5 primetime games. Take that, Dallas.
Okay, so the Redskins have had somewhat mixed results with primetime games, and to be honest, we can learn a lot more from the schedule than simply how we'll need to plan our weeks to watch the Redskins. Here are some critical observations as the NFL kicks off the most important week of the offseason.
Of course the schedule is "balanced" overall. Division rivals play 12 of the same 14 opponents regardless of other factors. The Redskins play at the Falcons and home against the 49ers: tough draws to be sure, but the Giants have to play the Seahawks in the regular season, and that's just as tough.
With that said, the NFL does make a certain effort to promote parity by giving division champions more obsticles to overcome. These are typically small obsticles, but the goal is to consistent turnover the teams that win divisions (and host playoff games). The Patriots, obviously, are not that impressed by such passive aggression.
The Redskins didn't really get a bad draw in the schedule. It starts off pretty easy, then goes to an early week five bye. The post-bye schedule is about as hard as it gets: a sustained tough stretch that never really lets up starting at Dallas, then home against Chicago, at Denver, home against San Diego, at Minnesota, at Philadelphia, and home against San Francisco. That's not a horrible seven game stretch, but it's a long one.
It doesn't really get easier from there, but they play a majority of their December schedule at home, play in the division three times, and when they play outside of the division (vs KC, at ATL) they don't play teams they have typically had trouble handling.
It's not asking much of the Redskins to win 2/3rds of their games at the start (pre-bye) and end (last five games) of the season, but the tricky part in trying to match last seasons record will be trying to pull over .500 in the middle of the schedule.
Long home/road stretches
The NFL tries to ensure that no team has to play road games in three consecutive weeks, but the Redskins do have a stretch of three straight home games. This is probably not that great, because every team has just eight home games and if three games are strung together (weeks 12-14), it puts a lot of added pressure on the team to win in that stretch because outside of that stretch, there will be a disproportinate amount of road games. That's the stretch where I covered above.
Tough in November…again
Home vs. Chargers, at Vikings (Thurs), at Eagles, vs 49ers (Monday)
Two rather long weeks in November throw a wrench into the second-hardest three game stretch on the Redskins schedule: a ten day week followed by an eight day week.
If you want evidence that the schedule makers helped the Redskins, you can look at the amount of time they get to prepare for Chip Kelly's offense, they get five months, and then ten days at a time when the Eagles are coming off a road game in Green Bay. It takes a lot of time for a defense to prepare for Kelly's offense, a sizable advantage since Kelly can get his team ready for any defense in a realtively short amount of time. A season sweep of the Eagles would set the Redskins up a lot better for the regular season than a sweep of any other team.
The bottom line
Based on how the schedule falls, the Redskins need to pace above .500 for most of the year. It's less important in the first three weeks: any team can get off to a slow start, just looking at the 2012 Patriots would confirm this. But starting after the bye, the Redskins just need to trend on the right side of .500 between weeks 6 and 15. They can win the NFC East division in the final two weeks sitting at a worst-case 7-7, merely treading water for the first 87% of the season.
If they get stuck at the 3-6 mark they found themselves at last year, the back seven or eight games don't shape up quite as nicely with regards to making a run. It's nice that they play the Giants twice in the final five weeks as those games are going to be big in determining the division champion, but it also means that there's little value into running away with the divison early, because the Giants and Cowboys can get right back into it in the second half of the season if the Redskins aren't playing their best ball at that time.
Overall, the schedule is pretty supportive of the overall goal if the design of the season is the Redskins to pace the season, bring RG3 back slowly, play fundamentally sound football, cut down on the penalties, and win some defensive games late. It doesn't set up well for the Redskins to start 7-0 or 8-0, it's possible, but was never likely, and there are a lot of tough games thrown in sporadically in the first three months of the season.
The Redskins will likely find themselves at an end of season situation similar to last year, they just likely won't take the 3-6, "fire everybody" route to get there this time.