1. Do the Redskins have a chance?
Let's get the real question out of the way first and we'll get to the predictions later. But, despite the 16.5-point spread, of course they have a shot. New England has dominated every team it has played, but no team does that for an entire season. An undefeated season always includes games that are close. Why not this one? But here's the other reason: Washington's defense is the best New England will have faced so far. And it's better by enough of a margin that it gives the Redskins a real shot. I also like how the defense handled the questions about New England this week, by not saying too much about them. As a reporter that didn't exactly help. But there seemed to be a real focus and determination about them. That's a good sign.
2. Can the offense score enough to win this game?
That's our No. 1 concern. The Redskins moved the ball rather well at Green Bay and would have done better if not for all the drops. It would have been a breakout game all the way around. So they're capable. Problem is, the running game has provided no hints that it's about to come around and be a force again. And the passing attack sputters because of it, and because of problems along the line.
3. What must they do offensively?
New England allows 4.4 yards per carry, but few teams have run on the Pats all game because they're usually too far behind. But you don't win this type of game by being conservative and hammering them on the ground. At some point, the Pats will take away the run with an extra defender. So Washington must be aggressive and take some chances downfield. Despite what happened last week, we think they will.
4. What's the concern with New England's defense?
The front seven is very good, starting with NG Vince Wilfork. If the Redskins allow him to control the middle, then they will have problems. That's why it's good Casey Rabach is healthy for this game. He can't allow Wilfork to get penetration. If that happens, the Redskins will be in major trouble. So that's the No. 1 matchup. The linebackers run well and give multiple looks and all can make plays.
5. Who needs to have a big game?
Clinton Portis. Again, you can't win without taking shots in a game like this. But the Redskins can't take shots if Portis doesn't have a big day. He'll need cutback lanes that he hasn't been getting. The Redskins also should consider using more power runs to get New England off-balance.
6. OK, what about the Pats' offense -- can they stop it?
It's hard to imagine anyone stopping an offense that scores as much as New England. But, yes, they can slow it. The Redskins have the right mix to try and stop it: their front four has pressured enough this year and they have a talented, athletic secondary. Sean Taylor has the ability to defend Randy Moss downfield and the ability of Shawn Springs to cover in the slot should help against speedy Wes Welker. The Pats' O-line has protected Tom Brady well and I'm not sure I like the matchups along the front.
7. Should they blitz Tom Brady?
Not a lot. For some reason, people still assume that all Washington wants to do is blitz. Newsflash: the Redskins haven't done so in the past three games. And the No. 1 thing they must guard against are big plays. New England makes a bunch, which means a lot of cover-2 and mixing coverages off of that scheme. If the Redskins have to resort to blitzing -- and we'll know early if they will have to -- cover your eyes. They might get there, but if they don't, Brady will make them pay. While the offense must take more chances, the defense has to be smart. And if they get too much pressure, watch out for the screens. New England runs it as well as anyone.
8. What matchups do they need to win defensively?
Of course, they corners have to do a good job against New England's wideouts. Donte Stallworth does not have as many catches as Welker and Moss, but he also makes more yards after the catch. So they're all dangerous. And the guy throwing it is pretty darned good. However, he's also human and if pressured, he will make mistakes. Look at some of their losses last season. And that means Andre Carter has to do good jbo against Matt Light. Can he? Don't know, but he has to. If they can't generate pressure up front, this game changes.
9. Will injuries be a factor?
Well, Rock Cartwright isn't going to play and that hurts a little bit. But Ladell Betts puts up similar numbers as a returner, so that shouldn't be a big loss. I worry about the Redskins' corners. Fred Smoot has battled a nagging hamstring injury that forced him out of last week's game. He's practiced, but he did so last week as well. And Carlos Rogers is a little banged up. He practiced, too, but you need to be 100 percent to handle these wideouts.
10. Who will win?
It seems like teams that end long losing streaks are not always the ones you expect to. Nobody is giving Washington a chance. Remember, the Redskins are 4-2; they're not great by any means, but they're not bad either. At some point, New England will be in a tight game. At that point all it takes is one play to win. That said, the Redskins' offense has not been consistent enough to think they're capable of springing an upset. The defense might play a wonderful game and still give up four touchdowns, put in bad spots by the O and its penchant for second half three-and-outs. But it will be closer than the spread suggests. Pats 28, Redskins 16.
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