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The 5 O’Clock Club: 3 upcoming division games will make or break the season

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It’s 5 o’clock somewhere…

Washington Redskins v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

The 5 o’clock club is published Wednesday to Saturday during the season, and 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.

Week 11 Game Result - Texans

The Redskins lost a wild game at home in Week 11. It will be remembered in history as the game where Alex Smith’s leg was broken, but for those who watched the game as it unfolded, it will be remembered for a lot more.

For example, Vernon Davis dropped a pass that might’ve changed the entire course of the game.

NFL: Houston Texans at Washington Redskins Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Colt McCoy came off the bench to throw a touchdown on his first regular season game pass since 2015.

Preston Smith created that opportunity with a tipped pass that he intercepted himself.

NFL: Houston Texans at Washington Redskins Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Adrian Peterson scored two touchdowns on homecoming weekend to first tie, then surpass John Riggins on the career rushing touchdown list.

NFL: Houston Texans at Washington Redskins Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

The Redskins made a key 3rd down stop against the Texans only to have it negated by a ‘phantom’ defensive holding call against Josh Norman that was reminiscent of the mystery offensive holding call against Morgan Moses a week earlier.

On the Redskins final offensive series, Josh Doctson was mugged by two defenders with the ball in the air while all the yellow hankies mysteriously stayed in all the officials’ pockets, resulting in a 63-yard field goal attempt by Dustin Hopkins that was straight and true, but about 5 yards short.

Houston Texans v Washington Redskins Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

The loss drops the Redskins to 6-4, leaving them with a one-game lead over the resurgent 5-5 Cowboys, who appeared left-for-dead early in the season.

With the Saints dropping nuclear bombs on the Eagles in the Sunday night game, Philly remains two games back in the standings and appears to be fading from view as the injuries mount — especially among the Philly defensive backs.

The loss to the Texans certainly wasn’t what the team or the fans wanted, and — depending on your views on blaming officials for wins and losses — perhaps not what the Redskins deserved, but there were some encouraging signs.

Houston Texans v Washington Redskins Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Aside from the obvious disaster of losing the starting quarterback for the season (and possibly longer) and ending up losers on the scoreboard — one might argue that this was the Redskins best offensive performance since the Week 1 win against the Cardinals on the road.

Houston Texans v Washington Redskins Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

There might yet be a reason for hope, especially if the Redskins can see some players like Quinton Dunbar, Trent Williams, Chris Thompson or Jamison Crowder return to the active roster starting this week.

Dan Graziano of ESPN reported on the mood in the locker room after the Houston game:

It was an odd vibe in the home locker room here Sunday after Washington’s loss to the visiting Houston Texans. They’d lost twice, really -- the game to the Texans by two points when a desperation 63-yard field goal attempt fell short, and their quarterback, Alex Smith, to a season-ending broken leg. You cover pro sports for a quarter of a century like some of us have, you have certain expectations for postgame locker rooms. Sunday, the expectation was somber wallowing.

The expectation was not met.

Washington’s players said all the right things about poor Alex, his lost season and the impending surgery on his severely damaged leg. But the sentiment that dominated their locker room was hunger, not horror. For every word spoken on Smith’s injury there were 10 on the team’s confidence in backup quarterback Colt McCoy to take it from here. For every lament over Sunday’s lost opportunity there were five eager references to the opportunity still ahead.

And the reason, dear reader, is plain and simple. Washington plays in the NFC East, where no one ever seems to be out of it, no one knows what’ll happen from one week to the next and, most importantly, that this team’s season is still right in front of it.

”Fired up, ready to go, can’t wait for Thursday,” cornerback Josh Norman said.

Thursday, you see, first-place Washington (6-4) visits Dallas, where the second-place Dallas Cowboys (5-5) now sit only one game back. If Washington wins that game, the division lead goes back up to two games plus a head-to-head tiebreaker, and the team could basically put the whole thing away with a victory in Philly 11 days later.

It sounds like the Redskins are upbeat, hungry and focused. And this isn’t me or Jay Gruden saying so, but an ESPN reporter. I get the sense that the Redskins -- instead of folding -- have developed a bit of the “eye of the tiger” mentality for the upcoming game. The Redskins offensive performance on Sunday even after Alex Smith was carted off with his broken leg probably did a lot to bolster the confidence.

Personally, as I’ve read articles and watched player interviews this week, I’ve gotten the sense that these guys are ready for the crucial Thanksgiving day game, despite the apparent setbacks that the team has faced.

Week 12 overall summary

The loss to the Texans eroded the Redskins division lead, and set up a HUGE game in Dallas at Thanksgiving.

