1. As I explained on Monday, I have gotten into the habit over the last six or seven years of delivering a standard answer to the question, "How do you think the Redskins will finish this season?" Before the question was even fully asked, I was already blurting out a half-hearted "10-6", to the amusement of many (and to the agony of Kevin).
2. Every summer leading into September, I would get swept up in the idea that until we finished 5-11, or 4-12, we still had a chance to avoid our painfully obvious fate. The "Season of Believing," where football fans around the country are convinced that their team has a chance even if their quarterback situation is a revolving door that spits out one clown after another, suckers me in every time.
3. Like most of you out there, it gives me no pleasure to predict a losing season. Aside from the fact that it has generally been the easy way to be right, it just depresses me to predict that my favorite team is going to fall on its face when there is still a shred of hope that the stars will align for a special season. I have historically stared reason and logic in the eyes and chosen the path of lunacy to preserve my sanity. Lunacy to preserve sanity...welcome to the world of being a Redskins fan.
4. As the years ticked by, my annual 10-6 prediction became more about me not wanting to "miss out" on a lightning strike. What if Donovan McNabb still has enough juice in the tank for another playoff run? What if Jim Zorn energizes this group? What if this is the season that Jason Campbell proves to the league that he is an elite quarterback? What if we catch every single team at the exact right time during the season? Thank God I am not a bigtime gambler...I could easily be living on the street following these kinds of thoughts. (Gibbs was 10-6 in 2005 and 9-7 in 2007 which only encouraged me.)
5. Everything changes this year. Robert Griffin III is definitely one reason, but not the sole reason...and perhaps not the biggest reason. It is true that I believe we have a quarterback that is capable of winning games almost by himself. We have to be careful about this--nobody wins games single-handedly in this league...except for Tim Tebow and maybe Sav Rocca (if they would play him at his natural position of "beast"). That said, quarterbacks can certainly lose you games single-handedly. (Have I welcomed you to the world of being a Redskins fan yet?) It says here that Griffin is going to make plays in 2012 that will be singled out as game-winners. I am already envisioning an overtime, walk-off touchdown run by #10 that will cause us all to barely escape massive cardiac arrest.
6. The presence of a true playmaker at quarterback calls for a new approach to my annual preseason prediction, but there are other factors that loom larger. This is year three for the coaches. It is year three for Kyle Shanahan and his offense, and it is year three for Jim Haslett and his defense. It's junior year, y'all! Nothing beats junior year. The schemes are settling in. Responsibilities and assignments on the field are coming far more naturally. There will be far less thinking going on and far more instinct and reaction. The results should manifest themselves to even the most casual observers.
7. My junior year of college was by far the most fun I have ever had. Oddly enough, it was also the high-water mark for my GPA. Not only that, but I also took more classes than any other year, cramming in credits to lessen the load for my senior year. There is no explanation for how well I did academically that doesn't begin and end with the fact that I finally had figured out what it took to "succeed" in that environment. I understood what I had to do to not only keep up with my biggest course load, but also to keep up with the busiest party schedule I can recall. I could write ten pages on just about anything in record time. For the subject matter I cared less about, I knew how much I had to dig into it to extract what I needed to make the grade. I knew what times of the day to schedule my classes (nighttime) and what times of the day to NOT schedule my classes (daytime). I knew what teachers to sign up for and which classmates to team up with on assignments. I even succeeded in getting the girl...St. Megan. In short, I had finally "gotten it." This is the kind of season I am expecting from the Redskins this year. I expect to see players and coaches "getting it."
8. Before you get all crazy and think I am about to go over 10-6 because players are all of a sudden going to be experts in the schemes, stop. We're not there yet. After you factor in the addition of a legit passer and a greater comfort with how we play on both sides of the ball, you have to remember that the legit passer is a rookie and that not everyone is in their "junior year" on this squad. On top of that, we play a rather difficult schedule, at least in my opinion. When I scoured the list of opponents on our slate in 2012, I had a difficult time identifying teams that we absolutely would beat. It occurs to me that we are that team still for a lot of our opponents. Until we do something on the field to change that perception, we are relegated to that status.
9. In search of some justification for giving this 2012 Redskins squad a shot at a winning season, I went back and looked at the seasons we had in 2005 and 2007 under Joe Gibbs. If you look at those rosters honestly and without your burgundy and gold-colored glasses, I think you will see two teams that probably were not good enough on paper to make it to the playoffs. Both of those teams found themselves at 5-6 after eleven games. Both of those teams gutted out inexplicable winning streaks at the end of the year to qualify for the postseason (in 2005, we won five in a row at the end and in 2007, we closed out the season with four straight wins). It was a testament to the coaching of Joe Gibbs. He had inherited a group of men on offense that were assembled to play a finesse, passing-oriented game under Steve Spurrier. Gibbs favored the power running game and he spent most of his second tenure banging the square peg into the round hole. Mike Shanahan has succeeded in his efforts to change over the roster to suit his schemes in a rather expedited manner. He is not done yet, but he has a team that is very capable of playing his style of football. The players know him and he knows his players. I think Shanny is capable of extracting from this roster what he needs to make the grade, and I don't think he will have to fight it like Gibbs did.
10. Moment of truth time...I am giving this 2012 Washington Redskins team a 9-7 record. I believe that Griffin will cut the turnover totals from the quarterback position by approximately 10-15 and I think that alone is worth at least one, if not two, wins. I believe our defensive front seven is going to be strong enough to mask some of our deficiencies in the secondary. We will get picked on back there, and it will likely cost us a game or two, but the increased comfort in Haslett's scheme will result in better applied pressure and more forced turnovers. I believe that we will have less than five field goals blocked, which could easily be the difference in a win and a loss in one or two weeks. I believe that we will be a team on the rise that will come across at least one or two teams on the decline. I don't know if 9-7 makes the playoffs this year or not, but if we do finish with nine wins, we should jump for joy. The beauty of our situation is that we can extend this "junior year" beyond just this season.
Perhaps I remain guilty of overestimating our chances...perhaps. I am confident enough in 9-7 to withstand any haters...it just feels right.