The schedule makers have emerged from their dimly lit back room. The path to the Super Bowl has been carefully laid out…for one team. The Redskins do not have an easy slate of games. Aside from playing the NFC East twice, we draw Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Jay Cutler, Chris Johnson, and potentially Brett Favre. I mention these players since they are each capable of taking over games and winning them almost single-handedly. But there is a bright side: the Redskins continue to draw both Detroit and St. Louis on the strength of last-place records. As long as we keep seeing both of those teams on our schedule, we should know and understand where we stand in the NFC. As the basement dweller in the NFC East, we draw our fellow basement dwellers from around the conference. Until that changes, expectations must be tempered…but not here. We do our tempering elsewhere. Here are my ten most anticipated games of the season and why I am looking forward to each one.
Ten Yard Fight
10. October 31st, AT Detroit: I have said it a million times (even though it bit me in the ass last year): I have no better feeling as a Redskins fan than when we face off against the Lions. Since 1983, we are 14-3 against the boys from Detroit. Even when they were trotting out Barry Sanders and...well Barry Sanders, we always handled them. And even when they took us down in 1999 during the regular season, we avenged the loss at home in the first round of the playoffs. I should include a disclaimer I suppose…when I say I have a good feeling when we play the Lions, lately it just means I don’t have the worst feeling imaginable. Under Mike Shanahan and Donovan McNabb and behind our defense, the Lions—although a team on the rise—are immediately a team we should beat. They were a team we should have beaten last season. Though this game is not played until Week 8, it is a major test for a team looking to distinguish itself among potential contenders. This game is our last game before the bye week in Week 9 (great bye week placement by the way.) The opportunity to hit the break with some positive momentum has been laid out before us.
9. September 26th, AT St. Louis: Along the same lines as the Lions affair, this game is another chance to take care of business against a team we should be stronger than in September. Sure, a lot of things can change between now and then, but the Rams are still a ways away from contending. Once again, we will see these guys early in the season (has been that way for a while it seems) and once again, we will find out painfully quick what kind of team the Redskins are going to be in 2010. Sort of…even if we win, we are not going to be crowned as being "Back", but if we lose, we will be labeled as being "Done". Such is the life for a perennial underachiever with regularly raised expectations and hopes. These first two games I feature are huge, huge games for us, which hurts in and of itself. We have next to no chance at all to be involved in a playoff chase if we can’t get these two wins in the first half of the season.
8. December 19th, AT Dallas: Divisional games are a big deal in the NFC East, as they are (to varying degrees) around the league. Our division is always among the top two or three in the league. The rivalries are fantastic. Road games in Dallas bring back memories for all of us. For me (as well as many of you), Dallas road games were the one time a year we saw the dark burgundy jerseys come out. It was weird. I recall wondering if they were our uniforms for only when we played in Dallas. In recent years, the players and coaches have strayed from that tradition, mixing and matching uniform schemes. The last two road games in Dallas have been pretty great. We won our last game in Texas Stadium in 2008 en route to Jim Zorn’s huge start, and last season we got Suisham’ed. The dude was 12-for-12 on the season and he missed two big kicks that would have locked up the game for us…killed me. After he cost us the New Orleans Saints game (and my victory pancakes) the only way Suisham could have made people madder at him was if he drew Muhammad in a cartoon.
