Before the season, I predicted the Philadelphia Eagles would win the NFC East. I thought the Washington Redskins would get out of the division basement, but only to occupy third place with a 9-7 record in an uber-competitive division.
What we got instead is a 10-6 division champion that heads into the postseason as the hottest team in the conference.
Like any other long-suffering, punch-drunk D.C. sports fan, I thought there would be a shelf life on the Redskins’ recent string of success. I thought they could topple a zombie team like the Eagles. The quick turnaround to play Dallas on Thanksgiving simply played to their favor that week. The mini-bye before the Monday night game against the Giants would aid them in completing a three-game win streak in-division, and the ensuing victory over Baltimore in the “Battle of the Beltways” was just a long time coming. Winning in Cleveland wasn’t overwhelmingly unexpected, and delivering a death blow to the Andy Reid Era in Philly just seemed like poetic justice.
But sweeping their most hated rival in prime time to win their first NFC East title in 13 years? Inconceivable.
At least it used to be.
Now? The Redskins have proved to me they’re no longer bound by Murphy’s Law. Not only is the ball suddenly bouncing their way – they’re doing something with it. The ‘Skins no longer sit around waiting for something good to happen or solely relying on luck. This team is now creating its own luck.
There’s more in common with the 2012 Redskins and the 1999 Redskins than many realize. Both division-winners have high-scoring, prolific offenses. Both teams have low-rated defenses that qualify for the “bend but don’t break” description. They also rose from the ashes of losing seasons the year before.
The 2012 version, though, has an advantage their 1999 brethren didn’t: a wide open NFC. There’s no vaunted Bucs defense to oust them in the divisional round of the playoffs. There’s no “Greatest Show on Turf” Rams team revved up and ready to roll over all comers in the conference championship game. The Redskins may not be favored in any games after Wild-Card Weekend, but they won’t be huge underdogs either.
For the first time in a long time, the sky is the limit for the Redskins. They have a dynamic young QB (RG3), a workhorse battering ram at running back (Alfred Morris) and a record-setting kicker who seems as automatic as Adam Vinatieri once was (Kai Forbath). The defense is light years from dominant, but they are opportunistic – which Super Bowl teams like the Saints and Packers have proven just might be the better kind to have.
Unlike 2005 and 2007, there’s no reason to doubt this playoff run. There’s only reason to dream of the possibilities.
Now let’s put the 2012 regular season to bed:
Ravens 14 Bengals 23
Talk about backing your way into the playoffs. Baltimore has lost three out of their last four games and will now have to face a red-hot Indianapolis team buoyed by the return of coach Chuck Pagano to the Colts sideline. Expect the Ravens’ postseason run to be very brief.
Bucs 22 Falcons 17
The fact that Atlanta lost the final game of the regular season doesn’t worry me. They already had home-field advantage locked up, so there really wasn’t anything to gain from a win other than momentum. The fact that they lost when they were actually trying to win is what scares me.
Jets 9 Bills 28
It’s never a good sign when the owner doesn’t show up. Of course, he’s the only member of the Jets organization that’s a safe bet to be back next season…
Bears 26 Lions 24
I know Chicago went 10-6 and lost out on the postseason off tiebreakers, but this might be as good as it gets for the Bears under Lovie Smith. Time to move on.
Jaguars 20 Titans 38
Here’s all you need to know about this game: Tennessee ran off 28 straight points without taking a single offensive snap. If that doesn’t force major changes to the Jacksonville coaching staff, I’m not sure what will.
Texans 16 Colts 28
Even though this game had a huge bearing on the AFC playoff picture, I’m still just so taken by coach Chuck Pagano’s return to the Colts sideline. Great story brewing in Indy … especially with a return to Baltimore on tap for next Sunday. Panthers 44 Saints 38
Drew Brees is the first player in NFL history to throw for 5,000 yards and 40 TDs in consecutive seasons. If that’s not worthy of the Hall of Fame, I don’t know what is.
Eagles 7 Giants 42
Typical Giants. Saving their best for the absolute last game of the season. Only this time, the rest of the division didn’t play along. And so long, Andy Reid. It was a great run while it lasted. I don’t know who his successor will be, but I have a feeling Philly fans are going to have a new appreciation for Reid’s accomplishments soon enough.
Browns 10 Steelers 24
Pittsburgh did well to make sure they extended their streak of non-losing seasons to 10. I know Steeler Nation doesn’t want to hear this, but it might be time to rebuild.
OK, I said it before and I’ll say it again: I’m not backing off my Texans prediction yet, but Denver has me second-guessing myself. Nothing says “team to beat” quite like a 11-game winning streak heading into the postseason. Here something else I said earlier this year: The Kansas City Chiefs are now on the clock.
Packers 34 Vikings 37
Adrian Peterson is now the seventh player in league history to rush for more than 2,000 yards and came up just nine yards shy of the single-season rushing record. More importantly, he basically willed Minnesota into the playoffs. I know this league has a thing for QBs, but Peterson needs to be the league MVP.
Dolphins 0 Patriots 28
“Oh, lookie here … someone just carelessly dropped this bye week. Finders keepers!” –Tom Brady
Raiders 21 Chargers 24
So long, Norv Turner.
Cardinals 13 Niners 27
San Fran needed this. Going on the road to face the Redskins wouldn’t have ended well.
Rams 13 Seahawks 20
‘Skins fans have to feel better about the wild-card matchup with Seattle after seeing them struggle with St. Louis. Even with the win, they don’t look quite as unstoppable.
Cowboys 18 Redskins 28
If ESPN’s Trent Dilfer was right about this being a legacy game for Tony Romo, his legacy is what it’s always been: Romo shrinks in big game situations. His 1-7 record in elimination games proves it.