Friday, November 25, 2005

Timing is Everything (or, Tony Kornheiser Had a Premature Calculation)

When the Redskins had five wins and three losses, Tony Kornheiser wrote a column for the Washington Post in which he said—somewhat tongue-in-cheek—that the Redskins would run the table in their last eight games. I thought he was kidding, but his comments on Sport Talk 980 confirmed that he wasn’t. Redskins’ fans would like to see their team earn a playoff spot, preferably by winning the division, but even now the Redskins do not have to run the table to accomplish that. This post will focus on the likely playoff outcome in the NFC.

The Redskins have lost their last two games and five of their last seven, and you would think from the message boards and pundits’ comments that they have been eliminated from the playoffs. That is pure nonsense. This is the NPL, the National Parity League.

Last year it only took eight wins to earn a playoff spot in the NFC. This year it will take more, but the Redskins are already two games better than last year and this year’s five wins were earned against an excruciatingly difficult schedule and despite some of the worst luck in the league. Now, everywhere I turn, people are saying this Sunday’s game against the Chargers is a must-win game. That’s just more nonsense. I expect it to be close, but this is not a must-win game. The Chargers play in the AFC and cannot take a playoff spot from the Redskins.

Obviously, overall record is the most important determinant in getting into the playoffs, so a win against the Chargers would be great if only to shut the pundits up, but with parity and six games left, several teams in the NFC East and South will wind up tied at the top of their division at the end of the year. The Redskins most important remaining games are their last five, which are against NFC teams. With apologies to Kornheiser, they actually have a good shot at running the table in their last five.

As I’ve written before, the Redskins have moved past the most difficult part of their schedule. Their upcoming game against the Chargers is the most difficult one they have to play in the second half. The Redskins have already beaten the first-place Bears, Cowboys (in Dallas), and Seahawks. They came within one overturned safety from beating the first-place Broncos in Denver where the Broncos are 6-0 this year. Their only blow out loss was to a first-place Giants team on the road, who played with extreme emotion after their beloved owner died. They were an unsuccessfully challenged, two-point conversion from beating the first-place Bucs in Tampa. Could their schedule have been any more difficult than that? Whose schedule was worse? Out of ten games, the Redskins have played five against teams that are currently in first place in their division.

But, as unkind as the schedule makers have been to the Redskins thus far, the National Parity League has set up the schedule for a dramatic finish for the NFC East and South. As they say, timing is everything. The Redskins schedule gets easy after Sunday and the Giants and Cowboys last six games looks a lot like the Redskins first half (predicted wins and losses, if any, appear in the last column).

The Redskins (5-5) Schedule
Sun, Nov 27 San Diego CBS 1:00 PM
Sun, Dec 4 at St. Louis FOX 4:05 PM W
Sun, Dec 11 at Arizona FOX 4:05 PM W
Sun, Dec 18 Dallas FOX 1:00 PM W
Sat, Dec 24 NY Giants FOX 1:00 PM W
Sun, Jan 1 at Philadelphia FOX 4:15 PM W

The Redskins will beat the Rams and Cardinals. Then they face the Cowboys and Giants at home where they are very tough to beat. Then they finish the regular season against the team the Giants beat last week—the McNabb-less Eagles. You can put the Redskins down for 5-1 in their last six. If a Higher Authority walked across the Potomac and granted Joe Gibbs only five wins in his next six regular-season games, Gibbs would take the loss this week against the Chargers.

Redskins finish 10-6

The Giants (7-3) Schedule
Sun, Nov 27 at Seattle FOX 4:15 PM L
Sun, Dec 4 Dallas FOX 1:00 PM L
Sun, Dec 11 at Philadelphia FOX 4:05 PM
Sat, Dec 17 Kansas City CBS 5:00 PM
Sat, Dec 24 at Washington FOX 1:00 PM L
Sat, Dec 31 at Oakland ESPN 8:00 PM

Put the Giants down for losses to Seattle, the Redskins, and probably the Cowboys. There is even a good chance they will lose one more than that. Eli will be a very good quarterback some day, but not good enough to make the playoffs this year.

Giants finish 10-6

The Cowboys (7-3) Schedule
Thu, Nov 24 Denver CBS 4:00 PM L
Sun, Dec 4 at NY Giants FOX 1:00 PM W
Sun, Dec 11 Kansas City CBS 4:15 PM
Sun, Dec 18 at Washington FOX 1:00 PM L
Sat, Dec 24 at Carolina FOX 1:00 PM L
Sun, Jan 1 St. Louis ESPN 8:30 PM

(As you can see I had written part of this before Thanksgiving.)
The Cowboys finish 10-6.

The Bucs (7-3) Schedule
Sun, Nov 27 Chicago FOX 1:00 PM L
Sun, Dec 4 at New Orleans FOX 1:00 PM W
Sun, Dec 11 at Carolina FOX 1:00 PM L
Sat, Dec 17 at New England FOX 1:30 PM L
Sat, Dec 24 Atlanta FOX 1:00 PM L
Sun, Jan 1 New Orleans FOX 1:00 PM W

Bucs finish 9-7 and are eliminated from the playoffs.

