2015 NFL Week 12 Wrap: There’s value in winning without a winning record

WASHINGTON — During this Thanksgiving season, let Redskins Nation give thanks for a new regime and a mediocre division.

Those are the two main reasons why the Washington Redskins are currently sitting in first place in the NFC East. In Year One of the Scot McCloughan Era, the ‘Skins have been fortunate to share a division with three teams — the Giants, Eagles, and Cowboys — that have been too bad and/or too injured to be any good.

Go ahead and laugh about it. Make “NFC Least” jokes if you want to. After all, the Redskins have been equally injured and mediocre this season and have simply taken advantage of a favorable schedule.

Just know that if the Redskins actually win this division, it could be the start of a revolution.

I’m not being a homer; there’s precedent for this. Last season, the Carolina Panthers finished 7-8-1 to win an NFC South division nobody seemed to want. One year later, they still haven’t lost a regular season game and seem poised to get home-field advantage in the playoffs, and maybe even their first Super Bowl berth in a dozen years.

But wait. There’s more.

In the first season of the Pete Carroll regime, the Seattle Seahawks beat the St. Louis Rams in the 2010 regular season finale to claim the NFC West with just a 7-9 record. As we all remember, Beast Quake happened and the defending champion Saints were upset in a shootout. After another, less fruitful 7-9 campaign, Seattle returned to the postseason and got to clutch a Lombardi Trophy three years later.

Two more teams in the 21st century won divisions without a winning record: the 2011 Denver Broncos and the 2008 San Diego Chargers each won the AFC West with 8-8 records, and each returned to the playoffs with a 13-3 mark the following season. Denver actually went to the Super Bowl two years removed from their .500 division title.

(Just for giggles, I extended this to wild card teams, where the success rate is way lower: in the last 25 years, only five teams have earned wild cards with 8-8 records — only the 2004 Vikings managed to win a game. So maybe don’t settle for that, Redskins.)

Three of those four mediocre division winners were within the first two years of a new regime (Ron River is in his 5th season with the Panthers), and you could make the case that three of those teams won divisions in the midst of a rebuilding effort similar to the one we’re witnessing in Washington.

Look, I’m not saying the Redskins are going to suddenly turn into the present-day New England Patriots. But postseason experience is both crucial and hard to come by when you’re a rebuilding team. McCloughan is widely regarded as an elite talent evaluator, and his first season in Ashburn hasn’t given us reason to think otherwise. First-round pick Brandon Scherff has had a solid rookie season, 2nd-rounder Preston Smith and 3rd-rounder Matt Jones have shown flashes, and late round picks Jamison Crowder (4th) and Kyshoen Jarrett (6th) are already key contributors. If McCloughan can cobble together a couple more deep drafts this team could become Seattle faster than you think.

It’s not just the vastly improved front office. Kirk Cousins (who, let’s be honest … is only starting because McCloughan was there to put a stop to the RG3 madness before it really began) has played better as the season has progressed, and has done enough to at least provide hope he can be the long term answer at QB. In fact, his numbers are comparable to another division-winning Redskins QB:



(Let’s just hope the ‘Skins don’t repeat history by signing Jay Cutler (aka, Jeff George Jr.) to back up Cousins.)

Coach Jay Gruden was a huge question mark heading into this season, and while he’s not exactly making us forget Joe Gibbs, he’s done a good job of basically coaching up a bunch of backups to play well enough to win the games they’re supposed to win. Saying Gruden could eventually lead a perennial playoff team isn’t any more outlandish than it would have been to say so about Ron Rivera five years ago.

But I digress. Right now, the Redskins are a mediocre team that by definition, beats the teams that are equal to or lesser than them, and loses to the good teams. There are no good teams on their remaining schedule; the trip to Chicago to face the 5-6 Bears might be their toughest game left.

That said, it would be sooo Redskins to blow the Monday Nighter against Dallas and cough up this division lead. Even still, I’m starting to believe that this a team headed in the right direction — and capable of capitalizing on the rare gift of being within reach of postseason success ahead of schedule.

All they have to do is win an awful division nobody gave them a chance to win before the season.

Speaking of no chance … let’s see what I said about the Ravens in the Week 12 NFL Recap.

Rob Woodfork

Rob Woodfork is WTOP's Senior Sports Content Producer, which includes duties as producer and host of the DC Sports Huddle, nightside sports anchor and sports columnist on WTOP.com.

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