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The 5 O'Clock Club: The wildcard watch

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It's 5 o'clock somewhere....

The 5 o’clock club aims to provide a forum for reader-driven discussion at a time of day when there isn’t much NFL news being published. Feel free to introduce topics that interest you in the comments below.

NFC East Divsion Champs

The Philadelphia Eagles, with a 7-1 record, are in control of the NFC East at the moment.

Of course, they could fall apart. The single most obvious problem they might have is possibly losing to Dallas twice. So, there are scenarios where the Redskins could still be relevant in the race for the division championship, but those scenarios are too far-fetched to take seriously.

If the Eagles lose 3 games and the Redskins can match their record then I’ll start worrying about division titles. Until then, a division championship is a fairly tale.

“The season is over!”

There are a number of fans who are convinced that, at 3-4, with an injured team and a tough schedule, the Redskins season is already over; the playoffs are as much of a fairy tale as a division championship. If you count yourself among those fans, you may as well stop reading now; this article is not for you. You’ll simply roll your eyes and call me delusional.

The NFC Wildcard race

The fact is, at 3-4, the Redskins are fully in contention for a wildcard spot in the NFC playoffs. Of course, they’d be in much better shape if they’d beaten the Cowboys, but with more than half the season in front of them, the Redskins have the ability to earn their way into a playoff spot, and that should still be their goal.

Only two games separate 9 teams (including the Redskins) that are competing with each other for playoff positions.

Here’s what the NFC looks like right now:

If the season ended today, three of the division winners would be the Eagles, Vikings, Saints. The Seahawks and Rams would both have 5-2 records, and would both get into the playoffs from the NFC West. But, aside from the Eagles, probably none of these teams are locks for the playoffs at this point.

To make things easy, I’m going to assume that the bottom four teams in the conference — the Bears, Bucs, Giants and Niners — aren’t likely to contend for a wildcard spot this season.

That leaves:

We have, in effect, the Redskins and 8 other teams (from the Seahawks to the Cardinals) competing for 3 playoff spots: the NFC West champs + 2 wildcards.

The first thing I notice is that 5 of these 8 teams are on the Redskins’ remaining schedule.

The pessimist or quitter looks at that and says, “Shit... that’s 5 more losses!”

The optimist or winner looks at that and says, “Great... that’s 5 opportunities to improve our position!”

The second thing I notice is that most of these teams are as troubled or vulnerable as the Redskins. There is no team on the Redskins remaining schedule that cannot be beaten, and none of the 8 teams we are competing with (aside from, possibly, the Rams, whom we’ve already played and beaten) is truly complete or dominant at this point in the season.

Here’s a look at the eight teams besides the ‘Skins who are in the NFC wildcard race:

The Seahawks are having a typical Seattle season. They are successful but inconsistent. They’ve lost to the Packers & Titans, and three of their victories have been over the 49ers, Giants & Colts, three teams with a combined record of 3-20. They have quality wins over division rival Rams, and most recently a 41-38 win over the distracted Texans team with a talented rookie quarterback. Anyone who looks at Seattle as some kind of un-defeatable juggernaut is seriously overestimating this team. The Redskins may not win the game in Seattle, but they can win. Doing so would get them to 4-4 and improve their tie-breaker position vis a vis the Seahawks.

The Rams may be the most complete team of the eight we are in competition with. I suspect that the Rams will hold on to win the NFC West division. The Redskins have already played them and beaten them, so there’s nothing more to be done there. The Rams have the Vikings, Saints, Cardinals and Seahawks left on the schedule. Two or three wins by the Rams in those games will help the Redskins’ playoff hopes.

The Panthers are a little bit like the Seahawks — they’ve been a bit schizophrenic this season. They have some quality wins this season (the Patriots and Lions jump off the page) but — like the Redskins — they have a lot of games remaining against teams who are competing for the playoffs. They play the Falcons (twice), the Saints, Vikings and Packers. It almost doesn’t matter who wins those games — it means that there are 5 losses guaranteed for teams ahead of the Redskins in the standings.

Atlanta stopped their losing streak at 3 games by getting a win against the Jets on Sunday. They are one game ahead of the Redskins, and we don’t play them this season, but the Falcons have a brutal schedule ahead of them, with games against the Panthers (twice), Saints (twice), Cowboys, Seahawks, Vikings. That’s 7 very challenging games for the Falcons (and 7 guaranteed losses for teams that are ahead of the Redskins in the playoff race).

