The Washington Redskins seem to find themselves in familiar territory every week.
If the they win, they take a big step toward the playoffs—but not a decisive one. If the they lose, their playoff hopes are dealt a significant blow—but not a deadly one.
So it goes with this weekend's clash with the Chicago Bears. The Bears and the Redskins are both 5-7, but Chicago is in a much, much different position due to the significantly less abysmal landscape of its division.
The Bears were 5-7 at this time last year as well (finished 5-11), but they've actually fared better under John Fox in 2015. In the games in which Jay Cutler has been healthy, Chicago is 5-5, with all five losses coming by eight points or less. The most recent of those losses was a 26-20 overtime defeat at the hands of the 49ers, a game in which the Bears' Robbie Gould crucially missed two field goals in regulation.
The Bears are probably better than their record. The Redskins probably aren't. The Skins fumbled away a golden opportunity against Dallas last Monday night, and now have little margin for error the rest of the way.
In the case of this weekend's game, Washington also has to travel to Soldier Field. At first glance, that would seem like horrible news for the Redskins' chances. After all, Washington hasn't won a road game all year. In fact, now less than a month removed from finishing his second full season in the NFL, Redskins' coach Jay Gruden has just one road victory to his name. One! In two years!
Yet, here's something quirky about the Chicago Bears: They are the only team in the NFL that has a winning record on the road, but a losing record at home. The Bears are just 1-5 at Soldier Field in 2015. Only the Tennessee Titans (1-6) have a worse home record in the entire NFL. The Bears would match that 1-6 mark if the Redskins beat them.
Obviously, something has to give.
Unless . . . oh, no . . . you don't think they'll tie, do you?
You know what? Forget I said that. Let's not even entertain the possibility. Moving on!
As far as Bears / Redskins goes, what's surprising is how thoroughly the Redskins have dominated the last three decades of the series between the two franchises.
Washington famously invaded Soldier Field in both the 1986 and 1987 playoffs and scored victories over very good Chicago teams, derailing any hopes of a dynasty that the Bears may have had after their legendary 1985 championship team. From that point forward, the Redskins have lost to Chicago only three times, while beating the Bears on 13 occasions.
That collection of wins isn't just a bunch of Gibbs-era, glory-days triumphs. Curiously, the Redskins have continued to hold the advantage in the series during recent (Snyder-era, anything-but-glory) years: Washington has won five straight against the Bears, dating back to 2004. The latest win came during the atrocious 2013 season, with Robert Griffin III and company getting one of their three (ugh) victories that season via a 45-41 shootout over Chicago. Jay Cutler has struggled mightily in two starts against the Redskins, throwing one touchdown against five interceptions and posting a putrid passer rating of 46.6.
The Redskins have had the Bears' number of late, Chicago struggles at home, and Washington has to win to maintain possession of first place, while the Bears are just playing out the string. To varying degrees, those signs point to a Redskins victory.
Still, this has been a season of measured progress for Washington, of a step forward followed by a step (or two) back.
I want to believe that Kirk Cousins will have another turnover-free game, that DeSean Jackson will redeem himself after last Monday's blunder, that DeAngelo Hall will have another excellent game against old pal Jay Cutler, that the vanished running game will resurface, and that Jay Gruden will actually figure out how to win a road game.
I want to believe that.
But my optimism is tempered by the hunch that, no matter what the Redskins do in 2015, they'll come up one win short at the end of the year.
I said way back in April that I thought this was a 7-9 team. I still believe that. If Washington is going to prove me wrong by surpassing that record, beating the middle-of-the-road Bears on Sunday would be a good start.