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Know thy frenemy - which NFL team can do the most to secure the ‘Skins NFC wildcard?

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NFL: Green Bay Packers at Washington Redskins Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The Cowboys are 10-1

The Redskins are 6-4-1

To win the division, the Redskins need 1 more win than the Cowboys. With 5 games left, the Redskins would have to win 5 while the Cowboys lost 4, or win 4 while the Cowboys lost every remaining game. When you throw the NY Giants into the mix (each of the three teams plays the other two in the last 5 weeks) and note that the Redskins would need them to lose a bunch as well, the thought of repeating as division champs has only Dumb & Dumber chances of happening.

At this point, the Redskins are chasing a wild-card spot.

The question is – What’s it gonna take for the Redskins to secure their spot in the playoffs?

And – importantly – which other NFL team should the Redskins fans be cheering on to victory to help insure that the Redskins are successful in reaching the playoffs?

There are 5 games left in the regular season.

Let’s make one thing perfectly clear: if the Redskins run the table in the final 5 weeks, then they are in the playoffs. No team can pass them if they don’t lose. Running the table would mean a regular season record of 11-4-1 and a likely 5th seeding in the NFC. The Redskins currently control their own destiny, and don’t need anyone’s help.

OK, but how many games can the Redskins lose and still get in? Let me start with this opinion: if ‘Skins can’t win 3 of 5 they don’t belong in playoffs anyway. If they go 4-1 down the stretch, they probably make the playoffs. But even a single loss opens the door to other teams – and it turns out that those teams have an opponent in common who could turn out to be the Redskins greatest ally in the race to get a wildcard berth.

So which teams do the Redskins have to worry about? What about AFC Contenders? In the race for the playoffs, the AFC teams are not a concern. They don’t matter till the super bowl.

Tell me about tie-breakers.

When thinking about the wildcard race, it’s natural to worry and wonder about tie-breakers. But for the Redskins – this season – tie-breakers are meaningless, except for Cardinals (or possibly the Seahawks if they have a late-season swoon).

A loss to Arizona this week — along with a second Redskins loss while Arizona finishes undefeated — would mean that the Redskins lose the tie-breaker.

But good news! As long as the Redskins win this week the tie-breaker is a non-issue, because the Seahawks aren’t going to blow a 3 or 4-game division lead with 4 weeks remaining in the season after the Redskins have beaten the Cardinals.

Because of the 6-4-1 record, head-to-head records, division records, conference records all mean nothing to the Redskins and the wildcard. The only way a non-Cardinals/Seahawks team can get a wildcard seed ahead of the Redskins is by having more wins than Washington.

The. Only. Way.

So, in the race against the 6-4-1 Redskins – barring a collapse by an NFC division leader (Lions, Falcons or Seahawks) there are really only 7 teams that really have a shot right now to get in ahead of the Redskins:

  • Giants 8-3
  • Vikings 6-5
  • Buccaneers 6-5
  • Cardinals 4-6-1
  • Packers 5-6
  • Eagles 5-6
  • Saints 5-6

And of these seven teams – only three have a lot of significance in Week 13: the first is the Cardinals (who the Redskins play on Sunday). In addition, the Vikings and the Buccaneers are each capable of passing the Redskins if Washington loses even a single game.

Cardinals

Without a doubt, the game against the Cardinals is critical. With a Redskins win, the Cardinals are all but eliminated from the playoff hunt. A Redskins loss, though, would not only keep Arizona in the race, but would also open the door to the Vikings and Buccaneers to elbow past Washington with a win of their own.

If Cards win this week, they would still need to win out the final four weeks to have a chance of knocking the Redskins out of the wildcard spot. How likely is that?

Well, their schedule isn’t exactly a gauntlet, but it has significant challenges.

@Dolphins 7-4

Saints 5-6

@Seahawks 7-3-1 (tied Ariz last time)

@Rams 4-7 (lost 17-13 in wk 4)

The 2016 Cardinals aren’t the offensive powerhouse from last year; defense is their strength. Arizona has only scored more than 24 points once this season (week 2 versus the Bucs). They face 4 teams with noted defenses. I’d say it’s unlikely that the Cardinals win out.

But remember -- the Redskins can eliminate the question by winning this week. With a Redskins win, the Cards fall to 4-7-1 (3 games back, but really 4 because of tiebreaker). Arizona would have to win their last 4 while ‘Skins lose their last 4 to catch the ‘Skins… and if Washington loses the last 4 games, the playoff hopes of the Cardinals will be least of Scot & Jay’s worries.

Basically, the Redskins can help themselves by going to Arizona and getting the win this week. It’s the next-best-thing to a ‘must win’ that the Redskins have left this season.

Okay, let’s say the Redskins beat the Cardinals this week, but then go 3-1 in the final four games. What would a 10-5-1 record mean to the team’s playoff hopes?

Well, first of all, only Minnesota or Tampa Bay would be able to (mathematically) catch the ‘Skins, and only by winning every remaining game, starting with this week.

The Vikings– Cowboys, @Jags, Colts, @Packers, Bears

The final four games look pretty manageable for Minnesota; after all, the Vikings already beat the Packers in Week 2, even though that seems a lifetime ago in the crazy NFC North. The Bears beat the Vikings on Halloween, but they’ve lost 3 straight since then. The Jags & Colts simply don’t inspire a lot of faith that they can be counted on to knock off Minnesota.

But the gang in purple have one huge challenge remaining on their schedule; as unpalatable as it seems, Redskins fans probably ought to be rooting for a Dallas victory against the Vikings in Week 13 to help us lock the Vikings out of the wildcard.

Buccaneers - @Chargers, Saints, @Cowboys, @Saints, Panthers

Tampa Bay plays 3 out of 5 on the road, but 3 division games mean wins & losses are unpredictable. The Bucs already beat the Panthers in week 5 in Carolina; there’s no reason to expect Cam & the gang to win in Tampa. Four of these games look like coin-flips, inspiring no confidence that they lead to losses for Tampa Bay.

Unfortunately, Skins fans will likely find themselves (once again) in the uncomfortable position of rooting for the Dallas Cowboys. Dak, Zeke, Dez and the offensive line will probably be playing to protect home field advantage in Week 15, but they may also be inadvertently helping protect the Redskins wildcard seeding. At least they’re likely to be motivated to win.

So, for the rest of the season, Redskins fans are likely – out of self-interest – to be (temporary) Cowboys fans as well.

Every game left on the Cowboys schedule -- @Vikings, @Giants, Buccaneers, Lions, @Eagles – is against a team that poses a threat to the Redskins wildcard hopes.

Given that the division title is now out of reach for the Redskins, I’ll be donning my Silver & Blue pom poms for the next 5 weeks and cheering on the most hated rival of my lifetime – the (gag!) Dallas Cowboys… the Redskins bestest Frenemy!

So, who should Washington fans be cheering for in Week 13?

  • the Steelers against the Giants
  • the Cowboys against the Vikings (God, that really sticks in the throat…)
  • the Lightning Bolts against the Bucs
  • the Bengals versus the Eagles
  • the division-leading Lions against the Saints
  • the AFC Texans in their matchup with the Packers

And – of course – the Redskins to dominate the Cardinals in Arizona!!!