The road to the playoffs for the Redskins is filled with trap games and toss-ups. It likely ends with a wild-card berth.
The Giants (0-5) are dead in the playoff race. Defending division champion Dallas (2-3) barely has a pulse just one year after a charmed season. That leaves Philadelphia (4-1) and Washington (2-2) to compete for the NFC East crown.
For Washington to have any chance, it must win in Philadelphia next week after losing the season opener to the Eagles at home. Otherwise, Philadelphia will own a big lead in the division and the first tie-breaker, head-to-head record.
Should the Redskins win that rematch, they could feasibly go 10-6. The Eagles look like an 11-5 team right now, but they could go 10-6 and still finish 5-1 in the division.
Of course, injuries could change everything, especially if either team loses its quarterback. New York and Dallas have time to reverse poor starts. Both teams have served as Washington’s nemesis at different points for decades.
Washington and Philadelphia each have four toss-up games remaining. And given the NFL’s penchant for upsets, both the Redskins and Eagles will suffer unexpected losses. But each team has already proven strong enough to survive bad stretches.
Washington returns from its bye Sunday against San Francisco, which could be easy to overlook. The Redskins are banged up but rested. The 49ers are 0-5 but lost their past four games by 11 points combined. San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan knows Redskins QB Kirk Cousins well after serving as his offensive coordinator for two years in Washington.
The Redskins should avoid disaster, but it’s still a toss-up. Home games against the Vikings and Broncos and a visit to the Chargers are toss-ups, too.
To reach the playoffs, Washington will likely need to sweep the series with New York and beat San Francisco, Philadelphia, Dallas, Minnesota, Arizona and the Chargers. Road games at Seattle, New Orleans and Dallas and a home game vs. Denver could reasonably be losses.
Philadelphia has a tougher path over the next month. It could easily lose to Carolina, Washington and Denver while beating the 49ers. Philadelphia could then reasonably beat the Cowboys twice and take down the Bears, Rams and Giants before losing to Seattle and Oakland to finish 10-6.
Washington’s biggest problem may be injuries. The Redskins’ defense, playing surprisingly well, has to keep it up. Washington’s offense needs to find a running game, and Cousins has to find a way to complete more deep balls. Otherwise, the Redskins will slug it out in too many close games.
The good news is coach Jay Gruden is at his best during tough times. That should help keep Washington in the playoff chase until the end.
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