We asked four of our experts to peer into the future and see what the best-case and worst-case scenarios for this season would be. Here are their replies:
Robert Griffin III returns at 100 percent health. But, with hindsight, it turns out that he was still learning pro-style offense last season and wasn’t actually playing to his full capacity or utilizing the entire playbook. This year, he rushes 80 times, not 120, but masters the Shannies’ offense better and leads the NFL in quarterback rating and TD-to-interception ratio. The defense surmounts the early-season four-game suspensions to Rob Jackson and Jarvis Jenkins and the problem of youngsters in the secondary. Brian Orakpo teams with Ryan Kerrigan for more than 20 sacks combined. London Fletcher only loses one-tenth of a step and the Redskins’ defense sneaks into the top half of the league. Most important, since the NFL is about the luck of the bounce and the violence of the hitting more than any other one factor, the Redskins are plus-10 in turnovers. They go 13-3 because that’s as high as you can possibly go without a really good defense. Will they? Probably not. That’s why it’s called “best case.” But they could. When was the last time you could say that — without slapping yourself for being gullible?
It’s obvious that Washington needs to avoid injuries. Yet it’s also the key to a best-case scenario for the team, which is, of course, a return to the playoffs, this time with a healthy starting quarterback. But Griffin’s health is not the beginning and end of the conversation. If he is injured, Kirk Cousins will ably step in. Injuries to any of the starting defenders would be most costly, because the depth isn’t there yet. Best-case scenario? Stay healthy and this team will be fun to watch and probably playoff-bound. Not Super Bowl-bound, mind you.
Griffin is reborn, Alfred Morris proves his rookie season wasn’t a fluke, Pierre Garcon and Orakpo play 16 games apiece, a pair of rookies rejuvenate the secondary, the offensive line continues to avoid injury and Washington wins a second straight division title for the first time since 1984. This time, though, the Redskins enter the playoffs without a hobbling quarterback, and without a playing surface made of painted dirt and baling wire.
Mike Shanahan and Griffin become tethered at the hip, developing trust and a real bond that translates to the franchise’s first berth in an NFC championship game in 22 years.
Ryan Kerrigan becomes the league’s most dominating linebacker, anchoring a defense that is so fearsome up front the secondary hardly has a worry. Oh, yeah, and Daniel Snyder sells the team in September.
Come on, you know. Griffin gets hurt. Everybody gets blamed. Morale crumbles. The defense is overworked and gives up 30-plus points a game. Cousins is decent but, after getting battered for a few weeks, is no better than Rex Grossman. That’s not even an interesting worst-case scenario. It’s just mean-spirited.
This “bad scenario” would be more interesting: With defenses better prepared to stop the option game and the Redskins less willing to run it with RGIII at risk, the offense is just one key injury to a skill player — especially Garcon or Morris — from merely being “pretty good.” Only one or two teams need to have a good new idea on stopping the pistol before everybody else picks it up by midseason. The defense stinks for all the reasons that are always mentioned: they were bad last year, the huge salary-cap hit prevented them from getting “real” reinforcements and Fletcher, the brains of the operation, is ancient. That team can go 6-10 even with a reasonably healthy RGIII. But I don’t think any amount of bad luck can hold them below six wins as long as Griffin remains vertical.
The worst-case scenario, other than another serious injury along the defensive front (a la Orakpo), is that the secondary has not improved enough. It appears that it has, but only regular season games will tell. If it has not, the offense will need to score buckets of points to keep up.
The knee isn’t right. Forced to play far more than expected, Cousins fails to lead Washington back to the playoffs, in the process ending those sports-radio dreams of a blockbuster trade for 13 first-round draft picks. Instead, sports radio focuses on whether Shanahan deserves an extension. For six months. Plus, age finally catches up to Fletcher and Santana Moss, and the two respected veterans end their careers out of the postseason. Bonus “worst-case” points every time Dr. James Andrews uses the word “concerns.”
Andrews quits, says he can’t work with people who rush his patients back after Griffin re-injures his knee in Week 1.
Grossman replaces Cousins after Cousins is knocked out for the season by the 49ers. Rex is money for three weeks but is picked off six times in the first half against the Cowboys, killing all playoff hope. Mike is fired, Kyle gets the head job in Jacksonville, where he immediately signs an old Gator to get him through his first year: Rex. Fletcher’s streak ends after stubbing his pinkie finger on Eli Manning’s helmet. Oh yeah, and Snyder keeps the team.
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