7. October 3rd, AT Philly: The whole league has this game circled I guess. I am sure McNabb going back to Philly is something that got all the networks revved up. You can pretty much count on an orgy of hype leading up to that game. I like it for that reason too, but more than that, I look at this game as our first chance to change the pecking order in the NFC East. Sure, we lead off with the Cowgirls. But let’s face facts: if we win our opener, we will be seen as upstarts, and the Cowgirls will still be seen as the better team in our division. If we lose, it will just be business as usual in the NFC East to the casual observer. But on October 3rd, we face off against one of the youngest teams in the league. The Eagles are going to be raw this season. They could be good of course, but I think the conventional wisdom is that they will need some time to develop. This game represents an opportunity to demonstrate that the Redskins are not the 4th best team in the NFC East. Baby steps…
6. October 10th, PACKERS: I have always had a fondness for the Packers. I like pretty much everything about them. Their local fanbase owns the team. The stadium is in the middle of town, and they play in harsh weather conditions. Whether they are good or bad, beating the Packers means something to me. I will touch on this again later in the column, but one of the themes of this season for the Redskins is the changing of the culture here. The perception of this team, both internally and externally, must undergo change. Suggesting that a goal of the season is to battle for the hearts and minds of casual fans around the league would be foolish, but the truth is that this battle will occur whether we actively engage in it or not. If the Redskins succeed in becoming a more sound franchise, there will be a few games this year that give fans around the league a way to measure that progress—moreso than just NFC East matchups. The Packers game is one of those games to me. A win over the Pack elevates the status of our club in the Win/Loss column as well as in the perception of fans around the league. You don’t have to care what other fans think about our team to agree with me here…you just have to care that we stop being little more than a joke around the league.
5. October 17th, COLTS: This carries through the theme from the Packers game. Aside from the fact that Peyton Manning is coming through, which carries some significance just because he is a great player to be able to see in person, this game is on Sunday Night Football and will come on the heels of whatever we did the previous week in Green Bay. I imagine we will be on the cusp of .500 or so when we meet Indy on the 17th. From this far out, it is hard to imagine how we will win this, but I hate to just hope for "a good game." That said, I am really hoping for a good game.
4. January 2nd, GIANTS: In the season finale, the Redskins host the New York Giants. I am already dreading the final home game of the season (it is like the last day of school…everyone at the tailgate is hugging, telling each other to "Keep in touch.") Is this the year that the Giants take a step backward? They began that move backwards at the end of last year. While it is possible that this game will have no meaning to either team, it is more likely that it will. In the NFC East, you expect the playoff chase to extend into the final week. If we have any momentum at all, and a chance to get to the playoffs, that game at FedEx will be awesome. I just want that pre-game electricity…that buzz in the parking lot . It is the best.
3. September 12th, COWGIRLS: The home opener is the season opener, and it is against our archrivals. While there is something to be said for building to this game, getting these guys on Day 1 has its advantages. Offenses take a few weeks to warm up in the NFL so catching Tony Romo before he finds his swagger will be a good thing. Showcasing our defense on national television right away could also go a long way towards bettering our image…in town, in the locker room, and around the league. Oh…and beating the Cowgirls is its own reward. Sending those chumps packing in defeat from FedEx is awesome. There are few joys greater than standing in the parking lot after the game, popping a frosty beverage and celebrating a victory over Dallas.
2. November 28th, VIKINGS: I love Favre. One of my biggest disappointments of the last 10 years was when I missed the Green Bay home game in October 2004. I was sick as a dog and watched it from home. At the time, I thought it was my last chance to see Favre come through D.C. If you all remember, we had what I believe was the go-ahead touchdown called back on a phantom motion penalty on James Thrash in the 4thquarter. I care about winning first and foremost, but I very much want to see #4 play in person. Between Favre, Rodgers, Manning, and Schaub (and I guess Cutler), we will have some of the highest performing fantasy players in the league coming through D.C. That’s fun.
1. November 15th, EAGLES: We drew Philly on Monday Night Football, after our bye. I have this as our most important game of the season. We will have played 8 games and had a break to think about it. The Eagles should be young and inexperienced and the Redskins will have hopefully played their way into a comfort zone. If we can hit Week 9 at .500 or better, people are going to tune it to see if the Redskins have a chance of cementing in the culture change in D.C. You can rest assured this game will be over-hyped for the McNabb story alone. For Redskins fans though, a win on this night would set the tone for the rest of the season. The game has playoff implications even now, and the national spotlight is going to amplify the importance of the matchup. It says here that I will be there that night to witness an absolute obliteration of the Philadelphia Eagles.