Washington Redskins’ 2012 schedule analysis

Evan Royster and the Redskins will face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 4, one of three road games in September.

Sept. 9

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Will rookie Alfred Morris start at running back for the Redskins against the Saints? The Post Sports Live crew debates the prospect of the Redskins starting another rookie in the backfield alongside Robert Griffin III.

Will rookie Alfred Morris start at running back for the Redskins against the Saints? The Post Sports Live crew debates the prospect of the Redskins starting another rookie in the backfield alongside Robert Griffin III.

The Insider

The Insider

Insight on the Redskins and all the latest news from Post reporters Mike Jones and Mark Maske.

at New Orleans Saints

1 p.m. (Fox)

All-time series: Redskins lead, 15-8.

Last meeting: Dec. 6, 2009, a 33-30 Saints win in overtime at FedEx Field. New Orleans, which would go on to win the Super Bowl, came in 11-0. With a seven-point lead, Shaun Suisham missed a 23-yard field goal with 1 minute 52 seconds left, LaRon Landry gave up a 53-yard touchdown pass to Robert Meacham and Mike Sellers fumbled in overtime.

Outlook: What an opener. The Saints could be reeling from an offseason in which several coaches and players were suspended in the bounty scandal, or fired up because of it. Coach Sean Payton is suspended for the season, so we’ll find out whether he was truly the mastermind behind the Saints’ explosive offense, or whether quarterback Drew Brees can function without him. Offensive line coach Aaron Kromer will run the team in Week 1.

Sept. 16

at St. Louis Rams

4:05 p.m. (Fox)

All-time series: Redskins lead, 24-11-1.

Last meeting: Last season, a 17-10 Redskins win on Oct. 2 was fueled by 135 rushing yards from Ryan Torain. Washington nearly squandered a 17-point lead after two fourth-quarter interceptions by Rex Grossman, but hung on to improve to 3-1.

Outlook: If it seems like the Redskins play the Rams every year, it’s because they do. They’ll meet for the fifth consecutive season, and seventh in the past eight. But expect a different look from these Rams, because longtime Tennessee Titans coach Jeff Fisher has taken over. With new coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, expect the offense to lean more on RB Steven Jackson, so third-year QB Sam Bradford doesn’t have to do it all. LB James Laurinaitis is the heart of the defense. New CB Cortland Finnegan will help tighten up the pass defense.

Sept. 23

vs. Cincinnati Bengals

1 p.m. (CBS)

All-time series: Series tied, 4-4.

Last meeting: A 20-13 loss in Cincinnati on Dec. 14, 2008 to the 2-11-1 Bengals ended the playoff hopes of the Jim Zorn-coached Redskins, who fell to 7-7.

Outlook: The Bengals were a surprise playoff team last season, an AFC wild card despite a third-place finish in the North Division. They owed much of their success to two rookies, QB Andy Dalton and WR A.J. Green. They brought in RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis from New England to round out the offense. Preseason injuries to G Travelle Wharton and C Kyle Cook caused them to keep 15-year C Jeff Faine from retiring. Cincinnati finished seventh defensively last season, and the strength is up front, with DTs Geno Atkins and Domata Peko, and DEs Carlos Dunlap and Michael Johnson. It’s not a good matchup for the Redskins unless their offensive line gets healthy.

Sept. 30

at Tampa Bay Buccaneers

4:25 p.m. (Fox)

All-time series: Buccaneers lead, 10-9.

Last meeting: An excruciating 17-16 loss at FedEx Field on Dec. 12, 2010. Donovan McNabb drove the Redskins 75 yards to an apparent tie, connecting with Santana Moss with nine seconds left. But Nick Sundberg and Hunter Smith botched the PAT snap.

Outlook: Tampa Bay lost its last 10 games under Raheem Morris, who is now the Redskins’ defensive backs coach. The Bucs pried Coach Greg Schiano away from Rutgers, signed Saints G Carl Nicks in free agency and drafted RB Doug Martin in the first round, signaling a likely shift to a run-first approach. Tampa Bay also added WR Vincent Jackson in the offseason. The Bucs were the league’s worst run-stopping team in 2011, and they don’t figure to be better, which creates an opportunity for Redskins RBs Evan Royster, Roy Helu and Alfred Morris.

Oct. 7

vs. Atlanta Falcons

1 p.m. (Fox)

All-time series: Redskins lead, 15-6-1.

Last meeting: A 31-17 loss in Atlanta on Nov. 8, 2009, a game in which Clinton Portis suffered a concussion that ended his season. The Redskins fell behind 24-3 at the half and DeAngelo Hall got into a confrontation on the sideline with Falcons Coach Mike Smith. Jim Zorn-led Washington fell to 2-6.

