The Washington Redskins at long last will end their disappointing 2011 season as they take on the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field.
Very little is riding on this game as Washington already is ensured of finishing last in the NFC East, and the Eagles already have been eliminated from the playoffs as well.
Instead, the teams will play for pride and for future implications.
Here are five story lines to follow in this Week 17 matchup.
1.) Rex’s last stand? — Since he regained the starting quarterback job in Week 10, the final seven games of the season have represented an audition for Rex Grossman. He turned down a two-year deal from the Redskins back in the summer because he wanted to keep his options open. Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said the Redskins still seek their franchise quarterback, and it’s clear Grossman is not that. But has he done enough to warrant another contract from the team and the role of bridge quarterback while whichever young passer the team drafts next year learns the ropes? Grossman, who has thrown 15 touchdown passes, can indeed move the offense. But he can also bring it to a standstill. His 19 interceptions and five lost fumbles stick out like an ugly, pus-filled boil. Grossman would like to return to the Redskins, but if not them, he says, “I’ve put a lot of good tape out there.” He enters Sunday’s game having thrown an interception in 11 straight games. Can he end that streak and turn in a strong performance as he heads into the offseason?
2.) Final auditions — Grossman isn’t the only player looking to show something with a strong outing on Sunday. The Redskins have several players battling teammates for future roles, and others are playing for contracts next season. A glance at a few:
- Byron Westbrook vs. Kevin Barnes — The two young corners have split time at nickelback as Jim Haslett tries to get a feel for who, if either, is the best option going forward;
- DeJon Gomes vs. Oshiomogho Atogwe — The rookie (Gomes) and veteran (Atogwe) have split time at free safety as Haslett & Co. try to gauge whether Atogwe is worth bringing back for a second season at a cap hit of $4 million. Gomes has shown promise, but has taken his lumps as well. Does the Nebraska product boast the potential to enter next season as a full-time starter?
- Roy Helu/Evan Royster vs. future veteran — Both rookies have shined in the opportunities they have received down the stretch of the season. Both Helu (if he plays – knee/toe injuries) and Royster would like one last shot to prove that they are capable of being the feature backs for Mike Shanahan’s offense, and that the team doesn’t need to look elsewhere this offseason.
- Graham Gano vs. future kicker – The second-year kicker has overcome a shaky first three months of the season (some of it because of his own accuracy issues, some of it related to the line’s breakdowns) to go a perfect 13-for-13 in December and now is 30-for-39. “That’s what you have to do,” Shanahan said of Gano’s late-season surge. He’ll be a free agent, but special teams coach Danny Smith likes him. Will the team look for a sure-footed kicker, or will a few more clutch kicks lock things up for Gano?
3.) Sacks race — Brian Orakpo has either led the Redskins or shared the lead of sacks for the first two seasons of his NFL career (he and Andre Carter had 11 each in 2009, and Orakpo had a team-high 8.5 last season). But now Rak (seven sacks this year) enters the final game, trailing rookie Ryan Kerrigan by half a sack. Will the veteran overtake the rookie, or will Kerrigan protect his lead? Sacks won’t exactly be easy to come by for either, however, as they face the elusive Michael Vick.
4.) Shanny’s record vs. Zorn’s — Mike Shanahan was hired to cure the Redskins from years of losing after the failed Jim Zorn experiment. But Shanahan enters Sunday’s game in danger of posting a worse mark than Zorn did in his two seasons as head coach. Zorn’s Redskins went 8-8 in 2008, but went 4-12 his final season, giving Zorn a combined record of 12-20. Shanahan’s Redskins went 6-10 last season, and they currently own a 5-10 mark and a combined record of 11-20. Shanahan insists that the team is better now than what it was when he took over two years ago. Will the record indicate that?
5.) Draft position — The Redskins currently sit in position to land the seventh pick of the 2012 draft, but they could move up a spot or two with a loss, or down a place or two with a win. Any person within the locker room or coaching staff will tell you that winning on Sunday carries the utmost importance. Shanahan will worry about draft prospects later. Regardless, Sunday’s outcome could carry some significant implications for the future of the franchise.