It is a long shot at best. Even in a League where parity reigns, winning a division title after a 3-13 season is hard to imagine.
But the Redskins have a new head coach, patched some holes in the roster, made one splashy addition at wide receiver and –- most important –- play in what’s expected to be a weak NFC East. So if you’re dreaming of Washington conjuring its magic from 2012 and returning to the top of the division, here are five reasons it could happen:
5. The Reemergence of Robert Griffin III
Nothing matters more than quarterback play. Without it, the Redskins have no chance at a resurgence anyway. Griffin looked shaky at times during the preseason as he transitions to a pocket passer. The NFL is littered with mobile quarterbacks who never quite made that change and Griffin has plenty of work to do. He’s also just two years removed from one of the great rookie seasons in NFL history and has weapons all around him.
Griffin doesn’t have to be Tom Brady. He does need to be a capable presence, limit the big mistakes, consistently make quick, correct decisions and find a balance between using his legs and hanging in the pocket to make plays down field. It’s all easier said than done.
4. Jay Gruden’s Ascension
In his first season as an NFL head coach, Gruden has a blended staff after keeping members of Mike Shanahan’s group, including promoting Sean McVay to offensive coordinator and retaining defensive coordinator Jim Haslett. Gruden had previous relationships with both men. That helps as he looks to build a team that plays his preferred style. But with an inherited roster and only limited moves in the offseason, Gruden must adjust to what he has on hand. That’s a lot of talent at the skill positions, a high-pressured project at quarterback and a defense that still has talent issues.
There will be mistakes. But Gruden must quickly prove he can capably run an NFL sideline while still trying to call the plays on offense. Even Haslett admits that’s a tall task for any coach.
3. Taking Advantage of Their Strengths
The weapons are there with wide receivers Pierre Garcon, DeSean Jackson – the major offseason acquisition after the Philadelphia Eagles cut him – and Andre Roberts with enough depth behind them. Tight end Jordan Reed put up huge numbers (45 receptions) in just nine games. Can he stay healthy? If so this offense is as varied as any in the league. Running back Alfred Morris offers steady production at a position Gruden’s offenses have always emphasized.
In an era where passing is paramount, Gruden’s Cincinnati Bengals were always consistent on the ground. There is reason to think – if Griffin raises his level of play – that this unit can be one of the league’s better offenses. That will at least give them a chance to contend.
2. Developing Depth
Escaping an NFL season injury free is impossible. And that’s a problem for a team with limited depth at safety, corner, linebacker and the offensive line. Part of Washington making such a big jump is withstanding that inevitable attrition. That means players like Morgan Moses and Spencer Long becoming capable backups as rookies on the offensive line. Early in the season that’s probably not likely.
The hope is by the middle of the year they will have adjusted to the NFL game enough to handle spot starts. It also means an inside linebacker like Tom Compton, a practice squad player last season, or Adam Hayward, a special-teams specialist, filling in if starters Perry Riley or Kennan Robinson goes down.
1. Someone Has to Win it
Let’s be honest –- the NFC East isn’t very good. Yes, the Redskins finished 3-13. But the New York Giants weren’t much better even at 7-9 and the Dallas Cowboys might have the NFL’s worst defense this season. The difference between the three teams isn’t much.
The Problem: The Philadelphia Eagles were clearly the division’s best in 2013, winning 10 games under first-year coach Chip Kelly and his dynamic offense. Even after cutting Jackson, the Eagles still have plenty of weapons and a scheme that defenses struggled to stop last year.
Bovada, an online gambling site, lists the Redskins at 4/1 odds to win the division. That’s ahead of Dallas (9/2) and New York (9/2). But the Eagles are 4/5 favorites to repeat as division champs.
Washington will need to beat Philadelphia at least once and have the Eagles take a step back, too.