This time, I really mean it!
I don't think there's been a single game over the past two-and-a-half seasons that potentially means as much as this Sunday's clash with the Giants.
The NFC East has two teams that are going through some pretty trying times. The defending divisional champion Cowboys just lost their eighth game of the season—and lost their starting quarterback for the second time this year. With Tony Romo finished, and a winning record already an impossibility, I think it's fair to write off the Cowboys.
Meanwhile, the 4-7 Eagles are in utter disarray. The consensus is that the increasingly Spurrier-esque Chip Kelly will be manning a sideline adjacent to some college campus in 2016. Since Kelly was the architect of the head-scratching roster moves that helped pave the way for a massively disappointing season, he doesn't have the luxury of a front-office fall guy. With that drama playing out as background noise, and the Eagles coming off a 31-point loss to the Lions, a late-season rally is unlikely for Philly.
Back to Sunday's game, then. Despite their modest records, the 5-5 Giants and 4-6 Redskins each have a real opportunity to seize control of the division.
First, the positive scenario from Washington's perspective: If the Redskins win, they'll be 5-6 with a season split against New York. Washington also has only one divisional loss. A defeat at the hands of the Redskins would be the Giants' third in the division. That's important, as divisional record is the second tie-breaker after head-to-head play. Washington would also improve to 5-3 against the NFC with a win over the Giants, while New York would fall to 4-5.
The long and short of it is that the Redskins would control their own playoff fate if they can beat New York. Even at 5-6, Washington would win the NFC East if it won out, no matter what the Giants did. The big "if" there is that the Redskins would have to keep winning, assuming New York did as well. Washington's inconsistent play this year doesn't bode well for a 5-0 finish, but, still, beating the Giants would make the Redskins' path to the playoffs cleaner than New York's. A win would mean a competitive, two-horse race the rest of the way.
The picture is much more grim if the Giants win. Barring a collapse, New York would all-but-eliminate the Redskins with a win this week. Even though it would only be Washington's second divisional loss, the Redskins would fall two full games back and would have been swept by the Giants.
That means that the Redskins would have to finish with a better record than the Giants because New York would hold the first tie-breaker (head-to-head play). Some simple and obvious math tells us that, with only five games remaining, even if the Giants were a mediocre 2-3 down the stretch, the Redskins would have to go undefeated to catch and pass New York for the division lead. A tie in the final standings would do the Redskins no good under that scenario.
Here are those remaining schedules, following this Sunday:
Redskins - vs. Dallas, at Chicago, vs. Buffalo, at Philadelphia, at Dallas
Giants - vs. NY Jets, at Miami, vs. Carolina, at Minnesota, vs. Philadelphia
The Redskins have an easier overall schedule, but, considering their well-documented road woes, it's difficult to see Washington winning the four or five games they would need to pass the Giants if New York wins on Sunday.
A loss for the Redskins would also drop them to 4-7 and shift them into all-too-familiar "also-ran" mode. The rest of the year would be dominated by questions like "Who's getting fired?" and "Does Kirk Cousins deserve a new contract?" and "What is wrong with this franchise?", rather than discussions of playoff scenarios.
Personally, I'd rather talk about postseason possibilities than whether the Redskins are going to fire Joe Barry or try to trade Alfred Morris for a bag of footballs.
To add even more pressure to an already high-stakes situation, Washington just lost Chris Culliver for the season. Yet another injury to the Redskins' defensive backfield isn't going to make stopping Odell Beckham any easier. And that 44-16 walloping against Carolina doesn't exactly instill a lot of confidence that Washington can pull it together and win a big game against New York.
However, if you're a Redskins fan looking for a straw to grasp, consider that the Panthers only gained 18 more yards against Washington in that 44-16 win than New Orleans did in the Saints' 45-14 loss to the Redskins.
Why such a wild swing in outcomes? The story of the Panthers game (bad calls aside) was the deluge of turnovers committed by Washington—five in all. The Redskins also turned the ball over three times against the Giants in the 32-21 loss in New
Simply put, if Washington (especially Kirk Cousins and Matt Jones) can hold onto the ball, they can beat the Giants.
If they can't, and Eli Manning gets a couple of short-field possessions, the NFC East title could be all-but-sewn-up by 4:15 or so on Sunday.