Saturday, August 8, 2009

The schedule, and predicting (guessing) a record

Predicting a record, while probably a futile endeavor given the unpredictable nature of the NFL, just seems like the kind of thing you have to do when you write a football blog, so here I am doing my duty. With some exceptions, I’m going to avoid going down the schedule and picking individual games. I’ve found that makes it too easy to be a homer – each individual week, you can think of some reason why a win is conceivable, and it’s easy to persuade yourself to put down a W, and before you know it you’re 13-3 every year. Instead, I’m going to split the schedule into three categories (division games, the games we “should win,” and the tough opponents outside of the division) and come up with what seems to be a reasonable record for each.

The Division Games

Week 1 @ Giants
Week 7 vs Eagles
Week 11 @ Dallas
Week 12 @ Eagles
Week 15 vs Giants
Week 16 vs Dallas

This is probably the most competitive division in the league, and there are no unwinnable games here. But the unavoidable fact is that the three best pass rushes in the NFC are packed into our division, and our biggest weakness may be the offensive line. For that reason alone, it would be irresponsible to expect a .500 division record. It would be far from shocking if we pulled out three or even four, but it would involve some overachieving or luck. On the other hand, we are perfectly built to stop the running games of Dallas and New York, so we should be able to pull out a couple. Let’s call our division record 2-4.

The Winnable Games

Week 2 vs Rams
Week 3 @ Lions
Week 4 @ Buccaneers
Week 6 vs Chiefs
Week 10 vs Broncos
Week 14 @ Raiders

This group is the reason I’m picking by category rather than by individual opponent. Theoretically, each of these games is one that we should win. As we all know, none of these is certain. At least one of these teams will turn out to be much better than one would expect going into the season (maybe Matt Cassell really is that good). In one of these games, a ball will bounce the wrong way and allow an inferior team to pull off an upset (ask the Rams about this possibility). Even if we turn out to be pretty good, we’re going to play a clunker of a game at some point (remember the Bengals game last year?). These things just happen in the NFL. It seems pointless to me to try to guess which of these seemingly weak opponents will get the benefits of one of the above, or something else unforeseen. For that reason, I’m putting us down for two disappointing losses, without specifying which ones they will be. So among the games we should win, let’s give ourselves a 4-2 record.

The Tough Games

Week 5 @ Panthers
Week 9 @ Falcons
Week 13 vs Saints
Week 17 @ Chargers

This is the exception. I’m calling these by game, but that’s because I have specific reasons for each one. The Panthers and Falcons were both in the playoffs last year, and both have very powerful running games. But of course we are built to stop the run, and both of their defenses are average at best. We match up well against each team, so I’m giving us both of these games.

The Saints offense is once again going to be explosive, and might be too much for even our defense to handle. Meanwhile, between the development of young talent and the addition of our old friend Gregg Williams, I have a feeling their defense is going to take the step from horrendous to at least marginally competent. If our offense is anything less than outstanding this year, I just don’t see us winning this game.

Finally, San Diego to end the year. The Chargers are almost certainly a more talented team, but I’m giving us a win here for the simple reason that they are in a terribly weak division and they likely will have wrapped up the playoffs weeks before. There’s a good chance we will be playing against backups.

Despite the fact that these are the “Tough Games,” I’m giving us a 3-1.


So you’ve probably already done the math: I’m predicting a 9-7 record. In the brutal competition of the NFC East, I’m not confident that gets us a playoffs spot. There’s only two wildcard spots these days, and the two other NFC East non- winners will be gunning hard for them. Unfortunately the other divisions may be competitive too this year, and that means a lot of narrow losers who could be in the wild card running:

NFC West – rebounding Seattle should challenge Arizona
NFC North – Viking vs Packers vs Bears with Jay Cutler
NFC South – Saints and Falcons (and possibly Carolina, but I think they may regress)

By my count, aside from division winners, that leaves up to seven teams (including the NFC East) pushing for those two wildcards. In other words, 9-7 doesn’t guarantees us nothing. If we’re going to make a run, we may need to be perfect against the weak teams or knock off a couple extra division wins. The latter is more likely than the former, in my opinion.
One other thing to consider. Note how the weeks are distributed in each category:

Winnable: 2, 3, 4, 6, 10, 14
Tough: 5, 9, 13, 17
Division: 1, 7, 11, 12

There’s good odds that we get off to a hot start, but obviously most of the dangerous games are concentrated in the second half of the schedule. In fact, check out the schedule starting the week before Thanksgiving and going for the rest of the year:

Week 11 @ Dallas
Week 12 @ Eagles
Week 13 vs Saints
Week 14 @ Raiders
Week 15 vs Giants
Week 16 vs Dallas
Week 17 @ Chargers

That is absolutely vicious. Only one of those games – Oakland – was in our “should win” category. And San Diego could be very dangerous if they have something to play for. If home field advantage in the AFC is at stake, they’re going to have plenty of motivation to play their starters and avoid having to go through Boston in January.

Two conclusions here, both of which go back to the title of this blog:

a) No matter how good we look in the first half, please keep looking at that back end of the schedule after each win. If we’re racking up wins in September and October, I will be repeating the following to myself ten times each night before I go to bed: We will not know if the Redskins are a truly good team until December.

b) If we do get pummeled in November and December, assuming we did well until then, the media will characterize it as a “collapse.” In all likelihood, it is not. It is merely what it looks like when a good but not great team plays a series of weak and strong opponents that are distributed like these are.

In other words… stay medium, kids.


  1. My gut says 9-7 would be a "win" for us this year... But I have to note that your position ratings would suggest we have a really rock-solid defense this season. Defense wins games, so why couldn't we do better than 2-4 in our division?

  2. There are only three teams in the NFC with elite pass rushes: New York, Dallas, and Philadelphia. The Redskins biggest weakness (or so it appears at this juncture): pass protection. The strong defense is the reason I'm picking the Skins to even win two.

    The Redskins could probably win the NFC West, and I think we would at least contend in the South or North. But the NFC East is built to expose our flaws.

    Of course this is a very, very early judgement. If the line comes together it could be a very different story. Part of the fun of this kind of post is to see just how wrong I am once real football starts.