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The 5 O'Clock Club: Wildcard Watch - Week 12

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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.

Game Result - Week 11 vs the Saints

The Redskins lost a high-scoring overtime contest on the road in Week 11, after dominating on the scoreboard for the first 54 minutes. It was a late-game collapse of epic proportions that will probably be remembered — for different reasons — in both Washington and New Orleans for years to come.

The grim news - injuries continue to mount

When I posted the first Wildcard Watch 4 weeks ago, I wrote that if the Redskins could win 1 game against the Seahawks, Vikings and Saints, they would remain in the NFC wildcard race. The premise behind that statement was that the Redskins would get healthier during those three weeks, and arrive at the Thanksgiving game close to 100% and ready for the stretch run.

Well, the opposite has happened. The team has added players to the injured reserve list weekly, and this week brought more disappointment. The season is over for Chris Thompson, Terrelle Pryor Sr., Shawn Lauvao and Spencer Long. Chase Roullier had hand surgery this week, so Tony Bergstrom is starting at Center against the Giants. Reporters are tweeting about Zach Brown and MaMartrMartrell Spaight in walking boots.

The fact is, the Redskins are a M*A*S*H* unit, and the likelihood of this collection of practice squad players, UDFAs and third stringers putting together the winning streak that the team needs is remote, but I plan to stay with the Wildcard Watch until the ‘Skins lose another game.

The loss to the Saints is the last one the Redskins can take if they have any hope of securing a wildcard berth. This loss wasn’t quite a dagger through the heart, but the nature of the loss (it looked like a win until the final three minutes), combined with the season-ending injury to Chris Thompson, is very disheartening.

The Redskins have left themselves no room for error; they will have to sweep their remaining six games to have a chance at a playoff slot. Another loss will almost certainly end any hope of a postseason berth.

A quick NFC overview

The 4 division leaders

In addition to the Saints, the Eagles and Vikings extended their division leads this week, with Minnesota winning a huge game over the NFC West leading Rams, who fell to 7-3, ending the LA winning streak at 4 games.

At the bottom of the conference

The Bears lost to division rival Lions while the Tampa Bay Bucs picked up a second consecutive win against an AFC East opponent by defeating the Dolphins, keeping their very slim playoff hopes alive.

The Giants scored a surprising win over the suddenly ice-cold Kansas City Chiefs, who have now lost 4 out of their last 5 games, but remain in first place in their division.

The San Francisco 49ers had a bye week.

I’m declaring a new team to be part of the “bottom of the conference” group as of this week.

The Arizona Cardinals lost to the Deshaun Watson-less Houston Texans, dropping the NFC West team to 4-6. While this is the same record as the Redskins, I don’t think the Cardinals have any chance at all of making up the ground needed to secure a wildcard slot, while the playoffs remain a possibility for Washington. The two teams play each other in Week 15, at which time I hope that the Redskins will be trying to extend a 4-game win streak against a team that will be trying to identify who will be on the team next year.

In a sign of the Cardinals “Is it 2018 yet?” mindset, they released running back Andre Ellington on Monday to open roster room for a new young player that may be able to contribute next season. Ellington was claimed by the Texans.

The Wildcard contenders

In Week 11, there were 3 highly significant games that were highlighted in last week’s Wildcard Watch. In my view, the two that didn’t involve the Redskins went the way Redskins fans would want them to.

  • The Redskins, of course, lost to the NFC South-leading Saints
  • The Cowboys lost to the NFC East champions-to-be Eagles
  • The Falcons beat the Seahawks in a game where Russell Wilson’s furious last minute comeback to set up a game-tying field goal attempt was reminiscent of what Drew Brees accomplished against the Redskins on Sunday. Seattle’s comeback bid fell short along with the 52-yard field goal try that never made it over the crossbar.

The two other wildcard contenders had good weeks, with the Lions beating division rival Bears, and the Panthers enjoying a bye week.

