By Steve Shoup, special to Breaking Burgundy
It seems to be a little too early to call any game a “must win” game in the NFL season, but Sunday’s home (hopefully) game versus the Eagles could have a lasting impact on the Redskins playoff hopes this season.
Win and the Redskins will improve to 2-2, and a chance to be tied for the division lead depending on what the Cowboys and Giants do (Giants would have the early tie breaker obviously). Lose and the Redskins will fall to 1-3, and in last place in the division. Not only would the Redskins be last in the division at the quarter pole of the NFL season, but they would be in an 0-2 hole in the division record race, and 1-2 at home. Would that mean that their playoff hopes would be finished? Not entirely, but it would make it extremely difficult to get back in the race.
Some will point to the 2012 season where the Redskins started out 3-6 before the bye and went on a 7 game run to win the division with a 10-6 record. Now on paper there are some real similarities to that season. That year the Giants were coming off a Super Bowl win and were considered the favorite, while both the Eagles and Cowboys were considered good teams capable of making a playoff run. The Eagles started out hot, winning three of their first four, but major injuries derailed their season and they just collapsed. This could be similar to the Cowboys this year who have suffered a couple major injuries and will be short-handed for the next 8 weeks. The Cowboys started out slowly going 3-5 in the first half, but they turned it around and were 8-7 with a chance to win the division if they beat the Redskins week 17. This could be used to describe either the Giants or Eagles this season, as both teams have started out slowly. Finally the Super Bowl champs the Giants that year started out well (6-2), but they collapsed down the stretch and didn’t live up to expectations. The not living up to expectations definitely applies to the Eagles who were expected to be a major threat this year. The question is, will history repeat itself?
The simple answer is the Redskins can’t count on that. While there definitely looks to be an opening in the division between the Cowboys injuries, the Eagles dysfunction and the Giants currently with a losing record, the Redskins can’t just expect to close the season like they did in 2012. If the Redskins lose this week there is a pretty good chance they could repeat with a 3-6 record in the first 9 games. After this Sunday the Redskins go on the road to Atlanta and the Jets, both of whom have shown to be quality teams this year and beating them on the road will be tough. After that they have a home game versus the Buccaneers, a road game versus the Patriots and a home game versus the Saints. Now the Patriots is likely a loss, but both the Buccaneers and Saints are very winnable games. So if the Redskins are sitting at 3-6, why can’t they make another 7 game run?
The final seven games are set up much harder this year than in 2012, and it starts with the fact that unlike that year when they were able to use their bye to reset their season, it will already have passed by this point. In 2012 the Redskins controlled a lot of their own destiny as they have 5 divisional games left in their 7 game slate, and were able to sweep them and finish with a 5-1 divisional record. If the Redskins lose this Sunday to the Eagles they will already be down 0-2 in the division, even if they win the remaining four they might at best finish tied for the best division record and could lose the next tie-breaker.
Another difference between 2012 and this year is the lack of home-field advantage at the end of their season. In 2012 four of the Redskins final seven games were at Fedex Field, including the week 17 Sunday Night Football division clinching game versus the Cowboys. This year just three of the Redskins final seven games are at home, and they have to go on the road the final two weeks versus the Eagles and Cowboys.
The final major difference is the strength of schedule in those remaining seven games. In 2012 the Redskins benefited by playing an undermanned Eagles team twice in that stretch, as well as a struggling Browns team. This year while the Cowboys are dealing with some serious injuries they are expected to be healthy by the time the Redskins play them. Outside of the division games the Redskins face the Panthers in Carolina, the Bears in Chicago and the Bills at home. The Bears are a bad team so that could be a win, but Carolina is 3-0 right now and playing good football, while the Bills look like a wild card team in the AFC capable of 10 or 11 wins. Neither one of those will be easy, and winning both would seem to be very unlikely.
If the Redskins can beat the Eagles this week that does change the math for them a little bit. Sure it is just one game difference, but it can help in a number of ways. It could give the Redskins the confidence to maybe go into Atlanta or New York either of the next two weeks and steal a win there. If that happened then at the 9 game mark the Redskins could reasonably be sitting at 5-4, in a much stronger position. Another benefit with beating the Eagles is that it would push them to 1-3, and it could magnify the criticism and dysfunction surrounding their team right now. If that happens it could quickly snowball to a full collapse this season. Not only would that take them out of the division title hunt, but it would mean that week 16 road game in Philadelphia would be that much more winnable.
The Redskins season might not be completely on the line this Sunday versus the Eagles, but this is not a game they can really afford to lose. If they want to have the chance to make a run this year, they need to strike now and take care of their divisional games and home-field (assuming the game isn’t moved) advantage this Sunday.
Steve is the founder of Fanspeak.com. Click here for the Fanspeak On the Clock Premium NFL Draft Simulator