ESPN’s John Clayton writes in his latest ‘First and 10′:
Now, the Skins embark on their most important two-game road trip of the season. It starts Sunday in Dallas and concludes in Week 5 in Philadelphia. If they win at least one of those games, the Redskins will establish themselves as contenders for the NFC East title. Losing both will make them 0-3 in the division and extreme long shots.
I understand what he’s saying here, and while I agree that losing both of the next two games would make winning the division difficult for the Redskins, I don’t agree with the tone of Clayton’s article, which seems to imply that the next two games will determine the Redskins playoff hopes.
Let’s face it, this is a very tough division. Everyone in the NFL knows that. While I feel some warped sense of pride that we play in this knock-down, drag-out division, I also issue a clenched-fist, gritted-teeth ‘Newman’ every time I think about how it hurts our chances for extra games. If we put our homerism on hold and be realistic here for a moment, winning our home division games, and losing those on the road may be ….well, not so bad. I don’t think it means that should we lose the next two, that we should pack up our tents and go home. There’s still a lot of season left to go after the first five games. Yes, I understand that all this hinges on whether the Redskins are ‘real’, whether the team we’ve seen the past two weeks is the team we’ll continue to see, or if they’ll regress into mediocrity.
After their difficult first five games, the Redskins have a relatively easy schedule outside the division, and could very well go 9-2 in their last eleven games, resulting in an 11-5 record. This assumes that we win our home division games, and lose to the Steelers and Seahawks on their respective turfs. Is 11-5 good enough to win the division? Probably not. Is it enough to secure a wild card? Not necessarily, but I would think the chances might be pretty darn good.
Dallas has almost an identical schedule to ours, except that instead of Detroit they get Tampa Bay at home, and they have to play Arizona on the road. Okay, so assuming that they continue to play as they have been, they’re looking at 13-3, give or take. Philadelphia has to play Chicago on the road, and face a hot Atlanta team at home, plus go on the road against Seattle. New York also has to play in Arizona, and go up against Carolina and Minnesota, both of whom will be better at the end of the season. Both New York and Philadelphia are very good teams, but I think the middle of the Redskins schedule is comparitively favorable.
The point is, even if the Redskins lose these next two, it’s not over yet, no matter what they say. If they do lose the next two, the media will believe that we’re done, and will discard us. We’ll slip in the ‘power rankings’. But it matters not how the media responds after the next two games, or even how the fans respond. What matters is how the Redskins respond to being 2-3. My prediction: the Redskins will disappear from the radar for awhile in the middle of the season, give up the headlines to the Cowboy, Giants and Eagles, but, if they have the heart that I believe they have, you’ll hear about them again towards the end of the season. Only then will we see whether the playoffs are possible. It’s way to early to count them out, no matter what happens these next two weeks.