This is what the NFC looks like now:

The Panthers have a decided advantage in the wildcard race, and are still in contention for a division title, but only two games separate the remaining 6 wildcard contenders, with 6 games remaining in the season.

  • The Falcons, their victory this week notwithstanding, have been struggling of late, and have a very tough schedule remaining.
  • Detroit may have the 2nd easiest remaining schedule in the NFC; they may actually be the biggest threat to a Redskin wildcard bid.
  • Seattle, who had been chasing the Rams for the NFC West title, lost Sherman and (possibly) Chancellor this past week.
  • The Packers appear to be in an offensive free-fall since Brett Hundley took over for Aaron Rodgers.
  • The Dallas Cowboys have lost by the scores of 27-7 and 37-9 in the two weeks that they’ve played without Zeke, without Tyron Smith and (mostly) without Sean Lee. They have 4 more Zeke-less games ahead, and with the Chargers in Dallas tomorrow, there’s not a lot of time to get their injured players healthy.
  • The Redskins, of course, have lost two straight, and they’ve been devastated by across-the-board injuries, but they have the easiest remaining schedule in the NFL from now to Week 17, and are likely to play through December against 4 teams that have no post season hopes to motivate them.

7-3

Carolina Panthers

NFL: Carolina Panthers at Detroit Lions Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Week 11 result: The Panthers were on a BYE week

Week 12: The Panthers visit the Jets

Heath Evans on NFL Total Access this week projected the rest of Carolina’s games and predicted an 11-5 season. Hmmm...

Key games remaining: Carolina plays the Saints, Vikings, Packers & Falcons in 4 of their final 5 games of the season.

The Jets aren’t likely to slow the Panthers. They are almost a lock for the playoffs, either as the #5 seed, or possibly the NFC South champs.

If the Panthers are going to hold onto a playoff spot, then it would be nice if they could beat the Packers and Falcons along the way. I think they will.

6-4

Seattle Seahawks

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Green Bay Packers Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Week 11 result: lost to the Falcons on MNF.

Even playing at home, the Seahawks couldn’t muster enough defense to stop the Falcons. The loss of Sherman for the season, and Kam Chancellor for at least the game, creates a situation where the Seahawks D, and specifically the Legion of Boo (as Ike Hilliard said this week, without Sherman & Chancellor, they aren’t the Legion of Boom anymore), can’t really scare anybody.

Week 12: Seahawks play at the 49ers.

This should be an easy win for Seattle, but we all know how tricky division games can be. They’re different. San Fran is coming off a bye; Seattle is coming off a tough loss to the Falcons. This could — potentially — mark the beginning of the Garoppolo era in northern Cali.

Key games remaining: Eagles, Jaguars, Rams, Cowboys, (Cardinals)

I can’t see how this team can beat the Eagles or the Rams, and they play Dallas in Dallas for Zeke’s first game back from suspension, and I suspect he’ll have something he wants to prove. I don’t see any way Seattle finishes better than 10-6, and the Redskins hold the tie-breaker.

6-4

Detroit Lions

NFL: Preseason-Cincinnati Bengals at Detroit Lions Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Week 10: The Lions beat the Bears this week.

Week 11: The Lions host the Vikings on Thanksgiving

Key games remaining: Ravens, Packers

I suspect the Vikings will show up to play on Thursday, and likely serve up a loss to the Lions, giving them their 5th “L” of the season. The problem for the Redskins may be finding someone to beat the Lions one more time. Best bet is likely to be the Ravens, and then tie-breakers will come into play. I’m not gonna worry about calculating tie breakers with any team the Skins haven’t played head to head unless Washington is still in contention for a wildcard spot after Week 15.

6-4

Atlanta Falcons

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Carolina Panthers Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Week 11: Beat the Seahawks in Seattle on Monday Night Football.

Week 12: The Falcons will host Tampa Bay this week.