Outlook: The Redskins return to FedEx Field after playing three of four September games on the road. Atlanta fancies itself a Super Bowl contender, and beats itself up for not having won its first playoff game the past three seasons. The Falcons have surrounded QB Matt Ryan with talent: RB Michael Turner, WRs Roddy White and Julio Jones and TE Tony Gonzalez. The Redskins, however, are capable of exploiting the Falcons’ weakness, its offensive line, with OLBs Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan.

Oct. 14

vs. Minnesota Vikings

4:25 p.m. (Fox)

All-time series:Redskins lead, 11-10.

Last meeting: A 33-26 loss to Minnesota last Dec. 24, one of several games in the 5-11 season that the Redskins let slip from their grasp. The game was tied at 23 early in the fourth quarter, and the Vikings had lost star RB Adrian Peterson and starting QB Christian Ponder to injuries on the same series. Joe Webb and Toby Gerhart rallied them to victory.

Outlook: The Vikings game could be something of a must-win for the Redskins, who face a difficult stretch for the following three weeks. Peterson says he’s healthy despite not playing in any preseason games. Coach Leslie Frazier is calling him a game-time decision for Week 1, but by the time this game rolls around, Minnesota should have its identity. A team without Peterson is more favorable to Washington, but it didn’t help last season.

Oct. 21

at New York Giants

1 p.m. (Fox)

All-time series: Giants lead, 92-64-4.

Last meeting in New Jersey: A 23-10 win last Dec. 18, when the Redskins came to town 5-8 and essentially out of the playoff picture, and the Giants needed a win. Washington played one of its best games of the season, scoring the first 17 points and intercepting QB Eli Manning three times.

Outlook: The Redskins play their first NFC East game in the seventh week of the season. It couldn’t come against a better opponent. Washington famously beat the eventual Super Bowl champions twice last year. If that isn’t motivation for the Giants, it will at least ensure they take the Redskins seriously. Manning lost two of his offensive stalwarts to free agency, but the steady-drafting Giants replaced RB Brandon Jacobs and WR Mario Manningham with David Wilson and Reuben Randle.

Oct. 28

at Pittsburgh Steelers

1 p.m. (Fox)

All-time series: Redskins lead, 42-31-3.

Last meeting: A 23-6 loss on Nov. 3, 2008, when Steelers jerseys and Terrible Towels throughout FedEx Field embarrassed the Redskins on “Monday Night Football.” Washington had been 6-2 in Jim Zorn’s first eight games as coach, but lost five of six and finished 8-8.

Outlook: The Redskins’ fifth road game of the first half isn’t much of a trip distance-wise — the Redskins won’t go farther west than St. Louis all season — but Heinz Field is another hostile environment. With WR Mike Wallace rejoining the team after a preseason holdout, the Redskins will see the faces that have made the Steelers an annual playoff contender — QB Ben Roethlisberger, LB James Harrison and S Troy Polamalu. The Redskins could stay in it by limiting Pittsburgh’s shaky running game.

Nov. 4

vs. Carolina Panthers

1 p.m. (Fox)

All-time series: Redskins lead, 7-3.

Last meeting: A 33-20 loss last Oct. 23 at Carolina, a game in which Panthers QB Cam Newton came of age, and Redskins starting QB John Beck couldn’t keep up. Carolina outscored the Redskins, 24-14, in the second half, at one point leading, 30-13. Beck passed for 279 yards, earning two more starts.

Outlook: Having faced Newton, last year’s No. 1 overall draft pick, once before may prove crucial to devising a way to slow him down. He’s got talent to work with, in WR Steve Smith and RBs Jonathan Stewart, DeAngelo Williams and free agent addition Mike Tolbert. And Newton himself, listed at 6 feet 5 and 245 pounds, is a bull. But the Redskins might be able to establish the run against Carolina’s defense, fronted by a suspect line, and keep the ball out of the dynamic QB’s hands.

Nov. 18

vs. Philadelphia Eagles

1 p.m. (Fox)

All-time series: Redskins lead, 79-70-5.

Last meeting at FedEx Field: A 20-13 loss last Oct. 16, the game in which QB Rex Grossman threw four interceptions, three to unheralded Eagles S Kurt Coleman. John Beck replaced Grossman and gave the Redskins a spark. The rally fell short, but Beck would start the following week at Carolina.

Outlook: The Redskins were competitive in two losses to Philly last season, even when the score didn’t reflect it. It’s the first game after the bye, so there will be plenty of time to prepare, and they know the Eagles well. Philadelphia is still led by RB LeSean McCoy and WR DeSean Jackson, among the slew of Eagles who got new contract terms this offseason, and QB Michael Vick. But they hope the addition of LBs DeMeco Ryans (via trade) and Mychal Kendricks (draft) give the defense’s back seven some muscle.

Nov. 22

at Dallas Cowboys

4:15 p.m. (Fox)

All-time series: Cowboys lead, 62-40-2.

