For the Washington Redskins to contend for the playoffs this season, here are the five players who can help make that happen:
Alex Smith, QB: This one should be obvious. Smith has only won twice in the playoffs, but he has started a postseason game in five of the past seven seasons. Smith’s teams have a 69-31-1 record since 2011 with him starting. Only Tom Brady has more wins over that span. Smith needs good players around him to win, but he’s shown that when he has that he’ll succeed -- at least in the regular season. For that to continue, he’ll need to manage the game well -- that’s not a negative. But in a tight NFC, he’ll have to do a little more to reach the postseason.
Jordan Reed, TE: The Redskins went 7-7 without him the past two years. That’s not bad, but in each of those seasons a few more games with Reed could have made the difference between a postseason berth and a .500 season. Reed played 14 games in 2015; the Redskins made the playoffs. He played 12 in 2016 and they missed out by a game. They’ve tried to bolster their passing game weapons, but the bottom line is that Reed offers them the ability to create mismatches and, when he’s on the field, is still viewed as their No. 1 target. He just has to stay on the field.
Jonathan Allen, DL: There was a clear drop-off when Allen was lost for the season after five games; they allowed 88 yards per game when he played and 155.1 when he didn’t. It wasn’t just on him, as fellow lineman Matt Ioannidis dealt with a hand injury for half the season and linebacker Mason Foster was lost for the year as well. But Allen can impact all three downs. He only had one sack last season, but linebacker Preston Smith recorded four of his eight sacks in five games next to Allen, thanks to his ability to push the pocket. Inside linebacker Zach Brown will feast if Allen (and fellow lineman Daron Payne) are stout.
Derrius Guice, RB: Guice can provide them with a more dynamic back than they’ve had in recent years. Redskins coach Jay Gruden said Guice was faster, and more explosive, than he anticipated. Guice provides Washington a back who, they hope, can create openings for himself. Their run blocking, on the outside in particular, has been suspect of late. If the Redskins can combine a strong run game with Smith’s penchant for taking care of the ball and, they hope, an improved defense they will be in contention until the end.
Montae Nicholson, S: He might not be one of their best players, but he is quite important. At safety, with little proven depth, the Redskins need Nicholson to stay healthy and produce. Gruden likened his importance on defense to that of Reed’s on offense. There was a difference in the games Nicholson played last season vs. when he was sidelined by injuries. His speed enabled him to cover a lot of ground and he used his size to make a difference when he arrived. Corners said they could play different when he was behind them, knowing he could clean up mistakes with his range. They were more aggressive.