1. As are most of my Redskins-related thoughts these days, today's are inspired by the Washington Nationals and their sweep of the Boston Red Sox. I wrote earlier this spring about how the success of the Nats would be a huge psychological boost to the DC fanbase, but I honestly never contemplated this kind of success. I felt that Redskins fans in the area would take refuge for a few months at the most in the glow of any positive progress made by the Nats. Nothing replaces winning football games on Sunday, but for a town that has been beaten on the field, court, ice and diamond with regularity over the last decade (Caps playoff excitement notwithstanding), watching a crop of young players--drafted and developed by the hometown team--learn how to win is exactly the kind of therapeutic regimen we need. This is what we reserve our hopes for this fall, and seeing it work for a team that competes in an elite division and on big stages fuels our hope for the Redskins.
2. Going into the series at Fenway Park, I told Kevin that travelling to Boston and throwing Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann was our chance to "arrive." Our pitching staff has already established itself as one of the best in the sport right now, but to back it up in a cathedral of the game in front of fans that know a lot about baseball is a surefire way to announce your presence to the world. For those that watched the games this weekend, you surely heard many of the Boston faithful applaud the scrappiness of Bryce Harper. You surely saw the disbelief and appreciation for the way Strasburg operates on the mound from the fans behind home plate on Friday night. The whole experience got me thinking about the upcoming RG3 roadshow and how--very soon--this same kind of phenomenon could occur.
3. Part of what made the Nats' weekend pop was the venue. Say what you will about the confines of Fenway (it felt like the Nats were playing in a Little League park while the Red Sox were facing bigger dimensions), it is a revered, hallowed ground. That matters in the sport of baseball. When you are a National League team, your chances to put dents in the Green Monster are few and far between. In the NFL, NFC teams and AFC teams are similarly spaced out in their home and away matchups. Looking at the 2012 schedule, there is really only one place that stands out as a comparison. Pittsburgh's Heinz Field does not even come close to matching the tradition and history of Fenway--it opened in 2001--but the fans in Pittsburgh know their football. The Redskins play their eighth game of the season in Pittsburgh, which will have given Robert Griffin III and his teammates enough time to set the foundation for a possible playoff push in the second half of the season. Should the Redskins be hovering around .500 or better when they face the Steelers on October 28, you can bet the league's talking heads will be pondering aloud whether the upstart Redskins can go into an old-school AFC town and exert their will. If we are victorious, the story will be at least somewhat similar to the Nats going into Boston and dominating a traditional powerhouse. My other choices here were New Orleans, St. Louis, Tampa Bay and Cleveland, as I was not considering options from within our own division.
4. As important as the city involved (Boston) was, facing a team as iconic as the Red Sox also upped the ante for the Nationals. When people see the Red Sox jersey, there is something automatically inferred by the viewer. I think the Steelers are once again a natural fit for this comparison, but I don't want the whole sixpack to be just about Pittsburgh, so I will pick someone different. On opening day, the Redskins travel to New Orleans to take on the Saints. Thanks to Drew Brees and a Lombardi Trophy, the Saints are presently synonymous with NFL success (as well as bounties, suspensions and holdouts). Should the Redskins go into the French Quarter and steal a victory, it would be as symbolic as it would be shocking.
5. Watching the top of the best starting pitching rotation face off against guys like David Ortiz, Adrian Gonzalez and even Dustin Pedroia provided plenty of drama and excitement all weekend. Beyond the venue and opponent, the matchups we were promised at the beginning of the series did not disappoint. Again, staying away from the divisional rivals, I looked at the upcoming schedule for the Redskins and I decided to buck the away game part of this whole comparison and try to identify a game that would feature a matchup (or matchups) that we will all eagerly anticipate the week leading up to the game. For me, it has to be Baltimore. Clearly, I am not looking at opposing offenses to determine which matchup for our defense will be "marquee." If we are going to have a featured matchup of any week, it will have to be our offense versus an opposing defense. Baltimore always brings the heat on defense, and assuming that Griffin is healthy with a relatively full cast of healthy teammates, this matchup could very well capture the imagination of even the most casual league observers. The Ravens will certainly be capable of defending multiple facets of our attack. It will come down to RG3 catching them in a rare pre-snap mistake, or capitalizing on a rare coverage error. Great matchups are generally decided by one party's ability to take advantage of the slightest misstep. We get the Ravens at home in December. It is likely that playoff contention will be on the line for at least one of the teams in this game. Regardless of who it is, this game promises to be a test for our offense. If we are successful, it will either be the beginning of a convincing playoff march, or it will be a reason to believe in the progress of a young team that is very, very close to being a factor in the league.
6. The Redskins will have opportunities throughout the 2012 campaign to make statements against teams that have played consistently good football year in and year out. Like the Nationals, the Redskins will have the chance to establish their brand of play with more than just the fans of the two teams involved watching. Here's hoping we have multiple Monday mornings this fall that find us relishing the "arrival" of a young team powered by young players on both offense and defense. We will get to the the NFC East portion of the schedule, and I am not selling short the importance of winning in your own division, but here's hoping that the Redskins can demonstrate a highly competent and potent style of play on the road against teams that everyone expects to be better than us.