A win on Thursday would be hugely positive for Washington

If the Redskins beat Dallas, then the division lead starts to look unassailable by anyone except the Eagles, who are injured and playing poorly.

With 5 games left in the season, the Redskins would have a two game lead on the Cowboys in the W-L columns, but because the Redskins will have swept the series, it will effectively be a 3-game lead on Dallas.

Dallas Cowboys v Washington Redskins Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Also, with a win on Thursday, the Skins would be guaranteed of at least the current 2-game lead on Philly. With the Eagles matched up against the Giants this week, either the Eagles lose and fall 3-games back, or the Giants lose and end all hope of qualifying for a playoff spot.

If the Redskins and Eagles both win, it sets up a vital game in Week 13 for both teams, as they play each other in Philadelphia. They will play again in Week 17 in Landover.

A loss to the Cowboys on Thursday would be a huge blow

If Dallas wins this week, then everything changes, as both teams would have 6-5 records and would have split the head-to-head matchups. With 5 weeks left, the mathematical possibilities for the division winner become mind-boggling. Let’s just keep it simple and say that the Redskins REALLY need to beat Dallas on Thanksgiving day.

Washington Redskins v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Here’s more from that Dan Graziano article to illustrate how crazy it can all get:

Let’s say Dallas and New York both win next week, then in Week 13 the Eagles beat Washington, the Giants beat the Bears and the Saints beat the Cowboys -- all possible outcomes. Your NFC East standings would look like this:

Dallas 6-6

Washington 6-6

New York 5-7

Philadelphia 5-7

Then let’s say, in Week 14, Philly wins in Dallas and New York wins in Washington. Again, not insane. Then with three weeks to go the NFC East would look like this:

Dallas 6-7

Washington 6-7

New York 6-7

Philadelphia 6-7

You taking any bets on how that turns out?

The NFC East is at its best when it’s at its most chaotic. So as December starts to become visible up around the corner, it makes a lot of sense that we still don’t know what to expect. Things could become a lot clearer Thursday in Dallas and Sunday in Philly. But if you’ve been following this division for the past decade, it feels more likely that the picture will come out of Week 12 muddier instead.

That’s why Washington’s players weren’t into wallowing or feeling sorry for themselves after Sunday’s miserable day. They still have a division to win. And with 11 weeks of the 2018 season in the books, that race is still just getting started.

A watershed moment

The Washington Redskins’ season has arrived at a nexus. Alex Smith is gone for the rest of the season at least. Colt McCoy is the man.

The Cowboys are back from the dead, Dak is playing well, Zeke has been unstoppable of late, the game is on Thursday in Dallas and the winner takes control of the NFC East.

The two weeks that follow see the Redskins play the Eagles and Giants.

Win the next three games, and it is hard to imagine how the Redskins, who would be 9-4, with three games left, could miss the playoffs. They would almost certainly win the division and host a wildcard round playoff game.

Green Bay Packers v Washington Redskins Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

Conversely, if the Redskins lose the next three games against their division rivals, it puts the Cowboys and Eagles in control, and with tough road games against the Jaguars and Titans in Weeks 15 and 16, a reeling Redskins team on a 4-game losing streak would disappear from playoff relevance.

The Thanksgiving day game in Dallas is probably the most crucial game the Redskins have faced since the end of the 2016 season.

The Redskins have a chance to do something really special in the remainder of 2018; the next three games against the Cowboys, Eagles and Giants will really make or break the season.

NFL: Washington Redskins at Arizona Cardinals Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Poll

Can Colt McCoy lead the Redskins to the playoffs?

This poll is closed

  • 89%
    Yes
    (365 votes)
  • 10%
    No
    (43 votes)
408 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Which of these players is most likely to be active and play on Thursday in Dallas?

This poll is closed

  • 18%
    Quinton Dunbar
    (70 votes)
  • 67%
    Trent Williams
    (258 votes)
  • 4%
    Chris Thompson
    (19 votes)
  • 1%
    Jamison Crowder
    (7 votes)
  • 7%
    Mark Sanchez
    (28 votes)
  • 0%
    Samaje Perine
    (3 votes)
385 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Should the officials bear the blame for the Redskins loss to the Texans on Sunday?

This poll is closed

  • 43%
    Absolutely, yes.
    (169 votes)
  • 47%
    Mmmm... they blew an important call or two, but the team should never play poorly enough that the officials can decide the game with one or two calls.
    (188 votes)
  • 9%
    No. That’s loser mentality.
    (36 votes)
393 votes total Vote Now