One byproduct of being a successful NFL team one year is that in the next year, the league's scheduling formula makes it harder for that team to repeat its success. This is something that the Washington Redskins are going to find out in 2016.
As NFC East champions, they will have to play the NFC's three other first-place franchises. In addition, the Redskins will square off against the AFC North — where the sport morphs into action that resembles the deleted scenes from 300 — and the NFC North, which also produces a solid crop of squads each season.
With all that in mind, it's obviously not a stretch to say that the Burgundy and Gold will need to bring their best each week if they hope to defend their title and return to the playoffs. However, that's especially true when it comes to the home matchups upcoming (yes, real football will eventually be here).
The Redskins will welcome the Pittsburgh Steelers (10-6 in 2015), Cleveland Browns (3-13), Minnesota Vikings (11-5), Green Bay Packers (10-6) and Carolina Panthers (15-1) to FedExField this campaign. Meanwhile, they'll travel to take on the Baltimore Ravens (5-11), Detroit Lions (7-9), Cincinnati Bengals (12-4), Chicago Bears (6-10) and Arizona Cardinals (13-3). Not to mention their usual home-and-away meetings with their NFC East foes.
In total, Washington's home opponents claim a 66-62 record from last season while their road adversaries were 60-68. Teams fluctuate from year to year, but it sure looks like the home slate will be tougher than the road one, judging by both the numbers and current expectations. That's why it's paramount for Jay Gruden's players to again defend their turf like they did when they went 6-2 during their most recent run to the crown.
That 6-2 mark was one of the more shocking parts of the upstart 'Skins, considering just how paltry they've been in Landover for quite some time. Their reward for it, though, is a tougher bunch this go-around, including three of those dreaded primetime slots. In fact, the storylines will even be more interesting when Washington stays local.
A home opener against the Steelers on Monday Night Football? Can't get much better than that. Cleveland enters in Week 4 with the return of that quarterback with the letters and numbers in his nickname. A showdown with a Vikings team on the rise, a rematch of the 2015 Wild Card game and then the Josh Norman Bowl versus the Super Bowl runners-up in Week 15, all scattered among the usual rivalry clashes throughout.
When the Redskins travel, they'll see their next-door neighbor (which is pretty cool), a mediocre Lions group, Gruden's former employer in London (also fairly cool), a mediocre Bears group and the consistent Cardinals. So, as stated earlier, not only are the Redskins' visitors superior on paper compared to their hosts, but those dates will also have more beneath the surface to monitor.
Now, an argument can be made that it doesn't matter if these games are played on this continent, another continent or another planet — each one matters regardless of location. But there's something to be said for protecting your house. In this league, being rocked in front of your own supporters is more than a loss; it's an embarrassing insult to everyone's manhood, and it's not beyond reason to think that veterans such as Ricky Jean Francois, Dashon Goldson and Terrance Knighton placed extra meaning on those games last season.
Can players such as Francois, Norman and David Bruton keep that pressure on the rest of the locker room? They need to. That "no one's leaving here with a win" attitude is a tone all model franchises possess.
For far too long, FedExField has been a place for fans of the other 31 organizations to come and celebrate. That changed last year. But will the Redskins keep a close watch on their home again in 2016? The intruders who will come knocking on their door soon certainly don't look like a friendly crew. Whether they're allowed to get comfortable or told to get lost will go a long way in determining how good this roster will be.
Peter Hailey on Twitter at @barelyin.
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