With Ken and Hunter offering their own thoughts last week in the wake of the release of Washington's 2015 schedule, I thought I would jot down a few wild notions myself, since (1) writing about the Redskins when they're still undefeated is always the most fun (BETTER HURRY!), and (2) if there's one thing our readers can't get enough of, it's a third shot-in-the-dark, game-by-game prediction in April!
You can stop your clamoring, good denizens of Hogs Haven.
Let's do this!
Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 13 -- vs Miami Dolphins, 1:00 pm CBS: Toss-up game. While the Dolphins were sneaky-competent last year, I think they're due to drop off. Joe Philbin has somehow survived into his fourth year in Miami, despite off-field turmoil and a failure to produce a single winning season. That anticipated drop-off would certainly doom him. Despite the signing of Ndamukong Suh, I think Dolphins fall to the Redskins and a surprisingly frisky, revamped Washington defense. WIN (1-0)
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 20 -- vs St. Louis Rams, 1:00 pm FOX: The Rams won six times last year (and lost three other games by less than a touchdown) despite playing in a tough division and not having a real quarterback. They also dominated the Redskins. Even at home, I think Washington probably has some trouble. Maybe they beat the Rams and lose to the Dolphins, but it seems unlikely that they win both games. LOSS (1-1)
Week 3: Thursday, Sept. 24 - @ New York Giants, 8:30 p.m. CBS/NFLN: Sandwiched between a pair of three-game winning streaks was a pretty stinky run of games for the Giants in a sub-par 2014. Yet, the G-Men still found a way to beat the Redskins twice. I don't trust Washington to win a Thursday night road game, even against a mediocre team. LOSS (1-2)
Week 4: Sunday, Oct. 4 -- vs Philadelphia Eagles, 1:00 pm FOX: Like a lot of people, I'm still undecided as to whether Chip Kelly's team-building strategy is just crazy enough to work---or just crazy. Honestly, the Eagles could be a juggernaut, or they could be a circus. Possibly a juggernaut circus. Either way, they're probably better than the Redskins. LOSS (1-3)
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 11 -- @ Atlanta Falcons, 1:00 pm FOX: The 2014 Falcons won only one game outside the woeful NFC South. That's enough for me. WIN (2-3)
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 18 -- @ New York Jets, 1:00 pm FOX: The Jets, like the Redskins, were 4-12 last year. New York has also added some nice pieces in free agency. I just can't see Washington putting together a road winning streak. Like the first pair of games, I think they'll win one and lose one in some combination when they play Atlanta and the Jets. LOSS (2-4)
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 25 -- vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 1:00 pm FOX: The Redskins owe one to Tampa Bay after the pasting the Bucs put on Washington in 2014. Let's also remember that the 27-7 embarrassment was just one of two games the Buccaneers won all season, despite the fact that Tampa played in a division where EVERY TEAM HAD A LOSING RECORD! Woof. Another loss to Tampa would make for a long bye week in which Jay Gruden would have plenty of time to punch up his resume. I think the Redskins are now better-equipped to hold Mike Evans under the 782 receiving yards he put up against Washington last year (numbers approximate). WIN (3-4)
Week 8: Sunday, Nov. 1 -- (Bye)
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 8 -- @ New England Patriots, 1:00 pm FOX: Next. LOSS (3-5)
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 15 -- vs New Orleans Saints, 1:00 pm FOX: Unlike some of the other teams on this schedule, the Saints' poor 2014 campaign seems like more of an aberration. Losing Jimmy Graham hurts a bunch, but I still think New Orleans will finish with a better overall record than the team had last year, even if it misses the playoffs again. All of that said, the Redskins have to win a random home game against a decent team at some point, right? Right?!? WIN (4-5)
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 22 -- @ Carolina Panthers, 1:00 pm FOX: Fun fact about Carolina - Last year, the Panthers beat the Bears on October 5th to snap a two-game losing streak. The Panthers did not win another game until December 7th. Two MONTHS without a victory, and they somehow made the playoffs. WIN (5-5)
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 29 -- vs New York Giants, 1:00 pm FOX: I really think the Giants and Redskins will battle it out to avoid last place in the division this year. New York will continue to struggle, despite the emergence of bona fide superstar Odell Beckham, Jr. in 2014. This seems like Coughlin's swan song, and probably a rebuilding effort coming immediately thereafter. WIN (6-5)