The Panthers (7-3) Schedule
Sun, Nov 27 at Buffalo FOX 1:00 PM W
Sun, Dec 4 Atlanta FOX 1:00 PM W/L
Sun, Dec 11 Tampa Bay FOX 1:00 PM W
Sun, Dec 18 at New Orleans FOX 1:00 PM W
Sat, Dec 24 Dallas FOX 1:00 PM W
Sun, Jan 1 at Atlanta FOX 1:00 PM W/L

The Panthers could run the table, but probably split with Atlanta, finish 12-4 or 11-5, and win the division.

The Falcons (7-4) Schedule
Sun, Dec 4 at Carolina FOX 1:00 PM W/L
Mon, Dec 12 New Orleans ABC 9:00 PM W
Sun, Dec 18 at Chicago ESPN 8:30 PM L
Sat, Dec 24 at Tampa Bay FOX 1:00 PM W
Sun, Jan 1 Carolina FOX 1:00 PM W/L

The Falcons finish 10-6.

This is a reasonable outcome, but there are many paths to the same point. If it unfolds like this, here is how the tie-breakers would work out:

The Redskins with the NFC East based on head-to-head tie breaker (sweep of Cowboys and split with Giants). The two most important games left on the Redskins schedule are against the Cowboys and Giants, and both are at home.

Panthers win the NFC South and get home field advantage throughout the playoffs.

Seattle and Chicago win the West and North, respectively. Chicago probably wins eleven games.

The Cowboys and Falcons win the wild cards with the Falcons playing in Chicago and the Cowboys in DC. But, if the Bears finish with the same record as the Panthers, the Bears would get the bye based on a win against the Panthers, and the Falcons would play the wild-card game in Carolina.

If you think this sounds crazy, remember this: Before the Tampa game the pundits were saying the Bucs were dead. Now, they are considered a Super Bowl contender. After the Bears lost to the Redskins the Bears were considered dead. Now, they are considered a Super Bowl contender. And, weren't the Vikings actually buried a few weeks ago? Things change very quickly in the NPL.

Other Reasons for Optimism
Is that it Counter Trey? Is that all you got, just that the schedule gets easier? Well, no, there is much more.

I wrote about their poor luck in getting fumble recoveries. Regression towards the mean says they will improve on that. Regression towards the mean also says that the calls have to start going their way. Those are the “luck” issues.

Then, there are the more fundamental issues. First, I previously wrote that Joe Gibbs's record in games played after November 30 is 47 wins and 15 losses. That is, when it counts the most, Gibbs finds a way to win and that includes a 3-2 record last year with a lesser team against a tougher schedule. Did anyone check the calendar?

Second, people are wondering this year what happened to the vaunted Redskins defense and the genius of Gregg Williams, Assistant Head Coach of the Defense. Well, coaches need tools. Everyone says that great offenses have outstanding triplets—quarterback, running back, and wide receiver. Well, every great defense has outstanding triplets, too. A defense’s triplets are one outstanding player on every unit—defensive line, linebacker, and secondary.

The Redskins defense has outstanding triplets. They have Cornelius Griffin, a pro bowl defensive lineman; LaVar Arrington, a pro bowl linebacker; and Sean Taylor, a soon-to-be pro bowl safety. The main problem with the Redskins defense is that their triplets have not played any significant time together in any game this year. Arrington spent most of the first seven games on the bench; he didn’t get his first start until game eight. Griffin has not played since the sixth game. Taylor missed game nine (against the Bucs) and parts of others. In games when just two of the three triplets played any significant time together in the same game, the Redskins record is 5 – 3 ( Griffin and Taylor: 4-2 in the first six games; Arrington and Taylor: 1-1 in games eight and ten) and two of those three losses were very controversial (Denver and Tampa).

The news is that Griffin practiced today for the first time in five weeks. If Griffin plays this Sunday, it will be the first time all year that the Redskins D-triplets will be on the field at the same time.

So, the Redskins schedule gets much easier and the other NFC East contenders' schedules get more difficult; the Redskins luck is about to turn; Joe Gibbs works his December and January magic; and they get three of their star defenders on the field together for the first time all year. It sounds like good reason for optimism to me. And, anything can happen in the NPL playoffs.


At November 28, 2005 9:15 AM, Blogger mccain-graham '08 said...

There's your one loss. How's the view from the NFC East cellar?

At November 28, 2005 8:42 PM, Blogger Counter Trey said...

I said that the Chargers game was NOT a must win.

The next five are very winnable. You can tell me how the cellar looks in five weeks.

At August 23, 2014 5:15 PM, Blogger Counter Trey said...

I was just going through old blogposts and noticed that I was exactly right on this call.


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