The Packers might have been the early favorites to win the NFC North, but with the loss of Aaron Rodgers, their playoff hopes are dimmed. The Packers have lost back-to-back games to the Vikings and Saints. They have the Lions (twice), the Panthers and the Vikings left in the NFC, but they also have to run the AFC North gauntlet, with games against the Steelers and Ravens still on the schedule. The Packers are a game ahead of the Redskins, but they are starting a backup quarterback behind a patchwork line. They are probably in a more tenuous situation than Washington.

The Cowboys have a suspect defense, and — at the time I’m writing this — the Zeke Elliott 6-game suspension is back on again. The Redskins get another crack at Dallas on Thursday Night Football, a week after Thanksgiving. With both teams playing on Thanksgiving day, neither will be on a short week. In addition to the Redskins, Dallas has to take on the Chiefs, Falcons, Seahawks and Eagles (twice). The Redskins can get one game back on our own, but Dallas is likely to have multiple stumbles on the way to Week 17, especially if they have to play 6 games without the 2nd most punchable face in the NFL.

The Lions have lost three in a row, and two of their 3 victories this season have come against the Giants and Cardinals -- two of the worst teams in the conference. Detroit has one of the easier remaing schedules among the nine teams, with the Browns, Bears, Bucs and Bengals, but they look to be a team that is struggling at the moment. There’s a chance that they could win the NFC North just because they have one of the easiest remaining schedules in the conference, but if they get in the playoffs, I doubt whether they can win a game against playoff-level competition.

The Cardinals’ season probably really is over. With Carson Palmer gone, they lost to the Rams 33-0 this weekend. The good news is that the Redskins get to play them in Week 15.

Putting the Redskins chances into context

Fans tend to get myopic about their own team, exaggerating its strengths and its weaknesses.

The Redskins just lost a game. The Redskins have injuries. The Redskins have some tough games left on the schedule.

None of that means that the season is done. There are eight other teams that are in competition with Washington for three playoff spots, and they all have their own issues, from missing quarterbacks to suspended running backs to poor defenses to brutal schedules.

Personally, I’m ready to write off the Cardinals and say that there are 7 teams in competition with the Redskins. We need to get in front of five of them.

Luckily, most of those teams are on the Redskins schedule, and most of them play each other. That means that those teams will be inflicting losses on one another, and the Redskins have the opportunity to inflict losses and rack up wins.

The Redskins, frankly, are well-positioned to make a playoff run based on the relative weakness of the last 6 opponents on their schedule.

It’s true that opportunity isn’t the same as guaranteed success. It’s true that the Skins are injured, but so are most of the other teams we are competing with.

As a fan, you can simply give up on this 3-4 team and proclaim the season “over”. If so, then you’ve really wasted your time reading this far in the article.

The Redskins still control their playoff destiny. They just have to win games.

What’s the path to a wildcard spot?

It’s far too early to do the math on playoff scenarios, but I’m willing to say that the remaining schedule breaks into three groups:

  1. Teams that we should beat, no matter what - Giants (twice), Cardinals - 3 wins. If we can’t win these three games, we deserve a top-5 draft pick in 2018.
  2. Teams that we should beat, if we are legitimate wildcard contenders - Chargers, Broncos - 2 wins. If we can’t win these two games, we don’t belong in the playoffs at all.
  3. Other playoff contenders = Seahawks, Vikings, Saints, Cowboys - We need to be able to beat the Zeke-less Cowboys + one of the other three to make the playoffs.

That would be 7 wins in the final 9 games, which would virtually guarantee a wildcard spot. If the Redskins aren’t capable of that, then they probably don’t belong in the postseason.

Disclaimer

Don’t get me wrong — I’m not predicting a Redskins playoff appearance in 2017. I’m simply saying that it’s too early to give up on it.

The final optimistic word

With games coming up against the Seahawks, Vikings and Saints, a lot of fans see a ‘murderer’s row’ of games that will spell the end of the team’s playoff hopes. I believe that the team could go 1-2 in those games, falling to 4-6 overall, and still have a strong finish to the season, sweeping their final 6 games.

Hang in there Redskin fans. As Yogi would have told us, “It ain’t over till it’s over.”

Key matchups in Week 9:

  • Redskins - Seahawks Sunday 4:05 pm
  • Falcons - Panthers Sunday 1:00 pm
  • Lions - Packers Monday Night Football

Poll

What will the Redskins record be over the next three games (Seahawks, Vikings, Saints)?

This poll is closed

  • 7%
    3-0
    (17 votes)
  • 35%
    2-1
    (77 votes)
  • 33%
    1-2
    (72 votes)
  • 23%
    0-3
    (52 votes)
218 votes total Vote Now