NFL playoffs: Redskins focus on Browns, look at favorable schedule ahead

The Washington Post’s Matt Rennie, Dan Steinberg and LaVar Arrington debate whether the Redskins upcoming game at Cleveland against the 5-8 Browns is the toughest remaining game on the Redskins’ schedule. (The Washington Post)
December 14, 2012

The Washington Redskins look to take another step forward in their once improbable quest for the playoffs as they take on the Cleveland Browns on Sunday. At 7-6, the Redskins are riding a four-game winning streak and have pulled within a game of the New York Giants for the NFC East lead, and a game back of the Chicago Bears and Seattle Seahawks for a wild-card berth.

The Redskins’ remaining schedule appears more favorable than do those of the teams ahead of them. But Redskins players say their focus remains on the Browns game.

“We’re not looking at how many can we win,” cornerback DeAngelo Hall said. “We’re just taking it one game at a time and getting ready for the opponent that we have that next week.”

With three games remaining, the Redskins have roughly a 36 percent chance of making the playoffs, according to CoolStandings.com, a Web site that handicaps teams’ playoff chances.

Chicago, which has an 8-5 record, has just better than a 70 percent chance of reaching the postseason as the Bears currently sit in position to claim the final wild-card spot behind the Seahawks, who are also 8-5.

If the Bears lose this week and if Washington beats Cleveland, the Redskins would move into that final wild-card spot because they would have a better record against NFC opponents (6-4 vs. 5-5). If the Giants lose this week and Washington wins, those teams would be tied for first in the NFC East lead, with Washington holding a better divisional record (3-1 vs. 2-3) as a tiebreaker. If the Redskins were to then win out, the division would be theirs.

Redskins players say they won’t be scoreboard-watching this weekend because, in their minds, they already control their own destiny.

“It’s the nature of what it is. We’ve got to win out to control,” fullback Darrel Young said. “We can’t rely on the Giants to lose, because if we lose, then we need them to lose another one. We just want to get better.”

Washington’s final three-game stretch appears less challenging than does New York’s. Washington plays at Cleveland (5-8), at Philadelphia (4-10) and then hosts Dallas (7-6) in the regular season finale on Dec. 30.

The 8-5 Giants play at Atlanta (11-2), at Baltimore (9-4) and then close out the season at home against Philadelphia.

The Bears’ remaining schedule doesn’t appear to be as difficult as New York’s, however. They do have to play NFC North leader Green Bay, which has a 9-4 record. But then follow games at Arizona and Detroit — teams with 4-9 records.

The Seahawks will close the regular season with games at Buffalo (5-8) and at home against San Francisco (9-3-1) and St. Louis (6-6-1). At 6-4, their conference record is the same as the Redskins, but they currently hold the tiebreaker over Washington based on a better record against common opponents (3-1 vs. 2-2).

But records and previous outcomes can be deceiving.

Although the Redskins have two more wins than the Browns, Cleveland is one of the hotter teams in the NFL. The Browns have won four of their last six games, and own a 4-3 record at home. And after losing their first two games at Cleveland Browns Stadium, the Browns have gone on to win four of the five games there that followed.

Conversely, the Giants lost to the Eagles earlier in the season, but after that game the Eagles lost eight straight and have experienced changes to their roster and coaching staff.

The Redskins’ four-game run is the longest active win streak in the conference. But that carries little relevance now, Washington’s players say.

“Those four in a row don’t matter unless we win this game,” tackle Trent Williams said. “We’re on a one-game season for as long as we play this 2012-13 season. We don’t have time to reflect on any success that we’ve had in the past.”

Echoing Williams’s thoughts, Young said remaining strength of schedule on paper matters little as well.

“The games are played on the field, on Sundays, Mondays and Thursdays,” Young said. “None of that matters. Guys just have to step up and make plays on the field.”

Mike Jones covers the Washington Redskins for The Washington Post. When not writing about a Redskins development of some kind – which is rare – he can be found screaming and cheering at one of his kids’ softball, baseball, soccer or basketball games.
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