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2017 NFL Power Rankings: Redskins save their season and Rams legitimize theirs

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2017 NFL Power Rankings: Redskins save their season and Rams legitimize theirs

The NFL has entered yet another fun stage of its season: The "Did (insert team here) quit in their recent blowout?" stage.

The Giants certainly appeared to have quit. The Broncos may have, too (and that's not even considering the fact that they started Brock Osweiler). The Bucs sure didn't seem to care too much, either.

CLICK HERE FOR NBC SPORTS WASHINGTON'S UPDATED AND TOTALLY CORRECT NFL POWER RANKINGS

But for every team that looks like it's fading away, there's one that's coming on strong. The Rams aren't a cute upstart anymore; they're a force. The Redskins — well, the healthy ones, anyway — went into Seattle and toppled the Seahawks. And the Saints have now won six straight.

And with all the talk about quitting, there's one thing that won't quit: NBC Sports Washington's NFL Power Rankings. These things are a coach's dream — they show up week in and week out no matter what.

Speaking of the power rankings, it's time for you to click the above or below link to check out the new edition. Don't quit on them just because your favorite squad has.

CLICK HERE FOR NBC SPORTS WASHINGTON'S UPDATED AND TOTALLY CORRECT NFL POWER RANKINGS

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Build up the defense and forget about big money QBs? It's not that easy

Build up the defense and forget about big money QBs? It's not that easy

Blake Bortles, Nick Foles and Case Keenum will be three of the four quarterbacks playing in on Championship Sunday this weekend. That's remarkable, as none of the three are considered elite passers.

The strength of those three teams is very obviously their defenses. Minnesota and Jacksonville rank as the top two defenses in the NFL, and the Eagles rank fourth. 

Naturally, in a copycat league like the NFL, many fans are starting to wonder how to emulate the model established by the success of the Vikings, Jaguars and Eagles. For Redskins fans facing the possibility of losing Kirk Cousins to free agency or paying the franchise record holder upwards of $28 million a year or more, is investing heavily in the defense and saving money at the QB position a faster path to playoff success?

The question makes sense.

The answer, however, is much harder to explain.  

Let's dispel a few myths to start. The Eagles have a great defense, sure, but Philadelphia was getting fantastic quarterback play from second-year star Carson Wentz. He got hurt late in the regular season. Playing Foles was never the plan in Philadelphia, and the Eagles invested heavily in draft picks to trade up and acquire Wentz. Do not for a second think Philadelphia got Wentz on the cheap. 

Next up we have Keenum. Yes, he's cheap, with a salary of less than $2 million. He's also been terrific.

One of the more interesting QB situations in the last decade unfolded in Minnesota this season. Highly paid Sam Bradford ($18 million in 2017) got hurt, and Keenum took off like a rocket as the backup. In 14 starts he's completed 67 percent of his passes for more than 3,500 yards to go with 22 touchdowns against seven interceptions. The Vikes went 11-3 with Keenum at the helm in the regular season, and just logged an incredible 29-24 comeback win over the Saints in the divisional round. In the final seconds of the victory, Keenum threw the game-winning TD. 

Lastly, there's Bortles. His numbers this year were decent. He runs a conservative offense and does a pretty good job. He threw for nearly 3,700 yards with 21 TDs against 13 INTs. He was plenty good for the Jaguars as they pulled off a stunning 45-42 upset in Pittsburgh in the divisional round last weekend. Jacksonville used a ton of draft capital to select Bortles with the No. 3 overall pick in 2014 and the team has already picked up his $19 million option for the 2018 season. Nothing cheap there. 

Beyond the quarterbacks, obviously, the Vikings, Eagles and Jags all have terrific defenses. Much of that came in the way of smart free agent decisions. 

Much of the success of the three defenses also came from good drafting, season after season. 

Jacksonville's 2016 draft haul is incredibly impressive. In the first three rounds, the Jags selected Jalen Ramsey, Myles Jack and Yannick Ngakoue. All three now start, and star, for the Jacksoville defense. 

