Saturday, November 12, 2005

The Redskins Second Half: The Hammer and the Anvil

Unlike other teams in the NFC East, the Redskins have already played the most difficult part of their schedule. Six of the eight teams that they have played are currently over 0.500 and a seventh is at 0.500 thanks to a Skins victory last week. When not playing the Redskins, these eight opponents have a combined record of 36 wins and 20 losses. The Redskins have faced each of their NFC East opponents—including last year’s NFC Champion—when those opponents were over 0.500; they have also faced division leaders Seattle, Chicago, and Denver, and division runner-up Kansas City. And they have five wins. Now, they are about to take the next step. As I predicted here at the beginning of the year, they will clinch a playoff spot this year.

The Redskins have four things going for them in the second half. First, LaVar Arrington will start and get significant playing time in the next eight games. They missed him. Second, they have reached the soft spot in their schedule. Over their next five games they play the Bucs, Raiders, Chargers, Rams, and Cardinals. The Redskins will exploit the soft spot the way the Giants took advantage of their soft spot. Four of the Giants six wins came against the Cardinals, Saints, Rams, and 49ers. Third, by the law of averages, they should see significant improvement in turnover differential in the second half. I detail that in this post, which includes a review of the first eight games. Finally, Joe Gibbs knows how to win when it counts. He wins in December and January. He wins when he knows he has an advantage like a soft spot in the schedule. When a Gibbs team faces a mediocre team, you will not hear the Turneresque: “Golly we tried, but we just couldn’t get those last [insert number less than four] points.”

The Soft Spot
I think four of the five games in this soft spot will be decided by less than a touchdown, but good teams win the close ones and the Redskins are better than these five. Three weeks ago I would have said that the Bucs would win a close one in Tampa, but with Griese out, the Redskins should win. Don’t get me wrong, Tampa still has an excellent defense, so the game should be close. And, how badly would Simms Jr. like to sit down at Thanksgiving dinner with daddy and tell him how he beat Gibbs, which his daddy didn’t do too often. Unfortunately for junior, it won’t be this Thanksgiving. (Correction 11/15: A loyal reader has pointed out that although Gibbs-coached teams spanked the Giants from 1981 through 1985 and Phil Simms was the starting QB in 1981, Phil sat the bench in 1982 and 1983 and therefore did not bear the brunt of the beatings. Although Simms's game-by-game record is difficult to find, Phil probably wound up with about a dozen wins against Joe Gibbs in his career. On a lighter note: A Google search of--"Phil Simms", NFL--with quotations only around Phil Simms returns this. It looks like there will be a lot to talk about at the Simms house this Thanksgiving.)

Then, they play Oakland in DC, which should be a win. Gibbs will teach Turner how to win a close game, and Turner will have that bitter-beer look on his face at the end when he takes off the headset.

Next comes San Diego in DC. This will be a tough one. Marty Schottenheimer probably feels he was not treated right by Dan Snyder and he will probably have his team geared up for this one. For the Skins to win, the rabid fans will have to do their part. Man, have the fans been loud this year; keep it up.

Then, they play St. Louis, which because it’s on the road could be a close one, but it’s very winnable.

The last game in the soft spot is against Arizona in Arizona. Look, I think there is a very small difference between the best and worst in the NFL, and if Turner or Spurrier were coaching I wouldn’t be so confident in this one, but this will be a win.

The negative thing about this soft spot is that three of the five games are on the road, but at least the toughest game is at home.

So, the Redskins have a legitimate chance to get four wins in their next five games before they face their three NFC East opponents in the last three games of the regular season. They could be 9 – 4 when they take on the NFC East. Two of those three games are at home where they are undefeated.

Joe Knows Football
Now, comes the best part. Joe Gibbs knows how to win, but he is a genius at winning at the end of the year. Joe Gibbs has an amazing record in games played in December and January. After going 3 – 2 last year with a lesser team, Joe has a record of 31 wins and 10 losses in December. And, of course, Joe’s teams are 16 – 5 in the playoffs. So, in December and January, Gibbs has a record of 47 wins and 15 losses. If a 9-4 record going into the three-game NFC East showdown is the hammer, then Gibbs's late-season record is the anvil that they will use to pound the NFC East.

The Skins have won five games with bad luck, against the tough part of their schedule, and without their best player on defense—LaVar Arrington. How many wins can they get with LaVar against the easy part of their schedule, when their luck is likely to change? If they enter those last three games against NFC East teams at 9-4, they will not only make the playoffs, they will finish with eleven wins and the NFC East title. Given that the Redskins already have wins over NFC division-leaders Chicago and Seattle, the Redskins could end up with a bye in the first round of the playoffs and at least one home playoff game.


Post a Comment

<< Home