“This is a one-year process, and we have got to win right away.” - Jay Gruden (June 12, 2018)
A funny realization washed over me a couple of days ago when I was preparing to return my 2018 Hogs Haven NFL predictions survey.
I’ve never picked the Redskins to win the NFC East.
Look, I’m a realist. I painstakingly avoid the trap of being one of those fans who gets to mid-August and convinces himself that Washington is destined for the Super Bowl. Instead, I look at the Redskins, I look at their schedule, I look around the league to see what these other teams have, and I’m consistently left with the same conclusion: Washington is fine. Definitely not bad. But definitely not great. That’s why I’ve always said the Gruden-led Redskins will win somewhere between seven and nine games every year.
Until this year.
I predicted that the Redskins would win the NFC East in 2018. Yes, the NFC East populated by the up-and-coming Giants, the potentially dangerous Cowboys, and the very formidable, world-champion Eagles. I said the Skins would go 11-5 against a pretty tough schedule. I also said they would win at least one playoff game, something they haven’t done since January 2, 2006.
Now, to the naked eye, this may look like uncharacteristic optimism. It’s not, I assure you. Instead, it’s recognition of what may be the driving theme of the 2018 Redskins’ season.
Urgency. Or, for the more cynical among you, desperation.
This is it. For better or worse, this is the fork in the road for the Jay Gruden Era Redskins. And one prong of that fork leads directly into a brick wall.
Either the Redskins take the pieces they’ve accumulated over the last few years, coalesce, and make the leap into being a formidable playoff team, or the whole thing falls apart, they lurch toward the NFC East cellar, everybody gets fired, and we start over—yet again—in 2019.
There’s a wide disparity of opinion on this point. USA Today has the Redskins ranked #12 in their preseason power rankings, which is fairly high for a team coming off a 7-9 year and changing quarterbacks. On the other hand, the five NFL experts featured by the league here figured, on average, that the Redskins will win 6.6 games this season. Four of the five said Washington would post a losing record.
I think the scattershot opinion on the Redskins is understandable. We saw what a relatively healthy Washington team could do early last season in impressive prime-time showings against the Raiders and the then-undefeated Chiefs. The big change is obviously Alex Smith, but, to a man, his teammates are saying all the right things—in a way that seems genuine. That’s great news. And, as the quote at the top indicates, Gruden believes that the time for success is now—maybe now or never.
Put more simply, if you take the 2017 Redskins, add Daron Payne, subtract some of the injury woes and the constant background noise about Scot McCloughan’s departure and Kirk Cousins’ contract, does this team instantly get significantly better than it was last year?
I think so. The margins in the NFL are paper-thin, and changing a couple of injuries, distractions, and personalities can separate 5-11 from 11-5.
Just as important, though, is the reality that this is almost certainly the last opportunity for this version of the Redskins to make the leap forward. Jay Gruden sports a 28-35-1 career record. Even throwing out his first year, he’s a middling 24-23-1.
Very few modern NFL coaches get a sixth year with the same team if they have a losing record after five. Observant longtime fans will remember that Norv Turner did get a sixth season under such circumstances, but his salvation owed purely to the legal limbo that engulfed the ownership of the Redskins following the death of Jack Kent Cooke.
As for the current regime, it’s playoffs or bust.
My bet is that a tremendous pass rush, Alex Smith’s leadership and red-zone skills, and, most of all, a potent sense of urgency (or desperation) will push the Skins to their first regular season of more than 10 wins since 1991.
If the Redskins struggle through a bad September, though, it’s likely things will decidedly—and very quickly—go the other way.
What’s the MINIMUM the Washington Redskins need to accomplish this year for you to consider this a "successful" season?
This poll is closed
Qualify for playoffs
Win at least one playoff game
Conference title game
Super Bowl appearance
Nothing short of a World Championship
Everybody plays hard and has fun!