Last meeting in Arlington, Tex.: An 18-16 loss on “Monday Night Football” last Sept. 26 was none too pretty. It featured nine field goals and a one-yard touchdown pass from Rex Grossman. Dan Bailey kicked the decisive field goal with 1 minute 52 seconds left. Grossman fumbled away the last shot.

Outlook: The NFL should make the Redskins the annual opponent for Dallas’s traditional Thanksgiving Day game. Though there are only four days to prepare, Mike Shanahan’s staff will probably compensate by using some of the bye week to develop an approach for beating Dallas. Many of the Cowboys’ offensive playmakers are the same, but they hope free agent CB Brandon Carr and No. 6 overall draft pick Morris Claiborne, another cornerback, give the pass defense some teeth.

Dec. 3

vs. New York Giants

8:30 p.m. (ESPN)

All-time series: Giants lead, 92-64-4.

Last meeting at FedEx Field: A 28-14 win last Sept. 11 started the second season under Coach Mike Shanahan on a good note. Ryan Kerrigan’s nine-yard interception return for a touchdown was the key play as Washington outscored New York 14-0 in the second half.

Outlook: There’s a 12-day wait between games, and barring a switch via flex scheduling, this is the Redskins’ only prime time appearance. If Robert Griffin III isn’t rattled by the pass rushers in the previous two games, including the Eagles’ Jason Babin and the Cowboys’ DeMarcus Ware, the Giants might get to him behind Justin Tuck. New York drafted offense, refusing to rest on its Super Bowl laurels, but will need WR Victor Cruz to repeat his breakout season alongside WR Hakeem Nicks.

Dec. 9

vs. Baltimore Ravens

1 p.m. (CBS)

All-time series: Ravens lead, 3-1.

Last meeting: A 24-10 loss on Dec. 7, 2008 that dropped the Redskins to 7-6 following a 6-2 start. Baltimore dominated, leading 17-0 after three quarters and allowing the Redskins just 62 yards rushing.

Outlook: Maryland’s other NFL team travels only 32 miles for this game, late enough in the season that star OLB Terrell Suggs, who partially tore his Achilles’ tendon while working out in April, could be back in the lineup. The Ravens bring back almost everybody from the team that was a missed Billy Cundiff kick away from overtime in last season’s AFC championship game. Perhaps no Raven is more important than RB Ray Rice, who signed a five-year, $40 million contract extension with $24 million in guaranteed money.

Dec. 16

at Cleveland Browns

1 p.m. (Fox)

All-time series: Browns lead, 33-10-1.

Last meeting: An ugly 14-11 win on Oct. 19, 2008 highlighted by a 175-yard rushing day from Clinton Portis. Greg Blache’s defense allowed just 236 yards and Washington improved to 5-2.

Outlook: A lot has changed since the Redskins last had the four AFC North teams on their schedule, but one thing is the same: Games against the Browns are contests a team with playoff hopes must win. The second half of the schedule looks daunting, but this could be a respite. The Browns have turned their offense over to rookie QB Brandon Weeden, who will be 29 when this game is played. RB Trent Richardson, the third overall draft pick, has already had knee issues. Cleveland is strong along the offensive line and on defense, so the Redskins don’t want to get into another one of those ugly slugfests.

Dec. 23

at Philadelphia Eagles

1 p.m. (Fox)

All-time series: Redskins lead, 79-70-5.

Last meeting in Philadelphia: The 34-10 loss to end the season on Jan. 1 sent the Redskins into the offseason on a sour note, but some good things came from the game. It was 13-10 in the fourth quarter before it fell apart, and RB Evan Royster had 165 yards from scrimmage, including 113 rushing.

Outlook: The Eagles were thrown together last offseason, and despite big expectations, finished 8-8. This time, and this deep into the season, they’re expected to be more well-rounded. The Eagles’ pass-rush-focused defense can be exploited by the Redskins’ running game, if the backs hit the creases that develop inside the defensive ends’ wide alignments. Philly must keep QB Michael Vick out of harm’s way. In 2010, DeAngelo Hall and Kareem Moore knocked him out for a month with a rib injury.

Dec. 30

vs. Dallas Cowboys

1 p.m. (Fox)

All-time series: Cowboys lead, 62-40-2.

Last meeting at FedEx Field: A 27-24 loss last Nov. 27 marked the third consecutive defeat against the Cowboys by three points or less. This one was particularly painful, as Rex Grossman’s TD pass to Donte Stallworth with 14 seconds left sent it to overtime, in which Graham Gano missed a 52-yarder.

Outlook: The only thing more exciting than playing in Dallas on Thanksgiving would be facing them at FedEx Field with a playoff spot — dare we say an NFC East title? — on the line. By then, TE Jason Witten should have resolved his playing status following a preseason spleen injury. QB Tony Romo remains a threat, but after WRs Miles Austin and Dez Bryant, there isn’t much besides Witten on offense. Dallas is counting on a big season from RB DeMarco Murray.

— Keith McMillan

Barack Obama, bewildered bystander