Minnesota drafted Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes, Danielle Hunter and Anthony Barr over the last four seasons, with plenty of other contributors coming via the draft as well. 

One year after giving up four picks to acquire Wentz, the Eagles went defense with their first three selections in 2017. 

The point isn't that free agency can't make a good defense into a great one, that can happen. But to build a truly great defense, significant draft capital needs to be used. Teams must nail their first round picks, and hit on a few players later in the draft as well. 

Further, stop thinking that just because Bortles, Foles and Keenum are starting this weekend that those teams didn't spend plenty at QB. Minnesota had more than $22 million invested at the quarterback position in 2017. Bortles was a third overall pick, and the Eagles gave up four picks  just for the chance to acquire Wentz. 

For Redskins fans, know that building the defense is absolutely a strong strategy. Last year, Washington used its first three draft selections on defensive players for the first time in 20 years. This offseason, the Redskins should again look to add talent on defense, both through the draft and free agency. 

That success will not come over night, however, and it will not come without a capable quarterback. 

Want more Redskins? Click here to follow JP on Facebook and check out @JPFinlayNBCS for live updates via Twitter! Click here for the #RedskinsTalk on Apple Podcastshere for Google Play or press play below. Don't forget to subscribe!

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Need to Know: If Kirk Cousins leaves, with the Redskins rebuild or retool?

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Need to Know: If Kirk Cousins leaves, with the Redskins rebuild or retool?

Here is what you need to know on this Tuesday, January 16, 57 days before NFL free agency starts.

Timeline  

Days until:

—NFL franchise tag deadline (3/6) 49
—NFL Draft (4/26) 100
—2018 NFL season starts (9/9) 236

Nickel coverage—Five Redskins questions

Taking a look at some of the key questions surrounding the Redskins, sometimes coming up with more questions in the process. Yes, it's going to be that kind of offseason. 

What will the Redskins do at left guard? It would be better for the Redskins to find their left guard in the draft, but assuming that the successor is picked after the second round, they will want someone to start until the rookie is ready. That could be Arie Kouandjio or maybe a veteran free agent.

Can the Redskins make do with what they have at running back? The short answer is no. The running back situation needs attention. It’s hard to picture Samaje Perine and Rob Kelley forming a formidable tandem, or even a very good one. I’m wary of spending a high draft pick on an RB, but the success of the likes of Todd Gurley and Leonard Fournette have to be factored into the thinking.

Are the Redskins OK with Zach Brown and Mason Foster at inside linebacker? For the time being they are, assuming that they are able to sign both of the unrestricted free agents, however the Redskins need to continue to build that position. That means continuing to develop Josh Harvey-Clemons to use in nickel situations and spending draft resources there. Even if Brown and Foster are back, the Redskins might be smart to grab Roquan Smith out of Georgia if he’s there in the first round.

If they are without Kirk Cousins, will the Redskins rebuild or retool? This is a key question for the organization. If Cousins leaves, do they just try to plug in the best available/affordable quarterback they can find and roll on with the same basic personnel with which they have hovered around .500 the last three years? Or will the make other changes, perhaps moving on from Josh Norman and Jordan Reed to save cap money for future seasons and give their younger players a chance to establish themselves? The latter might be the better way to go but this organization rarely considers short-term pain for long-term gain.

If Junior Galette leaves, who replaces him? While Galette did not light it up in the sack department, he put plenty of pressure on opposing quarterbacks. He is likely to leave since he would remain behind Preston Smith and Ryan Kerrigan on the depth chart if he re-signed in Washington. Can they rely on 2017 second-round pick Ryan Anderson to take a giant leap in his sophomore season? Will they try to lock up free agent Trent Murphy and hope that he can bounce back from an ACL injury he suffered last August and regain his nine-sack form of 2016? I don’t see how they can rely on Anderson to suddenly provide pressure after recording zero sacks this past year. Whether it’s Murphy or another free agent, someone with a better track record has to be in the picture. If Anderson improves enough to move ahead of that player on the depth chart, so much the better.

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page Facebook.com/TandlerNBCS and follow him on Twitter @TandlerNBCS.

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