Meat Grinder or Cakewalk?

The Redskins' 2003 schedule was released this week and at first look it's quite difficult. Five of the first six games are against 2002 playoff teams. The one opponent that didn't participate in the last postseason, the New England Patriots, won it all in 2001.

The latter part of the schedule doesn't feature as many playoff squads, but there are traps such as the two Dallas games and a December visit to the revamped Soldier Field to face the Bears.

This has many fans shaking their heads and saying that a .500 record would be a great accomplishment. They are already tagging W's and L's next to each game. It's kind of fun, perhaps, but it's a futile exercise. If you look at the facts of the past few years you can draw no other conclusion.

The 2001 season is a perfect example. When that schedule came out, back to back road games in late November in Denver and Philadelphia were considered to be unwinnable. The Skins swept them. A home game against the Bears two days before Christmas was a cinch win. Chicago, however, strung together a magical season loaded with plays like their game winner at FedEx that day, a touchdown pass to linebacker Brian Urlacher on a fake field goal play. On top of that, you had to figure they would win at least once against the Cowboys, 5-11 the year before and fading. Dallas, of course, swept the series.

Go back one more year. A stretch in late September and October had the Redskins facing the Giants in the Meadowlands, the up and coming Bucs at home, the Eagles at the Vet, the eventual Super Bowl champion Ravens, and Jacksonville, AFC title game participants the year before. They'd be lucky to survive that meat grinder alive, wouldn't you think? The Redskins swept all five. A visit to Arizona a couple of weeks later, an automatic win on paper, turned into a disastrous 15-14 loss.

In today's NFL, the mighty don't just fall; they get yanked back to earth with great force and at high speed due to the salary cap and draft. In both 2000 and 2002 the Redskins were scheduled to face the Rams, who had represented the NFC in the Super Bowl in the previous seasons. Mediocre Washington teams won both times and neither result was particularly stunning at the time.

In addition, it's not so much a matter of who you play, but when you play them. The Saints were on a roll when they came to Washington last year and pounded the Redskins. It may have been a different story if they'd played the game in December when New Orleans was in the midst of a season-ending slump. In contrast, the Skins caught Tennessee at the right time, before their late-season run that brought them to the AFC title game.

So, wring your hands a fret over that visit to Miami in November if you must, but the recommendation here is to watch ‘em one at a time and see what happens.

NOTES: Rich Tandler is the author of The Redskins From A to Z, Volume 1: The Games, a unique book that tells the story of all 925 games the Redskins played from 1937-2001. For details, go to http://www.Redskinsatoz.com.



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