With the Vikings and two games against the Saints remaining on their schedule, it’s hard to see the Falcons finishing better than 9-7. In fact, on NFL Total Access last week I saw Shawn O’Hara project the rest of the season for the Falcons, and he had them finishing 7-9. D’oh! That would be a huge fall for a team that started 2017 as NFC Champs.

Key games remaining: Vikings, Saints (twice), Panthers

5-5

Dallas Cowboys

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Green Bay Packers Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Week 11: Dallas lost to the Eagles by a score of 37-9.

Week 12: Dallas hosts the Chargers on Thanksgiving day.

Key games remaining: Redskins, Seahawks, Eagles

The Thursday Night Football game between Dallas and Washington will probably result in the winner staying alive in the playoff race, and the loser being eliminated. The Eagles are unlikely to be resting any starters in Week 17 against the Cowboys, as they fight to keep home-field advantage. If the Redskins beat Dallas in Week 13, and the Eagles take care of business in Week 17, then Dallas can’t finish with more than 9 wins, and that won’t get any NFC team a ticket for the dance.

5-5

Green Bay Packers

NFL: Preseason-Oakland Raiders at Green Bay Packers Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Week 11: Packers were shut out by the Ravens

Week 12: The Packers are at the Steelers for Sunday Night Football this week

Early in the season, Pittsburgh looked beatable, but no longer. I figure the Packers come out of this game 5-5 with at least two more losses (Panthers & Vikings) ahead.

Key games remaining: Panthers, Vikings, Lions

Without Aaron Packers, Green Bay had lost three games in a row (Vikings, Saints, Lions) scoring 10, 17, and 17 points respectively, before putting up 23 points to beat an inconsistent divisional foe in Chicago. They were shut out by Baltimore.

Personally, I don’t think the Packers can survive the loss of their quarterback, and are likely to be the second team to get pushed out of the wildcard race, shortly behind the Cardinals. Without Aaron Rodgers to save the day, the Packers look like they’ll finish 8-8 or 9-7.

Green Bay gets a pass in Week 13 with the Browns, and a relatively easy contest against the Bucs in Week 14, but they should have 7 losses by the end of Week 16, and facing a highly motivated Lions team to close out the season.

But then there’s this:

Aaron Rodgers doesn’t act like a man ready to shut it down for the season. The Packers quarterback took snaps from a trainer ... during Wednesday’s practice, Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

It marked the first time Rodgers did something during the portion of practice open to the media in the four weeks since he fractured his right collarbone. He worked on cardio and agility drills and simulated snaps from under center and in the shotgun.

Some of his rehab work involved his throwing motion in his attempt to maintain range of motion.

The Packers placed Rodgers on injured reserve Oct. 20, five days after his injury. He becomes eligible to start practicing six weeks from that date and eligible to play again two weeks after that.

4-6

Washington Redskins

NFL: Preseason-Washington Redskins at Atlanta Falcons Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Week 10: Lost on the road to the Saints

Week 11: Home against the Giants at 8:30 p.m. on Thanksgiving.

The Redskins need to win this game, the first in a needed 6-game run against non-division leaders to finish the season if they want to get to 10 wins and have any shot at a wildcard berth.

Even 10 wins may not be enough this year. I’m beginning to think that both NFC wildcard teams are going to need at least 11 wins to get into the postseason, depending on how the tie-breakers work out; that’s one reason we can’t afford to lose to the Cowboys a second time this season.

Unfortunately, the Redskins lost their best running back when Chris Thompson went on IR this week, and a starting safety (Montae Nicholson) is in the concussion protocol, and unlikely to be cleared to play as soon as Thursday. Tuesday was a day of bad news as the roster announcements became mind-boggling. Evan as closely as I follow the team, I’m gonna need a program to keep up with the players on the field on Thursday.

