Playoff hopes remain a stretch

By Rick Maese
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 30, 2010; D06

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, 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."

At the very least, beating the Giants on the road would provide a momentum change for a team that has won just one game in the past month. After all, a winning streak has to start somewhere.

"Everybody knows the importance of this next ballgame coming up," linebacker London Fletcher said. "It's a game that we must win if we can realistically look at our aspirations as far as playoffs go.

"Obviously, we don't have much margin for error, if any. It's a tough race in the NFC this year. There are a lot teams that are ahead of us right now. We need this ballgame to stay close in our division. We're two games back with five to go."

Despite the dire circumstances and improbable odds, there is still hope in the locker room. Players know it's possible, especially the 17 Redskins who were around for the team's 2007 run. That group had a 5-7 record in December and a postseason berth seemed highly unlikely. But in his final season as coach, Joe Gibbs guided the Redskins to a four-game winning streak to close the season and clinch a wild card berth.

"We just played inspired football and we were able to come together," Alexander said. "Hopefully, we're able to do that, come together, and make something happen. But guys have got to get a sense of urgency here."

Players weren't able to pinpoint specific reasons why the more recent incarnations of the Redskins have struggled to string together victories. The team hasn't been particularly consistent on either side of the ball, especially this season.

But they no longer have a choice. They've topped last season's win total (four games), but players say this year's team has the talent to do more. With five weeks remaining in the season, there are a variety of scenarios that could play out. For the Redskins to make the playoffs, though, there's only one that matters: Winning each of their remaining games.

"Bottom line, we've got to win the games we play. The other guys out there got to lose," Hall said. "There's no real secret formula or anything like that that we can concoct other than that."

Staff writers Jason Reid and Barry Svrluga contributed to this report.

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