First, some perspective.
As tough as it may be to believe, the Redskins are 2-0 this season in games where they are favored. They are a not-so-horrible 1-4 in games where they are the underdog, and they are 1-1 in games where they are getting more than three points as an underdog. Your Hog Heaven writers, Anthony and I, both picked the Redskins to be 3-4 through seven games, en route to a 7-9 finish. Sure, we also foresaw a weak SF team coming in next week to help get the Redskins back to .500, and yes, this game is now looking like a big mismatch, but a win here this week gets the Redskins back into the thick of things in the NFC East. Hope is not and should not be totally lost.
But the way the Redskins have gotten to this point has been troubling. As I gave the record against the lines above, one thing that I didn’t state was that the Redskins may be doing fine when favored to win, but they haven’t lived up to expectations. The Redskins have not covered a spread since the bye week. And they have not looked like a good team since Week 3, when Rex Grossman was the quarterback, when Santana Moss and Jabar Gaffney were both playing well, and when Tim Hightower appeared to be the solution at running back. The Redskins beat a hapless Rams team while looking rather mediocre, then had an offensive meltdown against the Eagles, and switching quarterbacks at that point has done absolutely nothing to make the Redskins a better team. In fact, if you start from the Rams game and go forward, you could make the case that the Skins defense has gotten less effective every week.
Fortunately, you could say the same thing for the rest of the NFC East. The Eagles have been trending upwards, looking like a good team against Dallas after improving leaps and bounds against the Redskins. But their defense still has plenty to show against better offenses than that of the Dallas Cowboys. I can’t see one specific reason to believe that the Eagles are suddenly better than the Giants, except perhaps that the Giants have been really unimpressive the last three weeks. And the only reason the Cowboys aren’t in the discussion for best team in this division is because they just laid an egg on the road on Sunday night. You’re eyes aren’t decieving you: the Redskins aren’t very good, and neither is the rest of the NFC East.
The Giants are coming back to the pack. Even though I believe they are the division’s best team, here’s the remainder of their schedule: at New England, at San Francisco, vs Philadelphia, at New Orleans, vs Green Bay, at Dallas, vs Washington, “at” New York Jets, vs Cowboys. The Giants have an obvious advantage in that they don’t have to leave their complex in northern New Jersey following a Week 14 trip to Dallas. But I just don’t know how they can survive this upcoming six game stretch unless the Packers or Cowboys suffer enough injuries to become a fundamentally different team between now and the first of December. It will be a major accomplishment if the Giants can beat two of the best teams in football and manage to take an 8-5 record into the Washington game, but even at an optimistic 8-5, that opens up the door for any of the NFC East teams who aren’t facing nearly as tough a schedule to pull even with a 5-1 stretch.
It is almost certain that the Eagles, who have the softest month and a half upcoming, will be right back in it with seven or eight wins by December 11th. The Cowboys have a softer schedule than the Redskins do, but it’s close enough as where only the team that wins in FedEx Field on November 20th will have a legitimate shot to catch the Giants and the Eagles. The loser will be relegated to third place, at best.
Divisions can be won and lost on silly things such as difficult schedule quirks, and so it is imperitive that the Redskins show that they can win a game at home when the deck is stacked heavily in their favor, with San Francisco having to cross the country and develop a gameplan that will allow a team that is not obviously more talented than what Washington has to continue to dominate its opponents. The reason we can call it Rock Bottom is because things are supposed to get better from here. The Redskins can beat good teams as long as they enter the game expecting to play a good team. But if the schedule hands you an advantage (in this case a home game vs. a strong west coast team), and you prove conclusively that San Francisco is a better team, there’s no reason why the Redskins might not hang around rock bottom the rest of the year.