Final injury report

Around Redskins Park

The Redskins have four games remaining on their schedule. Three wins would give them a record of 9-6-1 and a very good shot at the playoffs. Four will almost certainly get them a ticket to keep playing; two wins or fewer will have them needing a whole lot of help to make the postseason

Let’s take a look at the Redskins’ remaining four opponents and revisit the confidence level on the Redskins’ chances of beating each one of them. (I first did this exercise a few weeks ago).

@Eagles, 5-7, weighted DVOA via Football Outsiders, 15.3% (ranked 5th)
The Eagles looked like playoff contenders for about half of the season but they have taken a tumble back to earth, losing five of their last six. Right now the Redskins are the better team, although their long injury list is an area for concern. The Eagles appear to be in some degree of disarray after their coach accused some unnamed players of giving less than full effort. Confidence that the Redskins will win: High

Panthers, 4-8, DVOA -7.5% (25th)
They won’t be able to defend their NFC championship much longer. By the time this game comes around they could be either eliminated or on the verge of being mathematically out of the playoffs. Their problems are numerous including big issues at cornerback (too bad they didn’t have a guy who could have helped franchise tagged) and an offensive line that has been injury-wracked all year. Still, Cam Newton is a scary quarterback and he still has tight end Greg Olsen and receivers Kelvin Benjamin and Ted Ginn Jr. If the Redskins get into a shootout they could be in trouble. Confidence: Moderately high

@Bears, 3-9, DVOA -3.0%, (24th)
Matt Barkley is the Bears’ third starting QB this season and in most statistical categories he’s the worst of the three. The Bears have been hit by injuries as hard as any NFL team with multiple starters on injured reserve. They probably would have struggled even with those players healthy; without them they are one of the five worst teams in the NFL. The one thing to beware of is the late December weather in Chicago, which could randomize the outcome to an extent. Confidence: Very high

Giants, 8-4, DVOA 5.0%, (12th)
The new players on the Giants’ defense were just starting to gel when end Jason Pierre-Paul’s season ended after sports hernia surgery. Their defense, with the No. 7 DVOA (-9.6%), won’t collapse but it won’t be as strong. Eli Manning’s stats are down a tick from last year but as long as he has Odell Beckham to throw to the Giants won’t be totally stymied on offense. This one is hard to get a good feel for this far out, not knowing what might be at stake for either team. Confidence: Moderate

For comparison purposes, the 6-5-1 Redskins have a DVOA of 9.8% (10th)

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