Week 13: Monday, Dec. 7 -- vs Dallas Cowboys, 8:30 pm, ESPN: This will be the portion of the season where we talk ourselves into thinking the Redskins can contend for a playoff spot. A soft-ish early schedule will lead to Washington being in the "OTHERS" portion of every "Playoff Picture" graphic that pops up around Thanksgiving. Unfortunately, Dallas is just a better team than Washington at this moment in history. I take no pleasure whatsoever in typing that sentence. True enough, this is a rivalry, and the Redskins tagged Dallas in Dallas last season with Washington's third(?)-best quarterback at the controls. Nonetheless, this game will probably be very meaningful for the Cowboys' playoff hopes and seeding-related desires, and a well-rested Greg Hardy will have already returned. Sorry, fans. LOSS (6-6)
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 13 -- @ Chicago Bears, 1:00 pm FOX: The Bears gave up more points than anyone in the NFC last year - even the Redskins! I think John Fox is good for a turnaround, though. Toss-up game with the edge to the home team. LOSS (6-7)
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 20 -- vs Buffalo Bills, 1:00 pm CBS: The Bills are a weird one. Recall that they actually had a nice little season last year, going 9-7, but that head coach Doug Marrone used an opt-out clause in his contract that was triggered only by a change in ownership. You know, because, when you have a chance to give up a head coaching gig for a winning team to be the offensive line coach for the Jaguars, you have to make that move. I like Washington in a mild upset against Rex Ryan's foot soldiers. WIN (7-7)
Week 16: Saturday, Dec. 26 -- @ Philadelphia, 8:25 pm NFLN: The Redskins faced a Philly team that had a lot at stake late in the season last year, and the Eagles pooped all over themselves. As I said before, I wouldn't be surprised if Philly is great or if Chip Kelly's Grand Experiment turns out to be a disaster. On paper, though, the Eagles should win. LOSS (7-8)
Week 17: Sunday, Jan. 3 -- @ Dallas Cowboys, 1:00 pm FOX: The best chance Washington has is fairly obvious--hope Dallas has its playoff spot secured and rests starters. Except that didn't happen last year, and it's even tougher to do in front of a home crowd against a rival. Not on Jerruh's watch! LOSS (7-9)
Final Thoughts: I'm in approximately the same place with this team as Hunter is. I don't think they're a winning team. That said, improvement seems likely. Thanks in part to a favorable schedule (to the extent a concept like "favorable schedule" is meaningful in a parity-driven league), there would be no excuse for repeating the dismal performance level that led to the last two years' 7-25 mark.
About that schedule---The Redskins begin at home, they have a division in their rotation that consisted of four losing teams last year, and they have a bye week that precedes the toughest stretch on the slate. They also get a mediocre AFC East (with the obvious exception), plus two last-place teams from 2014. On top of that, Scot McCloughan has made a lot of smart, value-laden moves so far. At a minimum, I expect the defense to be a notch or two better than the 2014 version.
Even with all of that in play, I think this is a six- or seven-win team. I think there are several two-week pairings where one win is more likely than zero or two: Dolphins / Rams, Falcons / Jets, Bears / Bills. What separates good teams from the big middle-of-the-pack in the NFL is the ability to string those wins together, rather than going one-up, one-down. Even giving the Redskins the benefit of the doubt with an improbable sweep of the NFC South, topping seven victories seems like a tall order.
If they don't win at least that many, I think Gruden is done. Seven victories might still be a gray area, but saying you won as many games this year as the team won the previous two years combined is a nice factoid.
Several prominent players, Robert Griffin III included, may also be benched or ushered out to make way for more McCloughan Men if the season doesn't go well. I personally think a .500 finish would have to be considered a very good year, although there's no guarantee that Dan Snyder would share that perspective. In any case, this year will be make-or-break for many of the core people involved in the current direction of the team, whether their options just got picked up or not.
Finally, despite the fact that I absolutely think the Redskins will be improved to some degree, I will admit that I'm muting my expectations. They're tempered by my 7-9 / 8-8 prediction from a season ago that didn't even come close to materializing.
This year, I'm opting for "pleasantly surprised" over "wildly disappointed yet again."
Here's to low expectations!