What if I offered you the following deal: You (as a Redskins fan) have to accept a guaranteed, 100-percent loss in New England this weekend. In exchange, Washington would be given, let’s say, a five-percent better chance to beat the Saints at home the next weekend.
Now let me ask you this: If the Redskins began game-planning for the Saints right now, and also rested all their best and most banged-up players against New England, would they have a better chance to beat New Orleans? Even just a slightly better chance? You’d have to guess they would, right?
So if you saunter from A to B and then pause to reflect, you will pretty quickly agree that there’s only one logical conclusion here: The Redskins should punt on this weekend’s game. Accept the loss to New England. Saints week starts now.
“That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard,” Ryan Kerrigan responded.
Okay, look, every great idea initially has its skeptics.
And so fine, more data. As I type, the Redskins are 14-point underdogs this weekend. Since 2011, NFL road teams that are at least 14-point underdogs are 0-23. Since 2007, the Patriots are 17-0 when favored by at least 14 points. And since Daniel Snyder bought the Redskins, they’re 1-10 when double-digit underdogs, with the only win coming as a 10-point underdog, which is an awful long distance from the full 14.
I mean, the Redskins have topped 35 points once in Jay Gruden’s 23 games. The Patriots are averaging more than 35 points a game. Heck, when Clinton Portis was asked on the team’s flagship station to lay out the blueprint for a Redskins win, he declined. “I just don’t see it [as] possible,” he said.
And consider the advantages of my plan:
* An extra bye week. Sure, the Redskins already are coming off a bye, but they won’t be against the Saints — unless they innovate. NFL teams are 9-5 coming off the bye week this season, and 243-200-3 since 2003, if you count the playoffs. Why not give yourself that bye-week bounce? (Yes, counting top-seeded home playoff teams in that stat is total bunk, but if you’re expecting rigorous statistical analysis in this particular item, you probably also believe The Onion needs to beef up its regulatory coverage.)
* Health. DeSean Jackson is finally ready to play. Jordan Reed seems relatively okay. Kerrigan and Chris Culliver are plucky, but banged-up. These are all key pieces, and they’re all currently fragile. Why waste any of their health points in a lost cause? Is Bernie Sanders going to pour precious resources into Alabama? Is The Washington Post going to spend marketing money hawking print subscriptions to millennials? And seriously, can you imagine the agony if Jackson or Reed gets injured during a 14-point loss to the Patriots and then can’t play against New Orleans?
* The real goal of this season is in the final record, not some underdog triumph. You can lose by 45 points in New England and still make the playoffs — just ask the 2007 Redskins. There’s no shame in conceding a sure loss, especially if it gives you a better chance to beat the Saints, which is the real point. The next five games — Patriots, Saints, Panthers, Giants, Cowboys — will tell the story of this season. Surrounded by two road games against undefeated foes, the Saints game is thus crucial to a second-half run. All resources must be consolidated for that contest.
* Innovation. I heard my friend Kevin Sheehan argue on ESPN 980 this week that the Redskins should use an onside kick for every kickoff this weekend, and should attempt to convert every fourth down. He was joking. Sort of. But the fact is, in dire situations, teams are rewarded for thinking outside the musty, mud-filled box of conventional NFL thinking. Be bold. Be different.
And it’s not like the expected result here is a secret. Even Gruden has been talking to his players about the point spread, telling them Wednesday that it was 14.5.
“You’ve got to know where you’re at,” Josh LeRibeus explained. “Put a little extra fight in the dog, you know? It wasn’t like ‘Oh ,we’re going to get our [redacted] kicked,’ nothing like that. It’s, ‘We’re going to play harder and kick the [redacted] out of them.’ “
(I told LeRibeus I was going to have to redact many of his quotes. “Why the [redacted] would you want to do that?” he asked)
Anyhow, because players knew the number, I figured it was worth asking for their thoughts.
“It’s not like, ‘Oh man, it’s not just 14, it’s 14 and a hook, they must really think we’re going to lose,'” Kerrigan said. “It’s more like a rallying point than anything. You look up the definition of underdog, it’s ‘predicted loser.’ That’s kind of a slap in the face.”
“I’m surprised they’ve only got us by 14,” Ricky Jean Francois said. “The whole year, when we’ve been looking at the media, everybody talks down on us. So I was thinking it’s a 21-, 28-point [spread]. When I heard 14, I felt good.”
“I don’t care about the spread,” Culliver said. “You can ask somebody that kind of cares. We’re the Washington Redskins. We might be a 14-point overdog against somebody else. We still have to come compete and do what we need to do.”
(Let’s pause to note that Culliver is here exactly demonstrating the benefits of innovation. “Overdog” is an infinitely better term than “favorite.” Why muck around in tradition, when you can dare to be different and possibly stumble upon greatness? I’m only using ‘overdog’ from now on.)
But yes, the players — get this — are actually talking about this game as if it’s up for grabs.
“Another must-win game, that’s all it is,” Jason Hatcher said, at which point I evidently expressed surprise that a road game in New England could be considered a must-win, at which point Hatcher got on a roll.
“What do you want me to do, say we’re going to lose? You look like you were shocked,” he said. “Every game is a must-win. You know, we’re trying to win around here … so every game from now on is a must-win. The first game of the season was a must-win. So I don’t know what else you want me to say. It ain’t a must-lose.”
This seemed like a bad time to explain my plan. I did lay it out to LeRibeus, though.
“What do I do?” he said, considering his next move. “I’ve got to be nice.”
Fine, the audience was unreceptive, although no one hit me, which was indeed nice. Anyhow, it appears the Redskins will not give up on this game, and will not even pull at starters after halftime. Maybe they’ll take inspiration from Joe Webb and the 2010 Vikings, who shocked the Eagles and became the last two touchdown underdog to win on the road. They sure sound ready.
“We’re either going to half-[butt] it this week and get our [butts] whooped, or come prepared and make it very interesting,” linebacker Will Compton said.
I didn’t tell him I’ve been arguing for the first option.
[Note: This item was meant as a joke. No actual football analysis was harmed during its creation.]