Playoff hopes remain a stretch

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By Rick Maese
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 30, 2010

As the Redskins prepare for their final stretch of games, Mike Shanahan's first season as head coach is at risk of ending before the playoffs begin. Through 11 games, his team has shown that it can't consistently run the ball, struggles to protect its quarterback and can't generate enough pressure on the opposing team's quarterback.

In order to start the Shanahan era off with a postseason berth, a team that's benefited from more than a couple of fortunate bounces needs virtually everything to go right in its remaining five games.

"I feel like we're already at the point where it's too many - too many things need to happen for us to actually get in there and make the playoffs," said cornerback DeAngelo Hall. "It's definitely a long shot. Do we still have hope, according to the numbers? Absolutely. But you'd like to write your own fate."

The Redskins' 17-13 loss to Minnesota on Sunday severely crippled the team's chances of making the playoffs. According to a mathematical analysis from NFL-Forecast.com, based on team strengths and Washington's remaining schedule, there's less than a 3 percent probability that the Redskins can squeak into the playoffs. To do so, they'd likely need to win all their remaining games, starting with this Sunday's visit to the New York Giants.

If the regular season ended today, the four current division leaders - Atlanta (9-2), Chicago (8-3), Philadelphia (7-4) and St. Louis (5-6) - would earn playoff berths. At 5-6, the Redskins would be chasing New Orleans (8-3), New York (7-4), Tampa Bay (7-4), Green Bay (7-4) and Seattle (5-6) for a wild card spot. All but two of the NFC's 16 teams - Carolina and Detroit - are still mathematically in the hunt.

The Redskins likely would need to win at least four of their final five games to even insert themselves into the playoff conversation - and then hope several other dominoes fall their way.

"We have some chances of catching some of these teams," said linebacker Lorenzo Alexander. "But we just need to get on a string here of putting some wins together and keeping our confidence and just being consistent."

In fact, reeling off a string of victories is the Redskins' only hope. But it's also been one of the biggest challenges the team has faced the past couple of years.

The Redskins have strung together more than two wins just four times in the past 10 seasons, and not once since the first quarter of the 2008 season, when Jim Zorn was a first-year head coach and Washington pulled off four straight. The Redskins have managed back-to-back wins just once this season, beating Philadelphia and Green Bay in Weeks 4 and 5.

To make matters more difficult, four of the Redskins' final five opponents have winning records and will be fighting for their own playoff spots down the stretch.

Despite the reality of the situation, Shanahan said he is trying to keep his team's focus as narrow as possible.

"I don't think you look at a string," he said Monday. "You look at one football game. . . . Our focus should be right now on the Giants, not putting a string together."


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