Washington Redskins will compete for playoffs, NFC East title

The Washington Redskins will start strong and stumble midway through the season, in part because of what looks to be a brutal stretch with short weeks and higher-quality opponents. The Redskins still have questions defensively and with their run game, which could limit them. That’s why my prediction now is the same as it was in April; the Redskins will finish 9-7.

Week 1: Monday, Sept. 12 vs. Pittsburgh Steelers, 7:10 p.m. ET

The Redskins did not beat a team that finished with a winning record in 2015; they’ll accomplish that feat in the season opener. The Steelers remain dangerous even without suspended running back Le'Veon Bell and receiver Martavis Bryant, but their absence will be enough to give Washington the edge. Record: 1-0.

Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 18 vs. Dallas Cowboys, 1 p.m. ET

The Redskins catch another break by playing a team missing an important player as the Cowboys adjust to life without Tony Romo (again). Quarterback Dak Prescott looked good this summer, but he’ll still face numerous adjustments -- especially early in the season. The biggest issue, though, will be defending Dallas' run game; it’s a weakness for Washington. Record: 2-0.

Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 25 at New York Giants, 1 p.m. ET

Josh Norman versus Odell Beckham Jr. The Giants could be the Redskins' biggest challengers for the division title after adding firepower on offense (rookie receiver Sterling Shepard) and defense (Damon Harrison, Olivier Vernon). New York lost five games last season when leading with two minutes left; these additions will help change that. Record: 2-1.

Week 4: Sunday, Oct. 2 Cleveland Browns, 1 p.m. ET

You know who returns -- quarterback Robert Griffin III, provided he’s still in the lineup. The Redskins’ pass defense should have a strong day, starting with its rush. A subplot involves Redskins coach Jay Gruden facing the man who replaced him as offensive coordinator in Cincinnati, Hue Jackson, as they try to show whose offense is best. Record: 3-1.

Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 9 at Baltimore Ravens, 1 p.m. ET

The Ravens were decimated by injuries last season and lost nine of 11 games by eight or fewer points. They're healthier; they’re better; they’ll win. The Ravens haven’t had consecutive losing seasons since 1997-98 for a reason. Record: 3-2.

Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 16 vs. Philadelphia Eagles, 1 p.m. ET

It's hard to imagine rookie Carson Wentz being ready to handle what he'll see early this season. Record: 4-2.

Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 23 at Detroit Lions, 1 p.m. ET

The Lions want to play at a faster tempo, a pace quarterback Matthew Stafford prefers (though he’s minus retired receiver Calvin Johnson). They finished 6-2 down the stretch last season and should have a tough defense. There’s something about Detroit that brings out the worst in the Redskins. Record: 4-3.

Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 30 at Cincinnati Bengals, 9:30 a.m. ET

Gruden faces his former boss, Marvin Lewis, in London. It will also be a battle of somewhat comparable quarterbacks: Andy Dalton and Kirk Cousins. The Redskins pull off the upset overseas -- they have a big following in the U.K. Record: 5-3.

Week 9: Bye

Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 13 vs. Minnesota Vikings, 1 p.m. ET

Minnesota is built to play tough football on both sides of the ball, which is why the Vikings remain a solid pick to be a contender even after Teddy Bridgewater's injury. It's hard to trust Sam Bradford, but everything else is there for Minnesota. The Vikings’ defense is one of the NFL’s best, ranking in the top 10 in points per game (fifth) and yards per play (10th) allowed in 2015. The Redskins will keep it close, and if they win, they're staring at a 10-win season. Record: 5-4.

Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 20 vs. Green Bay Packers, 8:30 p.m. ET

A rematch of the 2015 playoff loss, in which the Redskins failed to pressure quarterback Aaron Rodgers aside from one sack. The Packers should be a Super Bowl contender this season. Record: 5-5.

Week 12: Thursday, Nov. 24 at Dallas Cowboys, 4:30 p.m. ET

A short week after a night game is never ideal. The Redskins, though, have been a resilient bunch under Gruden. With uncertainty clouding Dallas' quarterback situation, and the team in general, the Redskins complete the sweep on Thanksgiving. Record: 6-5.

Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 4 at Arizona Cardinals, 4:25 p.m. ET

If Carson Palmer stays healthy, the Cardinals will be a Super Bowl contender again, continuing a tough stretch for the Redskins. Cornerbacks Patrick Peterson (Arizona) and Norman had some words in training camp, so even though they won’t face one another it will still be a storyline to watch. Record: 6-6.

Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 11 at Philadelphia Eagles, 1 p.m. ET

The Eagles could be a mess at this point. Or they could be an interesting team if Wentz plays well. The Redskins, though, play well in Philly. Record: 7-6.

Week 15: Monday, Dec. 19 vs. Carolina Panthers, 8:30 p.m. ET

Norman faces his former team and there’s no doubt he’ll be a little extra motivated. Even though he’s gone, too many other good players remain. Carolina’s front seven presents a big problem for opponents. Record: 7-7.

Week 16: Saturday, Dec. 24 at Chicago Bears, 1 p.m. ET

The Bears were unimpressive this summer, leading to concerns about their direction under second-year coach John Fox -- or how long it will take to turn them around. The Redskins will still be in the playoff hunt, so this Christmas Eve game is a must win. Record: 8-7.

Week 17: Sunday, Jan. 1 vs. New York Giants, 1 p.m. ET

There’s a very good chance this game will be for the NFC East title or a playoff berth for one of these teams. The Redskins finish with two straight wins. Record: 9-7.