For the millions of Americans who stayed up until 4 a.m. last week to find out whether to celebrate or book a one-way ticket to Istanbul, I am not going to keep you in suspense. The Washington Redskins’ quest for a second straight NFC East title is, in the words of Billy Packer, “O-VAH!” The Dallas Cowboys are now so far ahead of the pack, the Redskins need GPS to locate them. It would be easier to find a red zone rushing attempt on Sean McVay’s play sheet. Dak Prescott has played great, and Ezekiel Elliott has run through holes wider than Hillary Clinton’s margin of victory in the District of Columbia.
In what was supposed to be a wretched division, the NFC East has turned out to be arguably the best in football. It’s so good that the team which finishes in last place may end up with a better overall record than the winner of the AFC North. As much as it pains me to write this, the Thanksgiving Day matchup in Big D means nothing as far as the division title is concerned. HOW-EV-AH (Stephen A. Smith voice), that game, along with this weekend’s showdown against the Green Bay Packers, are absolutely critical for Washington’s playoff push. Jay Gruden’s guys are in prime position to make the playoffs for a second consecutive season, which means three of their four preseason goals are still in sight.
1. Finish with a better overall record than last season
The Redskins finished 2015-16 with a record of 9-7. If you look at their remaining schedule, 10-5-1 is very possible. Beat Green Bay. Beat Chicago. Split with Philly and Dallas. Split with Arizona and Carolina. That gets the Redskins to 9-5-1 heading into the season finale, a home game against the New York Giants. Even with a loss there, 9-6-1 would be a half-game improvement over last season. Ten wins, however, remains very achievable and sets them up for goal No. 2
2. Reach the playoffs in consecutive seasons
The Redskins currently hold one of the two NFC Wild Cards. In addition, they have a better overall winning percentage (.611) than two current division leaders: Detroit (.556) and Atlanta (.600). While the Redskins hold the sixth seed, they are in the envious position of possessing the tiebreaker over the fifth-seeded Giants as well as the next two teams chasing them, the Eagles and the Vikings. It’s also important to note that with a 9-6-1 record, a winning percentage of .593, two teams in the Wild Card mix would have to finish no worse than 10-6 to keep the Redskins out of the playoffs. In order to get to 10-6, the Giants would have to finish 4-3. Philadelphia and Minnesota would have to finish the season 5-2. Tampa Bay, New Orleans, Green Bay and Los Angeles would have to finish 6-1. Arizona would have to win six of its last seven games to reach double-digit victories. In short, if the Redskins get to 9-6-1, they will likely be in the postseason. Get to 10-5-1 and there will definitely be January football for the Burgundy and Gold because I do not see two other NFC Wild Card contenders getting to 11 wins.
3. Win a playoff game
With an NFC East title out of reach, the Redskins will need to go on the road for Wild Card weekend. Over the past three NFL seasons, the road team has won 8 of the 12 Wild Card games, meaning home teams on Wild Card weekend have had less success than Big 12 defenses. If we give Dallas and Seattle a first-round bye, that likely means a road game against the winner of the NFC North awaits the ‘Skins. I don’t believe Detroit, Minnesota or Green Bay would strike fear in Ashburn or the fan base. One could argue the Redskins would be a road favorite against two of those teams.
While the disappointment of not winning the division stings like LaVar hitting Troy, there is still light at the end of the 2016-17 tunnel. To the fans looking forward to revenge on Turkey Day, bottle that excitement and store it until January. Just imagine a Wild Card victory as the sixth seed in the NFC setting up a trip to "Jerry World" in the divisional round of the playoffs. Saturday Night. Jan. 14. 8:30 p.m. A confident Redskins team, coming off of its first playoff victory since 2005, facing Dak, Dez and Zeke in their first playoff appearance since Bryant's non-catch in Green Bay. D.C. will be fired up as if the Federal Reserve just released all of the cash into the air. As crazy as all of this sounds, it’s within the Redskins’ grasp.
Chuck Sapienza is the executive producer of the Naval Academy radio network and the former VP of Programming for ESPN980. He was also a part of the Washington Redskins Radio Network from 2009 to 2015, serving as the network's executive producer. He can be reached at SapienzaChuck@gmail.com
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