It wasn’t long ago that football’s number-crunchers pegged the Washington Redskins’ chances at the postseason as mathematically minuscule. The head coach was ready to evaluate his roster for next season, and a frustrated fan base was eager to evaluate the team’s coaching staff for the remainder of the current season.
The NFL is a fickle world, though, where the wind can change directions with little notice. With a pair of big division wins over a five-day period, the Redskins have improved their record to 5-6 and reinserted themselves into the postseason conversation.
“I feel as if something is building,” quarterback Robert Griffin III said after Thursday’s 38-31 win over the Dallas Cowboys.
At the season’s low point, when a Week 9 loss at the Carolina Panthers left the Redskins with a discouraging 3-6 record, Washington was projected to have only a 3.6 percent chance to make the playoffs by CoolStandings.com, which uses advanced stats to simulate the NFL schedule and make projections. Washington was given only a 1.8 percent chance to win the division at the time.
After impressively disposing of the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday and the Cowboys on Thursday, the site now gives the Redskins a 28 percent chance to make the playoffs. The number-crunchers at FootballOutsiders.com use their own formula and simulations and now give the Redskins a 23 percent chance to reach the postseason.
The revised projections reflect the full impact of the Redskins’ recent wins. Suddenly, the complexion of the entire season could be poised to change dramatically.
“It’s not a finished product by any means, but we’re on the right track,” Coach Mike Shanahan said in a teleconference Friday afternoon. “We’re going in the right direction.”
The Redskins are in a second-place tie with the Cowboys. The New York Giants lead the NFC East with a 6-4 mark. If the Giants lose Sunday night to the Green Bay Packers, the Redskins would be playing for a share of first place when they host the Giants in a Monday night game on Dec. 3.
“It’s kind of how it goes,” linebacker London Fletcher said Thursday night. “You win a few games in November just to give yourselves a chance. We really just had to win a game against Philly to stay in this thing. To come in here and get a win against the Cowboys is big. And now we just put ourselves in position to make next week’s game against the Giants even more important.”
Nine other NFC teams enter Sunday’s games with a better record than Washington, and CoolStandings.com projects the Redskins to have less than a 3 percent chance to win a wild-card spot. That means to reach the postseason, the Redskins would almost certainly have to overtake the Giants in the final month of the season.
“As I’ve emphasized, I think, from Day One, you have to play your best football the second half of the season,” Shanahan said. “There’s only one team at the end of the season that’s happy. So if you’re not playing your best football, the chances of having a successful year are not very good.”
The mind-set surrounding the team changed after the Redskins entered the bye week with a 3-6 mark. Teetering on irrelevancy, players and coaches alike returned to work with a greater sense of urgency. For example, in a departure from recent strategy, Shanahan won the coin toss prior to Thursday’s game and elected to receive. It’s a strategy he usually reserves for the playoffs.
“This is your last game,” the coach said, by way of explanation, “you’re playing for it all. I want the ball if we can get it.”
Though the Redskins didn’t score on that drive, they did put up 28 points in the second quarter en route to posting the kind of victory that could salvage their season. “It’ll take that type of effort to beat the Giants,” Shanahan said.
Griffin had another superb week and has thrown four touchdown passes in each of the past two games. And the rest of the team provided enough support against an underachieving Cowboys team for the Redskins to elevate themselves to contender status, at least by the NFC East’s modest standards.
“Coming off the bye, who would have known that we’d be where we’re at right now but us?” wide receiver Santana Moss said. “We just kept striving and kept pushing and just knowing that at the end of the day, it’s going to all fall in our hands for us to go out there and take it.”
The Redskins have already scored 295 points this season, more than their season total in three of the past four years. Averaging nearly 27 points an outing, Washington is on pace to score 429 points, a mark the Redskins haven’t hit since 1999, the last year they won a division title. There’s reason to think they could keep up the similar pace. Only two of their final five opponents currently have winning records (the Giants and the Baltimore Ravens, who visit FedEx Field on Dec. 9), and the Redskins feel any loss could undo their recent successes.
“I think there’s definitely a sense of urgency when you know that you cannot stumble,” Shanahan said. “You’ve got to go out and win each week. It starts with the present game because you can’t stumble.”
Redskins players said they won’t be getting carried away just yet with the turnaround and the resurrected possibilities. But it has set the stage for some meaningful games the rest of the season.
“We can’t feed into it and everything at this point,” defensive end Stephen Bowen said. “We’ve won two in a row. People are probably going to start talking good about us. But we’ve just got to stay the path.”
Left tackle Trent Williams said he was less than stunned by the reversal.
“I’m not surprised,” Williams said. “It’s football. It’s never over until it’s over.”
Redskins notes: Rookie inside linebacker Keenan Robinson was undergoing tests on Friday to determine if he had suffered a torn pectoral muscle, and the fear is that Robinson could be lost for the season.
Drafted in the fourth round out of Texas, Robinson has played primarily on special teams this season, but he also has been used on certain pass-rushing situations and to spell 15-year veteran London Fletcher, who started Thursday’s game but didn’t finish it after aggravating his sprained left ankle.
“Right now, it doesn’t look good,” Shanahan said of Robinson’s status.
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