Tough stretch in middle will shape Washington Redskins' season

The Washington Redskins made changes, particularly on defense, that should result in an improved team. However, it could take longer than anticipated for those changes to jell, thanks to injuries and other factors. The Redskins also face difficult road games, and their history of prime-time failures could be a problem. That's why the 9-7 prediction in April is now 8-8.

Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 10, vs. Philadelphia Eagles, 1 p.m. ET

Kirk Cousins has always played well vs. the Eagles. In five starts he’s 4-1 and has thrown 12 touchdowns to three interceptions. The Eagles’ secondary remains a big question mark, even after trading for corner Ron Darby. Washington has won five straight over Philly, but the Redskins are 0-3 in openers under coach Jay Gruden. Numerous changes plus key players missing parts of camp lead to a stumble. Record: 0-1

Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 17, at Los Angeles Rams, 4:25 p.m. ET

The Rams’ defense should be good again, but quarterback Jared Goff will remain an issue. Rams coach Sean McVay knows the Redskins haven’t played the run well in several years. Look for a steady diet of running back Todd Gurley testing a new defensive front. This marks the Redskins' first game in Los Angeles since the 1994 season finale. Record: 1-1

Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 24, vs. Oakland Raiders, 8:30 p.m. ET

Oakland has an explosive offense, but its defense ranked 26th in total yards last season. The Raiders have gotten younger and more athletic, but it remains to be seen if that equals better. Yes, the Redskins struggle in prime-time games -- they’re 3-6 in Sunday night games since 2007. This game will feature a terrific matchup involving two All-Pros: Oakland pass-rusher Khalil Mack vs. left tackle Trent Williams. Record: 2-1

Week 4: Monday, Oct. 2, at Kansas City Chiefs, 8:30 p.m. ET

The Redskins play better on the road in Monday night games -- having won four of their past seven -- but face a team that has won 18 of its past 24 home games. Washington was good on the road last season (4-3-1), but this is a tough environment. Record: 2-2

Week 5: Bye

Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 15, vs. San Francisco 49ers, 1 p.m. ET

Kyle Shanahan hasn’t been shy about discussing what it was like for him in Washington -- not great -- and how it shaped him as a coach. So, yes, he’d love to hang a big number on the Redskins. So would receiver Pierre Garcon. The problem: They’re returning with Brian Hoyer, not Matt Ryan. Record: 3-2

Week 7: Monday, Oct. 23, at Philadelphia Eagles, 8:30 p.m. ET

This is the sort of game that determines whether a team contends for the division or a wild-card spot. But here’s an odd stat for you (which is probably irrelevant, but here we go): Over the past nine years, there have been seven sweeps in this series. A lot depends on how much the new Eagles receivers help quarterback Carson Wentz. Record: 3-3

Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 29, vs. Dallas Cowboys, 4:25 p.m. ET

Unless Ezekiel Elliott wins his appeal and has his suspension reduced, this will be his first game back. His return should lead to more play-action passes. In two games versus Washington last season, 30 percent of Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott’s passes occurred out of play-action. He completed 75 percent of those throws, averaging 9.2 yards per attempt. But will all be fixed in one game back for Dallas? Record: 4-3

Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 5, at Seattle Seahawks, 4:05 p.m. ET

If the Legion of Boom remains healthy, the Seahawks’ defense will remain one of the best. New safety Bradley McDougald, paired with a healthy Earl Thomas and the enforcer Kam Chancellor, give them creative options with their nickel package, too. Another fact: Seattle has won 26 of its past 32 home games. Yikes. Record: 4-4

Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 12, vs. Minnesota Vikings, 1 p.m. ET

The Vikings averaged 3.2 yards per carry last year and didn’t do a lot to improve their offensive line -- but they did draft a potential big-play back in Dalvin Cook. Receiver Stefon Diggs will be tough to handle; he caught 13 passes for 164 yards versus Washington last season (but he had just three touchdowns on 84 overall catches). But it’s Minnesota’s defense that remains the biggest issue for Washington. Record: 4-5

Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 19, at New Orleans Saints, 1 p.m. ET

Cousins loves emulating Drew Brees, but it’ll be the Saints’ defense he’ll be happiest to see. They added Adrian Peterson, but Mark Ingram is good enough to hurt opposing defenses. Their defense remains suspect aside from end Cameron Jordan, who apparently had a terrific summer. Venue matters in this contest. Record: 4-6

Week 12: Thursday, Nov. 23, vs. New York Giants, 8:30 p.m. ET

A road game against the Saints before a short week against the Giants. Stop us if you’ve heard that one before. But after entering the season with a record of 8-25 the past 20 years in home night games, the Redskins have a chance to sweep their two such contests this season. The Redskins’ brass were motivated to make changes last offseason based in part on losing to New York in the 2016 season finale, costing them a playoff shot. Record: 5-6

Week 13: Thursday, Nov. 30, at Dallas Cowboys, 8:25 p.m. ET

The Redskins gained 937 combined yards and scored 49 total points versus Dallas last season -- and got swept. Their defense was one issue, but so was their red-zone offense. In those two losses, the Redskins scored touchdowns on four of 11 trips inside the 20-yard line. Record: 5-7

Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 10, at Los Angeles Chargers, 4:05 p.m. ET

This will be an odd game considering they’ll be playing in front of around 30,000 fans. The Chargers had terrible luck with some late-game losses and injuries in 2016. They’ve already lost their top two draft picks and another defensive starter to injuries. Their offensive line remains suspect -- but the skill talent is excellent, led by quarterback Philip Rivers. Record: 6-7

Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 17, vs. Arizona Cardinals, 1 p.m. ET

They have an aging quarterback (Carson Palmer) who took a pounding last season -- and questions remain about his line. David Johnson is an elite back, but at this point in the season, will Palmer be too banged up (again)? Their once-mighty defense underwent big changes (losing safety D.J. Swearinger, among others, to Washington). From the meaningless stat category: The Redskins have won seven straight over Arizona at home. Record: 7-7

Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 24, vs. Denver Broncos, 1 p.m. ET

Denver endured a quarterback competition for a simple reason: It doesn’t have one who can play well enough to seize the job. So good luck knowing who might be playing the position at this point. They still have linebacker Von Miller, and only three teams allowed fewer points last season. Denver is thinner along the defensive interior than in recent years, but it’s still a top group. Record: 8-7

Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 31, at New York Giants, 1 p.m. ET

So much on the line once again: Will this matchup decide playoff participants, as it did in the finale last year? Will Cousins play better in this season finale versus the Giants than he did last year? We haven’t yet mentioned the bad blood between corner Josh Norman and receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and the rip job by corner Janoris Jenkins on Terrelle Pryor from last season. Record: 8-8