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Bold Predictions: Defense Wins Championships

Bold Predictions: Defense Wins Championships

You can reach Rich Tandler by email at WarpathInsiders@comcast.net
There is much talk about the relative strength of the schedules played by the Washington Redskins and the Seattle Seahawks and how that should influence the view of their NFC Divisional playoff game on Saturday at Qwest Field. Here are the facts:

The Redskins played home and home against the other three teams their own NFC East division, four games each against the NFC West and the AFC West plus Tampa Bay and Chicago. Those opponents went 138-118, a .539 winning percentage (counting the division opponents’ records twice). That means that every week, week in and week out, the Redskins were facing a 9-7 team.

Seattle played home and home against its own NFC West division, four each vs. the NFC East and the AFC South, plus Atlanta and Green Bay. Those opponents went 110-146, a .429 winning percentage, translating into about a 7-9 team each week.

There are those who say that this means that the Redskins are a battle-tested bunch whose record was well earned while Seattle is a mere paper bird of prey with a gaudy record built on the backs of the dregs of the NFL. There is some merit to the first point while the view here is that the talk of the Seahawks being weaker than their record doesn’t hold much water.

If Seattle had been taken down to the wire a lot this season, if they had needed late field goals or defensive stands to eke out wins over their mediocre competition, their schedule might legitimately taken into account when evaluating them. However, in their 13 wins they outscored the competition by a combined 404-202. If you do the math, you’ll find that that is a 2-1 margin. It doesn’t matter who you’re playing, if you double up your opponent week in and week out you probably would have been pretty successful no matter who you were playing.

Might the Seahawks have won one or two fewer games had they played Washington’s schedule? Possibly but it’s still likely that they’d have home field advantage. Would they have the league’s top offense and the NFL’s top rusher if they’d had a tougher road along the way? Probably not, although it wouldn’t make Matt Hasselbeck, Shaun Alexander and company any less formidable.

That offense is one of many pluses the Seahawks have going for them. They also have the home field advantage throughout and the bye week in their favor. History has shown that these are not just major advantages, they are insurmountable. No six seed has ever advanced through the top seed to get to a conference championship game.

All is not lost for the Redskins, however. They have a few things going for them as well. Joe Gibbs is a Hall of Fame coach because he wins in January. Mark Brunell, albeit a younger, spryer version, has won playoff games in tough places. Clinton Portis is clearly a cut below Alexander in the pecking order of NFL running backs, but just one cut. The best receiver on the field will be Santana Moss and even the most avid Seattle homer would have to concede that the Redskins have the superior defensive unit.

Offensively, the Redskins will come out just like they did against the Bucs; taking some shots to try to get the early lead (That entire game wasn’t played with the offense in a shell; remember Portis’ option pass on their first offensive series?). In the course of doing so, expect heavy doses of Clinton “Gut and Power” up the middle. That’s not just because those are his favorite plays, it’s because the Redskins have an average weight advantage of over 30 pounds a man along their offensive line compared to Seattle’s front four. Ladell Betts will spell Portis as Gibbs is going to want 40 carries out of the two of them combined (they got a combined 37 against Seattle in Week 4).

Should the Redskins get decent production out of Moss and Chris Cooley—and they caught a combined 10 passes for 148 yards the last time these two teams played—the Redskins should be able to put up 17 to 21 points.

The Seattle offense is death by a thousand paper cuts and that’s not intended to be a slight against them. They lead the league in long drives and they finish them off, scoring 48 touchdowns in 60 Red Zone possessions. They’re not going to kill you with the big play—Hasselbeck’s long completion this year is 56 yards—but they are brutally efficient. Unless the Redskins jump to an early lead like they did last week, look for Gregg Williams to gamble more often with the blitz, confident that the defensive backs will be able to keep the receivers in front of them.

Will Seattle be able to inflict enough paper cuts to score 20 points? With the Redskins’ defense healthier than it was a week ago when the put up a classic defensive performance, no. Defense wins championships and, therefore, it wins in the playoffs. Hasselbeck throws an interception on a tipped pass, Alexander finds the going very tough and the Redskins again survive and advance.

Redskins 21, Seahawks 17

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Need to Know: How many starters are left from the Redskins' last playoff game?

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USA Today Sports Images

Need to Know: How many starters are left from the Redskins' last playoff game?

Here is what you need to know on this Friday, January 19, 54 days before NFL free agency starts.

Timeline  

Days until:

—NFL franchise tag deadline (3/6) 46
—NFL Draft (4/26) 97
—2018 NFL season starts (9/9) 233

Things change quickly

Two years ago today, the Redskins were in the process of picking up the pieces after their 35-18 home loss to the Packers in the wild-card round of the 2015 season playoffs. How many of the 22 players who started that game for Washington are still with the team? You may be surprised to find out just how few are likely to be with the Redskins when the season opens in September.

