- Dan Graziano, ESPN New York Giants reporter
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So the Washington Redskins are back this week, and the issue of what their remaining seven games mean is a present reality. Whether coach Mike Shanahan was or wasn't "giving up on the season" when he said what he said eight days ago about using the final seven games to evaluate what he's got for the long term, the fact is that the Redskins, while 3-6, are not mathematically eliminated. They are only 2.5 games behind the division-leading Giants, who are off this week. And of the Redskins' final seven games, five are NFC East games -- one against the Giants and two each against the Cowboys and the Eagles.
What this means for the Redskins is opportunity. Now, I caution anyone who's reading this not to mistake my point. As I have written about the Cowboys the past couple of days, just because a team has an opportunity does not mean it will prove good enough to take advantage of that opportunity. The Redskins' defense is one of the absolute worst in the league, and likely to limit their ability to win three, four or all five of those NFC East games unless it drastically outperforms its pre-bye pedigree.
But let's just stick to the math here, and operate on the assumption that any NFL team has a realistic chance to beat any other on any given week -- especially in a division whose cumulative record over the past two seasons is 46-55. The Redskins' remaining schedule provides them with a chance to wreck the NFC East race at the very least, and it leaves open the possibility of their actually entering it. Simply put, if Washington were to win all five of those division games, the Cowboys would have at least seven losses, the Eagles at least eight and the Giants at least five while the Redskins themselves would be guaranteed to finish with no more than eight.
Realistic? Probably not. But if you can tell me what makes sense anymore in trying to predict this division, I encourage you to apply for the job. The Redskins' quarterback, rookie Robert Griffin III, is having the best year of any quarterback in the division. Their running back, rookie Alfred Morris, is having the best year of any running back in the division. Their offensive line, perhaps simply by default, has played the best of any in the division. If they could find a reliable pass-catcher or two and get anything at all going on defense, they'd have reason to consider themselves a legitimate threat every week.
And yes, those are huge "ifs," but let's say they come out of the bye week refreshed and hot. Let's say safety Brandon Meriweather can finally play and that makes a difference on defense. Let's even say that maybe wide receiver Pierre Garcon's foot has miraculously healed and Griffin finally gets to play with his No. 1 receiver. The Redskins' next three games are against the teams in their division. If they were to find a way to win all three, then on the morning of Dec. 4 these are the worst-case scenario for the division standings for them:
And then they're in it, right? And maybe even better, because that version of the standings assumes the Giants beat the Packers and the Cowboys beat the Eagles again, neither of which is a certainty of any sort.
First up is the Eagles on Sunday, and Philadelphia appears likely to start rookie Nick Foles at quarterback. Foles is no Griffin. The Eagles have beaten the Redskins three times in a row and five of the last six times they've played, but at no time during that stretch have the Eagles been as vulnerable or messed-up as they are now. There is no reason to believe Sunday is an unwinnable game for a Redskins team coming off its bye.
Four days later, they get the Cowboys in Dallas on Thanksgiving. No slam-dunk, of course, and the Cowboys have beaten the Redskins three times in a row and six of the last seven. But both games last year were agonizingly close, the Cowboys are just 1-2 at home this year and Washington's offense presents a challenge for the Cowboys' defense up front, where it's not as strong as it is at the second and third levels. The Redskins will be underdogs, and for good reason, but you can't call that one impossible either.
Then they get the Giants at home on "Monday Night Football" on Dec. 3. Beat them twice last year. Had a lead at their place a couple of weeks ago in the final two minutes. The Redskins know they can beat the Giants. The Giants know it, too. And if Washington could somehow pull off division wins in each of the next two weeks and go into that game 5-6 against a Giants team that would either be 7-4 or 6-5, they'd be as fired-up a bunch as that stadium has seen in many years.
This is likely a pipe dream, because as I pointed out earlier the presence of an opportunity means nothing about the team's chance to actually cash it in. But dreams are worth dreaming at this time in NFC East history. The Giants won it last year with a 9-7 record, one game ahead of two .500 teams that were close enough to taste it. You don't have to be one of the NFL's elite teams to win the NFC East, and with a full slate of games against the very teams they'll need to beat to do it, the Washington Redskins have plenty of reasons to be asking themselves, "Why not us?"
So the Washington Redskins are back this week, and the issue of what their remaining seven games mean is a present reality. Whether coach Mike Shanahan was or wasn't "giving up on the season" when he said what he said eight days ago about using the final seven games to evaluate what he's got for the long term, the fact is that the Redskins, while 3-6, are not mathematically eliminated.