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The Fall and Rise of the Washington Redskins

Today marks the first day of Fall, but whether or not this new-look 2012 Washington Redskins team can rise or not remains to be seen.

I’ve heard quite a bit of talk this week about the Redskins being a 'great September team’ that fades as surely as the green from the Fall leaves come October/November. I decided to do a little number crunching to see for myself.

From 2007-2011, the Redskins have racked up their highest winning percentage, prevailing in 56% of their games, during the month of September. That’s hardly 'great’, and certainly not playoff caliber dominance, but September has been the Redskins best month for 5 years now. But the rest of the Fall football season has been just plain awful for the Burgundy and Gold. During the month of October, the Redskins winning percentage drops to just 48% during this period. And November? Well – you know without my telling you that November has been the most dreary, dreadful, and unkind month of all, with the Skins managing to win just 26% of their games.

By December, the Redskins are typically just playing for pride, which might explain their slightly improved (but still atrocious) December winning percentage of 38%.

So far, in Robert Griffin III’s inaugural campaign, the 2012 season has been decidedly schizophrenic. Skins fans watching the Redskins shock the New Orleans Saints in Week 1 had visions of sugar plums and post-Christmas play dancing in their heads. Week 2’s embarrassing exposure by the formerly hapless Rams brought them back to earth with a thud. Who is this team, and what are the chances the 2012 rendition of the Redskins can overcome its Fall woes and be playing meaningful football games come December?

This team’s 'progress’ (or lack of it) doesn’t occur in a vacuum. How an improved (if perhaps still fatally flawed) Redskins squad performs this Fall is impacted greatly by the guys showing up on the other side of the line of scrimmage each week. There’s good news on that front. Assuming the Redskins dispatch the Bengals in our home opener on Sunday, the Redskins head into Tampa Bay with the chance to move to 3-1 in September, their best start since 2008.

Looking at the rest of the 'pre-bye’ schedule, I’d expect the Redskins to take care of an over-rated Carolina team and (if they can keep Adrian Peterson from having a career day) eke out a win against the Vikings. The Redskins have hardly been a juggernaut at home in recent years, but I expect them to be much tougher at Fed Ex Field this season with the fan excitement the arrival of RG3 has stirred. I’m assuming likely losses to the Falcons, Steelers, and Giants in October, although it’s possible Griffin could change that with another spectacular performance like the one we saw in the opener.

If things transpire as I’m predicting here, the Redskins enter normally nauseating November with, at worst, a 5-4 record and a bye week in which to regroup and recharge.

In an odd scheduling year, 5 of the Redskins 6 NFC East matchups this year occur after the mid-season break. Assuming the Redskins are able to take care of at least 1 of their non-divisional opponents (Baltimore or Cleveland), the Skins can get to 9 wins with a .500 NFC East record.

I know. I hear Jim Mora’s voice too. Playoffs? Playoffs you say?

Despite the erratic play (so far) of this team, despite some already significant losses to injury, despite a worse-than-expected defense, a shaky secondary, and a journeyman offensive line, I think the Redskins have the chance to sneak into the playoffs this year. Yes – I said 'this year’. How can I believe it’s possible? Didn’t I watch the epic ass-kicking the Redskins absorbed against a-really-not-very-good St. Louis Rams team? Am I sniffing glue?

Those are good questions. My responses are pretty basic:

1) Our schedule is not that daunting. If we can get it together and beat the teams we should beat, 9 wins is there for the taking.
2) RG3 is the real deal. This offense, poor protection or not, is going to put up big numbers this year if Griffin can stay on the field.
3) Our defense is better than it looked against the Rams. Not great, but certainly better.
4) The NFC East, contrary to popular opinion, has no dominant teams. The Eagles? One word – Vick. The Giants? Still the best team in the division but will experience the same post-Super Bowl letdown year we almost always see occur. Dallas? Let’s not even go there. All 3 teams are flawed and beatable.
5) Youth. Although it’s going to take time to gel and find out what we’ve got in a number of spots, the Redskins are younger than they’ve been in years. Youth equates to two things: speed and coachability. We’ll see more Jekyll and less Hyde as the season progresses and this younger Redskins roster learns how, not just to win, but to avoid losing.

So yeah, I’m going out on a limb pre-Bengals game. I’m going to use the 'P word’. I think the playoffs are possible for this team in 2012.

But it’ll take a better Fall performance than the Redskins have had in 5 seasons to get there.

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