Offense:

WR DeSean Jackson—Signed with the Bucs as a free agent last year.
WR Pierre Garçon—Signed with 49ers as a free agent last year.
WR Jamison Crowder—Still with the Redskins
TE Jordan Reed—Still with the Redskins
LT Trent Williams—Still with the Redskins
LG Spencer Long—Set to be an unrestricted free agent
C Kory Lichtensteiger—Retired following the 2016 season
RG Brandon Scherff—Still with the Redskins
RT Morgan Moses—Still with the Redskins
RB Alfred Morris—Signed with the Cowboys as a free agent in 2016
QB Kirk Cousins—Set to be a UFA, you know the story here

Of the 11 offensive starters, five are still with the team, one has retired, three are employed by other teams, and two are headed into free agency. The chances of either Long or Cousins returning currently hover under 50 percent, although things can change.

Defense:

DE Chris Baker—Signed with the Bucs as a free agent last year.
DE Jason Hatcher—Retired following the 2015 season
NT Terrance Knighton—Signed with the Patriots following the 2015 season but was cut and he hasn’t played and subsequently retired
ILB Will Compton—Set to be an unrestricted free agent
ILB Mason Foster—Set to be an unrestricted free agent
OLB Ryan Kerrigan—Still with the Redskins
OLB Trent Murphy—Spent 2017 in injured reserve, set to be an unrestricted free agent
CB Bashaud Breeland—Set to be an unrestricted free agent
CB Will Blackmon—Released last September, currently unsigned
S DeAngelo Hall—Set to be an unrestricted free agent, likely to retire
S Dashon Goldson—Released after 2015 season, currently unsigned

Only one starter, Ryan Kerrigan, is under contract for 2018. Of the free agents, Breeland is likely to depart and things are up in the air regarding Foster, Compton, and Murphy.

To sum it up, out of 22 starters in that game played 740 days ago, only six are certain to be with the team in 2018 while nine have either signed elsewhere, spent 2017 out of football, or have retired (10 if you count Hall).

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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Looking at cheap, reasonable and expensive wide receiver scenarios for Redskins

Looking at cheap, reasonable and expensive wide receiver scenarios for Redskins

Most NFL teams usually carry at least six wide receivers, but going into the 2018 season, only Jamison Crowder, Josh Doctson, Maurice Harris and Robert Davis hold signed contracts with the Redskins.

That means Washington must consider adding receiver help via free agency, especially considering Harris and Davis rarely played in 2017. Terrelle Pryor and Ryan Grant both played with the Burgundy and Gold in 2017, and while Grant has a solid chance to return, it would seem Pryor will head elsewhere after a disappointing season in D.C. 

Like every year, a number of receivers will be available via free agency, but what guys make sense for Jay Gruden's team? Let's take a look at three different scenarios, knowing Washington likely needs to add at least one free agent wideout. 

RELATED: MOCK DRAFTS LINKING 'SKINS TO BAKER MAYFIELD

  • Expensive: Jags WR Allen Robinson - A second-round pick in 2014, Robinson posted a 1,400-yard season in 2015 and has shown the ability to be a true No. 1 wideout in the NFL. He's 6-foot-3 with speed and leaping ability. In 2016, his numbers dipped to less than 900 yards receiving, but that season the Jacksonville QB Blake Bortles struggled significantly. Here's the thing: Robinson blew out his knee in the NFL opener in 2017, and that might make his price tag drop a bit. Word is the former Penn State star should be fully cleared by early March from the injury, and just 24 years old, he will be intriguing. Washington showed they would spend for a wideout in 2017 with the Pryor signing, but they did so on a one-year deal. If Robinson finds the free agent market not as robust as he wants, maybe a similar short-term deal could be reached?
  • Reasonable: Colts WR Donte Moncrief - A third-round pick in 2014, Moncrief also had a big sophomore season in 2015. He grabbed 64 catches for 733 yards and six touchdowns. That was his only full 16-game season, as injuries have continued to be an issue for the 6-foot-2, 220 lbs. wideout out of Ole Miss. In 2016, only playing in nine games, he still contributed with seven touchdowns. In 2017, his numbers slipped big-time, and he posted less than 400 yards receiving in 12 games. Moncrief's problem isn't talent, it's health. That means he could be relatively cheap, and at just 24 years old, that contract might bring a strong return. 
  • Wild Card: Jets WR Eric Decker -  The Redskins have lacked a true veteran wideout since DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garçon left the team following the 2016 season. Decker will turn 31 in March and would give Washington a different presence in the WR meeting room. He posted two 1,000 yard seasons playing with Peyton Manning in Denver and went to the Super Bowl in 2013. In 2015, while teamed up with Ryan Fitzpatrick playing for the Jets, Decker again hit the 1,000-yard mark and hit the end zone 12 times. Throughout his career, Decker has been a solid red zone threat and has shown the ability to win on tough routes. He will need to take a big pay cut from the $4.5 million, one-year deal he signed in Tennessee in 2017, but that has to be expected considering his paltry production. In 16 games with the Titans, Decker logged 563 yards and only one TD. Decker might make sense, though the cost would need to be low. 

There are plenty of other names to watch, guys like Seattle's Paul Richardson or Buffalo's Jordan Matthews. Free agency opens in mid-March, and some connections between the Redskins and wideouts will start prior to that.

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