Gone are the days when you could ink in a 1-3 game improvement year over year under a sound front-office structure and professional coaching staff. Today, I look at why the Redskins should keep a firm eye on this postseason as a window that is absolutely open to them now. This franchise remains a work in progress, but at 4-3 going into Detroit, the burgundy and gold are very close to being able to call themselves contenders in the NFC right now. They are not there yet.
I spent all offseason and most of this season so far preaching patience and begging folks to give this regime a few drafts to build something that can legitimately contend every year. As currently constructed, our roster fails to stack up against the teams you would surely put at the top of the NFL hierarchy--Pittsburgh, Indy, the Jets...etc. Yet, teams that find themselves in charge of their own destiny in November are allowed to shake free of the "rebuilding" moniker and focus on making a run. A real run...not a fake Zorn run where we get exposed by every team left on our schedule.
Ten Yard Fight -- 10 Chances To Make One Good Point
1. Teams go from bad to great these days just as easily as they go from great to mediocre. If the first half of the season is teaching us anything, it is that the NFC lacks a full slate of playoff locks. Unlike in the AFC, where last year's elite teams (for the most part) continue to play elite ball, the NFC has seen its top teams struggle out of the gate. Minnesota, New Orleans and Dallas have all failed to live up to the preseason predictions of their dominance (how 'bout them Cowboys?!?!).
2. New Orleans went from the NFC Championship to two straight mediocre seasons before getting their Lombardi Trophy. Did they miss the playoffs both of those years? I think they did. They still had Dree Brees. They still had that potent offense. Their defense was suspect but you would be hard-pressed to find people picking them to miss the playoffs. The point is that even good teams aren't guaranteed their place in this league anymore. If a quality squad has a few missteps, a "lesser" team is there to take that spot. The gap between the haves and the have-nots is shrinking by the second. (To be fair, you can still distinguish between the two.) It is the difference between an over-the-top, alcohol-induced bender and an "allergic reaction to medication". Please join me in praying for Charlie Sheen's quick recovery from his recent adverse reaction to medication.
3. Let's not confuse the kind of off years good teams like the Saints have had with teams like the Colts coming up short in the playoffs on an annual basis for a number of years there. They were legit that whole time...they just ran into other legit squads in a very competitive conference before figuring out a way to bust through. The Redskins are fortunate to not have Indy, Pittsburgh, the Jets, Baltimore and New England all in our conference. In fact, herein is the crux of my argument: Absent any insanely dominant team in the NFC, an up-and-comer like this Washington team can nestle into a playoff spot.
4. Once you get to the playoffs, all bets are off...at least in the NFC. Wild card teams have been making noise in January for a long time. Overwhelming favorites are capable of making quick exits. More than ever, the postseason is a very wide open tournament.
5. Even today, it is hard for me to look at this Washington Redskins team and think playoffs. The case I am making (to myself as much as anyone) is simply that the direction and purpose of this current team under its current leadership seems to me to warrant playoff consideration. I won't be sure until I see which team shows up in Detroit this weekend. As I said yesterday, anything less than a playoff focus out of this team on Sunday will spell doom for the Redskins. The Rams taught us a valuable lesson a few weeks ago: we are not even close to being good enough to waltz into a town and beat a marginal team without our maximum effort. The Lions are more than capable of crushing us. Believe that. If the Redskins play a complete game, we will win.
6. Shanahan is not waiting to turn this roster over just during the offseason. Cutting Devin Thomas was a clear sign that he is expediting the process of shaping his roster to fit his style of play. Joe Gibbs and Jim Zorn were both slow in adjusting their personnel to fit their scheme. They both inherited sets of players that were very much not cut out to play their style of ball. I have already talked enough about this, but the point is that if Shanahan can secure a core set of players that bend to his philosophy before December, we'll be light years ahead of schedule, because those guys may very well get a taste of playoff football this year instead of next year or 2012.
7. Greatness does not arrive at a pro football stadium near you overnight--unless the Colts are on the schedule that week. However, "slightly above average"-ness does happen overnight in this league. If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck and scores game-winning touchdowns on defense, you got yourself a squad. You can go from bad/mediocre to this in one offseason. But only if your GM is not a raccoon-eyed clown that makes draft decisions as if he was deliberately trying to ruin your franchise.
8. I am reminded of Chris Rock's stand-up act here. "I got my GED. Now I can go to college...Not so fast." Being able to win ugly does not mean we are good enough to win meaningful games in January. Not even close. The fact we are even talking about playoffs is already way ahead of where I even want to be right now, mostly because it feels rushed. If anything, we are maybe ready for the Community College of playoffs. In Chris Rock terms, this would be a place where we can pay 10 bucks and "Get our learn on!"...and this is precisely the lesson that would catapult our team to potential greatness in 2011 (assuming there is a season).
9. As I noted above, steady improvement is not guaranteed anyone in this NFL. In most cases, you play in a never-ending series of One-Shot seasons. At least that is what we were conditioned to believe under previous regimes. Given the depths to which our team plummeted over the last decade however, it is not hard to believe an upward trend is possible for us. I mean, the news yesterday was that existing home sales had a record gain last month. While that was true, it was also true that it was the third worst month of sales in history. When you are reporting from the bottom of a pile of shit, just getting your head above turd-level is an achievement. Well Redskins fans...welcome to Above Turd Level!!!!
10. After that Rams game, I was resigned to being years away from the playoffs still. But the landscape of the 2010 NFL is materializing right in front of our eyes, and our Redskins are close to being in position to being considered worthy of playing in the second season. Part of it is our doing, and part of it can be attritbuted to things like...oh...the complete meltdown of the Cowgirls. God, I love it. (I never root for a guy to get injured. But I was rooting for 1-5.) EVERYTHING hinges on the performance of our team in Detroit this week. Failure to show up on the road in Detroit makes this post a waste of all our time (more so than normal I mean). But 60 minutes of offense, defense and special teams in a win before the bye week puts us in control of our own destiny. And this time around, the driver of the car won't be some Zen, hula hoop twirling dude spouting Wrangler Jeans philosophy in team meetings.