Redskins coach Jay Gruden said he’s fine with Washington flying under the radar this year, and being overhyped by the media isn’t good, either. (Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)
Sports Columnist

Redskins coach Jay Gruden has admitted that Washington is a sleeper pick to make the playoffs after going 7-9 last season. But in a division where the Eagles’ top quarterback still isn’t healthy, the Giants are coming off a 3-13 year and the big D in Dallas always stands for drama, maybe Washington is an underdog that’s capable of winning the NFC East.

Maybe … as in maybe you might win the lottery.

The Redskins will contend this season only if two things happen: they maintain perfect health and they’re young players mature ahead of schedule. Defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia would also have to come back to the pack for Washington to possibly steal the NFC East, like it did with a 9-7 record in 2015.

The Redskins have already lost running back Derrius Guice for the season and must rely on 33-year-old veteran Adrian Peterson to power the ground game. Key playmakers such as running back Chris Thompson, tight end Jordan Reed and linebacker Zach Brown enter Sunday’s regular-season opener at Arizona without playing in the preseason. Pro Bowl tackle Trent Williams played sparingly in one exhibition.

Defensively, the Redskins showed little chemistry and some of the same old problems in the rare times starters played. There was no run defense and poor tackling.

Maybe the Redskins faked the preseason in terms of schemes, but they can’t fake poor individual efforts. That’s why national publications have once again picked Washington to finish last in the division.

“It’s my job to make sure we have the right mentality going in, and if it’s under the radar, fine,” Gruden said. “Sometimes teams get overhyped and think they’re better than they are, and that’s not a good thing either.”

The Redskins are an OK team in a good division. The Eagles can afford to wait for QB Carson Wentz to get healthy. The Cowboys’ problem won’t be winning 10 games, but succeeding in January. Running back Saquon Barkley will help the Giants improve to at least six wins.

Meanwhile in Washington, Alex Smith looks like the second coming of Mark Brunell, an aging quarterback who bores fans with his dink-and-dunk routine. Grab tight end Vernon Davis and receiver Jamison Crowder for your fantasy team, because deep threat Paul Richardson will essentially be running wind sprints for most of his games.

Every team in the division is strong at running back, which is why Washington drafted defensive tackle Daron Payne in the first round and Guice in the second. But Payne will need a little time to recognize pro schemes, and Guice tore his ACL. The Redskins can’t keep up unless Peterson wins NFL Comeback Player of the Year.

Barring the usual bad luck and incessant injuries for Washington, the playoffs seem a long shot for this year’s Redskins.

Read more from Rick Snider:

First glimpse of Alex Smith reveals a QB aware of all his options

Redskins training camp is finally physical again. Will it matter in Week 1?

The Redskins’ trash-talking defensive backs have their hands full with Alex Smith

Josh Doctson is building trust and turning heads at Redskins training camp

Alex Smith is still adapting to Redskins, but his competitive fire is an immediate fit