Are you confounded by the Redskins? Do you smile when the team strings together victories, but expect them to lose the following week? Putting aside their 4-2 record, or the way they’ve won 8 out of 10 dating to last season, do you still have trouble deciding whether they’re actually any good?
Breathe easy. You’re not alone. Even the wise guys (and their betting friends) have struggled to figure out this team. Over the last two seasons — the entire Scot McCloughan era — the Redskins have won 11 times as underdogs, far more than any other NFL team. The favored side in Redskins games has actually lost more often than not since McCloughan’s arrival; only three other teams can make the same bizarre claim. And it’s only getting weirder: the underdog has won 12 of Washington’s last 15 games.
So it’s not just your imagination. The Redskins actually are among the least predictable teams in the NFL.
Players have also noticed this trend, and they … wait. Nope. Forget that.
“To be honest with you, I have no clue of any point spread,” said Trent Williams, perhaps Washington’s most accurate locker room barometer. “I don’t even know where to find the point spread.”
Such innocence. Anyhow, what this means is that the Redskins find themselves plopped right in the middle of the NFL’s blobby midsection, where anyone can beat anyone else, and “upsets” hardly exist. Remember those theories of a brutal second-half schedule that would cut down this team’s postseason ambitions? They might need to be revised. Look at the remaining 10 games now, and at least seven seem like toss-ups, where neither result would even raise an eyebrow. That stretch starts in appropriate fashion this weekend in Detroit, where the Lions are one-point favorites. We’re all just throwing up our hands.
This also means that most weeks figure to be variations on the recent past: occasionally inartistic battles of endurance that come down to the final few minutes. In four of Washington’s last five games, the losing team had the ball with less than two minutes left, down by a touchdown or less, often with promising field position. The sighs of relief are stifled until almost the the last second: a Su’a Cravens interception in New York, a Ravens receiver who can’t get his second foot down in Washington’s end zone, a Kirk Cousins Hail Mary that flies too far.
Since the start of last season, the Redskins have scored 530 points and given up 521. Only three teams are closer to perfect equilibrium in that span. In six games this season, they’ve scored 142, and given up the same: the NFL’s only net-zero team. It all makes you wonder if some of these recent results include a dash more randomness than we might like.
“No, not random,” disagreed Lions Coach Jim Caldwell, whose 3-3 team has played six one-possession games this season, and has a point differential of minus-3. “Teams make plays. They make plays down the stretch that make a difference. We’ve been able to squeak a couple out that way. That’s why you want your team to be able to perform and handle tough situations. You’d like a little bit more breathing room, but we certainly haven’t been able to get much.”
Nor have the Redskins. They played well enough to blow out Philadelphia last Sunday, but made two slapstick errors that allowed the Eagles to mosey along toward a close finish. They played poorly enough to lose in Baltimore the week before, but were on the right end of the game’s two most important plays: a Baltimore fumble through the end zone, and Breshad Perriman’s narrowly out-of-bounds foot.
They are the NFL’s parity dream, and if that sounds like an insult, it isn’t supposed to. Someone has to win all these coin-flip games, and more often than not over the last 12 months, it’s been Washington. There might be some chance involved, but there’s also more than a little spine, which hasn’t always been present in Ashburn over the last two decades. The Redskins are the only NFL team this season to record three wins after being tied or trailing at halftime. This trend is bad for deadline writers and fans with erratic tickers, but it seems to be a boon for team morale.
“Some funny way, when it gets tough, we learn how to ride together,” safety Will Blackmon said. “I don’t know what it is, but that’s been the case.”
“People can try and define us by numbers and stats, but a number you can’t measure is the resiliency and the heart we have in the locker room,” linebacker Will Compton said. “Whatever formula that is, whatever ranking that is here or there, you come out with a win and you’re a 4-2 team that has a streak going with only a few other teams right now. … At the end of the day, it’s 4-2. It’s winning and losing. It’s who can show up. It’s who can [gut] it out and push through the adversity and win. That’s ultimately what it comes down to, is a few different plays.”
This team still hasn’t played its best game, and maybe it will mix in a blowout or two before the year is over. Josh Norman has joked about waiting for the offense to score 40 or 50 points, and Kirk Cousins countered by dreaming of a defensive shutout. Some players have credited coaches with not overworking them during the week, keeping them fresh as games drag on. Others claim this team excels at ignoring outside criticism, although this week’s back-and-forth with a paid TV shouter might weaken that argument.
In the meantime, you can skip trimming your nails during the week, and you needn’t bother trying to figure out how good this team is. They’re in the better half of the NFL’s vast middle: not good enough to bury most opponents, but certainly not bad enough to wilt and disappear.
“The difference between 5-11 and 11-5 can be pretty small, because of how many times these games come down to one or two throws, or one or two penalties,” as Cousins put it. “But there’s no doubt that the guys who can make those plays at the end of the game are the ones that get remembered.”