Taking another look at the Redskins' schedule and how it should help the Redskins' defense, among other thoughts:
It’s hard to imagine Seattle taking a big step back and probably not San Francisco or Indianapolis. The Colts play in a bad division and the 49ers have a lot of talent on both sides of the ball. So let’s assume, barring injury, that all three teams remain among the best.
Beyond that, however, is there a team you can say, for sure right now, will be a playoff team. Philadelphia? I would think so. But its defense still has holes and while the offense should be explosive, does anyone trust Nick Foles just yet? Is it that hard to see the Eagles taking a step back?
The point is, it’s hard to tell from one year to the next who will do what. For proof: The Redskins in 2012; the Redskins in 2013.
Remember how tough that opener looked in 2012 at New Orleans? The Redskins scored 40 points in a win; the Saints struggled for weeks and clearly weren’t the same team without suspended coach Sean Payton. Or this stretch later in the season: Philly; at Dallas on Thanksgiving; Giants; Ravens. The Eagles ended up being horrible and the Redskins won all four. This stretch was why Washington couldn’t get off to a slow start. Well ...
This is why I don't pick records based on who I think they'll beat, but more by what sort of team are they. I was, uh, a bit off last season picking 10-6. Then again, who wasn't off?
And last season, anyone with the Redskins on their schedule had to worry a little bit. Reality? Not so much. The Eagles were supposed to be bad; they weren’t. Atlanta was supposed to be a Super Bowl contender. Uh, wrong. Dallas was supposed to be mediocre and Oakland was bad. OK, some of it was right.
Point is, it’s hard to know all the trouble spots with this schedule. Will Arizona be good again (10-6, but missed the playoffs)? I like what Tampa Bay has done, but who will play quarterback? The same question can be asked of Houston, Minnesota, Tennessee and Jacksonville.
The absence of elite quarterbacks, compared to last season, will help the Redskins. But a lot also depends on Foles’ growth and which Eli Manning shows up: Elite and Future Hall of Famer or Overrated Manning Who Throws Interceptions.
Last season, a few teams had quarterback questions, but not like this season. Philadelphia had Michael Vick and though he’s now gone, when the season opened he was clearly the starter. Oakland had questions about its quarterback and Minnesota’s was shaky. But that was it. The other teams had firm starters.
In fact, Washington played eight games in 2013 against quarterbacks who ended up in the top 10 in passer rating – and 11 games against the top 15.
This season? They have seven games against quarterbacks who finished in the top 15. Of course, one who did not? The Colts’ Andrew Luck. But the point is, there’s a big difference in the level of quarterbacks they’re facing. It makes a difference. The Redskins’ defense has plenty of work to do, but facing fewer high-quality quarterbacks will make their task a little easier.
Four of their first nine games are against teams with serious quarterback questions. If the defense does not improve, it’s an even bigger failure than 2013. And they’ll be out of excuses. Of course, the Redskins face six of the top-10 defenses from 2013 (but also six teams who ended up in the bottom five, with two games against both Dallas and Philadelphia). Jacksonville finished low in the standings, but could be improved and be a pesky opponent.
For selfish reasons I’m not a fan, at all, of the Monday night game against Seattle followed by a trip to Arizona. Through a reporter’s eyes: I get home from a Monday night game around 4 a.m., and never quite catch up on sleep. I love Arizona, but a West Coast game means a red-eye flight coming back. I know, you don’t care and you shouldn’t. But now you know – and I still wouldn’t trade this gig for anything.
But even for players that’s a tough one. The Monday night games take a little more out of you and then having to fly four hours a few days later can take a toll.
It’ll help the Redskins to have a Thursday night game before facing Seattle. But it’s not as if the Seahawks’ defense is all that tricky; they do some things to fool teams, but mostly what they do is execute at a fast pace. They also will play physical with receivers; that’s what works best against Washington’s DeSean Jackson. I love watching this defense. There's also that Richard Sherman-DeAngelo Hall angle plus the Robert Griffin III-Russell Wilson storyline.
The bye week after nine games isn’t bad at all. A midseason break. It worked two years ago for Washington, of course. Regardless of when the bye is, coaches will put a positive spin on the timing. This year the bye breaks up a stretch of four road games out of five.
It’ll now be fun to see what Houston does with that first pick. The Redskins could be facing either Jadeveon Clowney or Johnny Manziel in their home opener.
It’s always fun when they play Dallas in the season finale, especially if anything is on the line. But it’s not like the Cowboys ever go into that last game needing anything, right?
And it’s always fun covering a Redskins-Cowboys game on Monday night. But one question the beat reporters face after such a game in Dallas: Do you go to the hotel for an hour’s nap or go right to the airport? The return flights are a bit early. Not a complaint; just reality. Like I said, there’s no other job I’d want.
One more: Here's a good look from Sports Illustrated's Peter King at how the schedules are made.