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Redskins Face Final Exam

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The stakes couldn't be simpler for Saturday: If the Redskins beat the Eagles, they are the NFC East Champions.

Evan Habeeb/Getty Images

If you've read my work on a regular basis---first of all, God help you---you've probably noticed that I don't exaggerate.  I may get predictions wrong through my own incompetence, but it's never because I'm using hyperbole.  I say what I mean.  I'm not a hype man or a First-Take-esque contrarian.

I mention that because I want it to be clear that what I'm about to say isn't a disingenuous attempt to be provocative.

The Eagles are shaky at best.  And the Redskins will beat them by two touchdowns.

I know.  Divisional game.  Prime time.  High stakes.  Late in the year.  On the road.

Not exactly a formula for a decisive win.

But can we talk about how bad the Eagles have been lately?

Let's look at the last five weeks.  Philadelphia got blown out at home by the Buccaneers.  Then they got blown out at Detroit.  They followed that up with a road win against the Patriots, which sounds great at first.  Except that New England gave up an interception return for a touchdown, a punt return for a touchdown, and a blocked punt for a touchdown---a combination that has happened only three times in NFL history---and the Patriots still had a chance to tie on their final possession.

The Eagles then squeaked by the Bills, thanks in part to some controversial officiating.  That set the stage for last Sunday night, wherein Philly was blown out (again) at home (again) by the admittedly very good Arizona Cardinals.

Philadelphia has given up 178 points in the last five weeks.  Even with the one terrible game against the Panthers back on November 22, the Redskins have allowed 123.  Admittedly, yardage isn't the be-all, end-all of assessing NFL defenses, but it's worth nothing that the Eagles have surrendered at least 412 yards in each of those five games.  The only time that Washington's defense gave up more than 377 during that stretch was this past week, when the Bills got most of that yardage during the second half of a comfortable win by the Redskins.

At the same time the Eagles have been delivering some consistently sub-par performances, the Redskins have seemed to hit their stride.  Kirk Cousins has been particularly good, with some of the check-down-heavy tendencies in the Washington offense replaced with more aggressive strategy, especially with a healthy DeSean Jackson back to stretch the field.

Once plagued by interceptions, Cousins has thrown only two in his last six games.  He has posted a quarterback rating over 100 in five of those six games, including his last four in a row.  This past Sunday, Cousins accounted for almost as many touchdowns (five) as he did incomplete passes (six).

Cousins also currently leads the NFL in completion percentage.  If he winds up at the top of that chart at season's end, he would be the first Redskins quarterback to lead the league in that category since Sonny Jurgensen in 1970.  If Cousins manages to throw at least three more touchdown passes over his final two games, he would have the most TD passes of any Washington quarterback since Mark Rypien threw for 28 touchdowns in 1991.

Against all odds, it's also the Eagles, not the Redskins, who are dealing with off-field issues.  Things are as harmonious in Washington as they've been since Joe Gibbs left town.  There are no more nasty leaks, no more salacious rumors about front-office personnel, and the only stories we read these days about erstwhile "distraction" Robert Griffin III involve the praise being heaped upon him for his professionalism.  Even the legal battle over the team's trademarks seems to be going well for the first time in a while.

While the Redskins improbably continue winning off the field, the Eagles, on the other hand, aren't so fortunate.  They're dealing with a disgruntled and costly DeMarco Murray, along with related, persistent questions about whether Chip Kelly really knows what he's doing.  Murray may be functionally third on the depth chart behind the much-more-effective Ryan Mathews and the versatile Darren Sproles when the Redskins see Philly on Saturday.

And, after dispatching the "can't win on the road" and "can't win consecutive games" bugaboos, Washington will get an opportunity to clear its one final hurdle tomorrow: Win a national, prime-time game.  The Redskins are 0-2 on that front in 2015.  I don't believe they'll go to 0-3.

While the mediocrity of the division makes Philadelphia mathematical contenders, I think we may actually be seeing an unraveling team that's one more crushing home loss away from slipping into overhaul mode.  Washington has an opportunity to be the spark that lights the 2015 Eagles' funeral pyre.

The temptation among Redskins fans, particularly younger ones, is to expect disappointment in a game like this one.

What I'm telling you is: Expect success.

The Redskins will win the NFC East Saturday night.