This is the time of year when the NFL's contenders start separating themselves from the pretenders. Just because you came out of the first half of the season with a nice record doesn't mean you can expect anything in the second half.
Note the Washington Redskins. With their all-burgundy look two weeks ago, this old fan barely recognized them. Even with their normal uniforms on this week ... I still can't.
Ever since beginning the season 4-1 and beating New Orleans, Arizona, Dallas and Philadelphia in consecutive weeks, the Skins have looked like one of the worst teams in the NFL. They were beaten at home by the then-winless Rams. They needed a missed field goal to beat the downtrodden Cleveland Browns. They barely took care of the still-winless Lions. Pittsburgh then came into Washington and punched them in the face. Now Dallas has come in to FedEx Field and done the same.
So is this Redskins team truly a playoff contender? Or were they just blowing smoke?
Oh, Washington is still very much alive in the NFC playoff picture. While there is virtually no chance to catch the Giants, Washington still sits in second place in the NFC East and holding onto the final playoff spot. However, they are tied with Dallas and Atlanta (Washington currently has the tiebreaker over both with a better conference record) for that last wildcard berth.
Directly behind them is Philadelphia, New Orleans and the non-NFC North winners between Chicago, Green Bay and Minnesota. All are 5-5 (the Eagles are 5-4-1) and can sniff the playoffs, too. All are sitting behind the 7-3 Tampa Bay Buccaneers for the wildcard lead.
The Redskins have a very interesting schedule. Over the last six weeks, they only place twice at home. That may be good since they have just a 3-3 record at FedEx Field. Those two home games are against the New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles. Judging by what they've done of late, there is no way they can beat the G-men. That would make the Eagles game all the more important.
Their four road games are all very winnable. They head to Seattle, Baltimore, Cincinnati and San Francisco (they are a combined 12-27-1 this season). While they all could be wins, they also all have their traps.
Seattle is bad, but Qwest Field is one of the toughest venues to get a win in. Not to mention it will be a homecoming for head coach Jim Zorn and running back Shaun Alexander (let's pray that Zorn doesn't get nostalgic and give the former MVP extra snaps). Baltimore plays that same tough, physical play that the Giants, Rams, Steelers and Cowboys have won with. Cincinnati and San Francisco are both bad, but they've shown signs of life of late.
One advantage is the remaining schedules of the other contenders are a bit harder. Atlanta has Carolina, Tampa and St. Louis at home and must travel to San Diego, New Orleans and Minnesota. Dallas has two easy games over the next ten days when they host the Niners and Seahawks before finishing off at Pittsburgh, vs New York Giants and Baltimore, then at Philly. The Eagles host Arizona, Cleveland and Dallas and travel to Baltimore, New York and Washington. The three NFC North teams will all have to beat up on each other with the best coming out as division champs.
Needless to say, Washington has the easiest road ahead of them.
But does it matter when the team is playing this bad? Quarterback Jason Campbell has throw three interceptions in his last 58 pass attempts after going his first 249 attempts without one. Teams are figuring out the best way to stop Campbell is to get in his face. Clinton Portis is banged up as well as several defensive players. Injuries are part of the game, but the Redskins cannot survive without a healthy Janky Spanky. All of this has slowed down the effectiveness of Santana Moss.
Zorn must figure out how to get this team back on track. The postseason is still very much on the horizon if they can straighten themselves out.
Are the Redskins Pretenders? originally appeared on NFL FanHouse on Mon, 17 Nov 2008 01:42:00 EST . Please see our terms for use of feeds.