On paper, the Redskins should win easily, but the Giants played inspired defense on Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs, winning the game 12-9 and likely renewing their confidence. Meanwhile, the Redskins limp back to FedEx with their 2nd consecutive loss — this one demoralizing for the fact that it looked like a win until the final three minutes of regulation.

The Giants have consistently ‘had our number’ in recent years, the Skins have not played well at home, Washington is depleted from fresh injuries, and demoralized from last week’s late-game collapse.

The Redskins season could be over by midnight Thursday.

Key games remaining: Cowboys, Cardinals, Broncos

Key games in Week 12

  • Vikings @ Lions on Thanksgiving (12:30 p.m.)

Redskins rooting interest should be for the Vikings to beat the Lions.

  • Giants @ Redskins on Thanksgiving (8:30 p.m.)
  • Saints @ Rams

As a game between division leaders, there’s not a lot of rooting interest for the Redskins, but probably a Saints win would be best, since we hold the tie-breaker against LA but not New Orleans, and it would be good for the NFC West race to be a bit tight, giving LA extra motivation to beat Seattle. Basically, whichever team doesn’t win the NFC West needs to go on a losing streak to really help out the Redskins. With Seattle already a game behind the Rams, the easiest path is for the Seahawks to keep losing.

  • Packers @ Steelers

The Redskins situation

Generally speaking, the best outcome for the Redskins is to have division leaders win their games against our seven wildcard rivals; that is, we should be cheering for the Eagles, Rams, Vikings & Saints whenever they play against the Panthers, Seahawks, Cowboys, Falcons, Packers and Lions — unless the division leaders change.

A strong early & mid-season lineup of opponents for the Redskins

The Redskins have already played the toughest schedule in the NFL. The Redskins’ first 10 opponents have a combined record of 63-37 (roughly a 10-6 season), which is a winning percentage of 63%. Brutal.

A soft landing ahead

But the 6 remaining games look a lot easier. The records of the teams in those 6 games are: 2-8, 5-5, 4-6, 4-6, 3-7, 2-8. That adds up to 20-40 (33.3%).

Winning those final 6 games will be key to any post-season hopes that the Redskins have.

I know a lot of people say that a 6-game win streak is unrealistic, but there are two 4 teams in the NFL right now that have at least 6 game active winning streaks, and two of those teams are actually at 8 wins.

I’ll stop talking about winning six-in-a-row if it’ll make people feel better. Instead, I’ll acknowledge that -- at this point — the Redskins’ playoff hopes will end with their next loss.

The Playoff Predictor

Week to week, my accuracy in picking winners & losers is only about 10/16, so I have no illusions about my ability to accurately pick the winners and losers in 8 games per week for 6 weeks.

That said, I have built a little spreadsheet to try to predict what the playoff picture will look like when Week 17 comes to an end.

Prior to the Week 11 game, I projected a loss for the Redskins against the Saints. At that time, my model projected an 10-win season and a wildcard berth for Washington.

Following that loss to New Orleans, my model still projects a 10-win season for the Redskins, keeping alive their playoff hopes.

Based on my projections, the four current division leaders (Eagles, Rams, Saints, Vikings) will finish as the 4 division champs, with the Panthers going to the postseason as wildcard teams at 12-4. Right now, I have the Redskins and Lions with 10 wins apiece, so it would come down to tie-breakers between the ‘Skins & Lions.

This far out, I’m not gonna try to figure out those tie breakers. If we get to Week 15 with the same situation, then I’ll start looking that deeply.

Poll

Which team will have the 3rd pick in the 2018 draft (based on W-L record, not trades)?

This poll is closed

  • 0%
    Browns
    (0 votes)
  • 10%
    49ers
    (7 votes)
  • 52%
    Giants
    (34 votes)
  • 20%
    Colts
    (13 votes)
  • 3%
    Broncos
    (2 votes)
  • 7%
    Bears
    (5 votes)
  • 6%
    Redskins
    (4 votes)
65 votes total Vote Now