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Two seasons turn on hinges

Two seasons turn on hinges

Two plays in the second quarter of two preseason games, taking place at roughly the same time, one in East Rutherford, New Jersey, the other in Charlotte, North Carolina and both involving famous defensive ends.

The seasons of the New York Giants and Washington Redskins hinged on hinge joints.

In Charlotte, Washington's Jason Taylor got pushed backwards on a running play. About five yards downfield he turned just in time to see Reed Doughty tackling the ball carrier. With his right foot planted, a player fell on Taylor's shin just as the other side of the pile hit him from behind.

It looked bad on TV and the reaction of the players on the field as they urged the Washington medical staff to hurry to tend to Taylor, who had screamed in pain when the knee bent the wrong way, seemed to confirm a grim prognosis. Although Taylor did leave the field under his own power, he was limping badly.

In Jersey, Osi Umenyiora lined up wide on a third-down play. He took an outside rush to try to go around tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson to get to Brett Favre. About five yards into the backfield, Ferguson gave Umenyiora a little shove to make the outside rush an even longer route to the quarterback. Umenyiora lost his balance slightly, fell to the ground, and started limping as he got back up to see Favre's pass fall incomplete. At the end of the play, he went back to the ground and the training staff came out.

Both injuries were described as knee sprains and initial examinations revealed no ligament damage. In both cases, the prognosis was preliminary pending an MRI examination.

Today, the MRI's were done. Taylor does indeed have a knee sprain. While he may or may not be available for the regular season opener, he will be back within two weeks.

That opener is against the Giants. Umenyiora will not be playing in that game, nor will he line up for New York at all this season. The pictures revealed a torn MCL and he will have season-ending surgery.

And so it goes. The incident in which Taylor was hurt was looked extremely dangerous. The knee appeared to be bent severely. But for whatever reason—good training, flexibility gained by dancing with stars or, most likely, plain dumb luck—the injury was relatively minor.

Umenyiora appeared simply to stumble. But exactly the wrong combination of forces acted on his knee joint in exactly the wrong way and a ligament popped.

The Redskins survived their moment of truth. They still have active visions of Taylor and fellow end Andre Carter providing a pass rush the likes of which hasn't been seen in a couple of decades in DC.

The Giants, on the other hand, suffered a key loss. Umenyiora's injury comes in the wake of the retirement of his bookend partner Michael Strahan. Suddenly, the New York pass rush, the key to their advance through the playoffs and their upset win over the Patriots in the Super Bowl, has gone from an exclamation point to a question mark.

In a fraction of a second, an unforeseen and unpredictable pivotal moment, each team's season came to a sudden turning point. Thousands of man hours and hundreds of millions of dollars that each team spent in planning the 2008 season came down to a few strands of sinewy material in a hinge joint.

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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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