Every season, there are 31 NFL teams—all but the one that hoists the Lombardi Trophy—that have to look back and try to figure out if their seasons were a success.
For some, such as the Saints and Bears, the answer is obviously no. Those two teams were in the NFC Championship Game last year and at a minimum expected to get close to playing in that game again. The Browns, on the other hand, won 10 games and although they missed out on a playoff spot on the basis of tiebreakers they clearly exceeded expectations.
How about the Redskins? How successful was their 2007 nine-win, one and done playoff season? It depends on which view you want to take:
From the start of the season—Yes, a playoff appearance would have been considered a major step forward. The team was coming off of a 5-11 season and they weren't competitive in many of their losses. The various "experts" in the media didn't think that they would do much better. I'd estimate that the average projection was five or six wins. The local media, who know the team better, had them pegged slightly higher, at seven or eight wins. The Redskins were starting the season with a defense that one of the worst in the league in 2006 and a quarterback in his first full year as a starter.
From after the 5-3 start—At that point, even though the Cowboys were rolling along so it appeared that a division title was a long shot, it appeared that the Skins were in the process of putting together a good season. Two of their three losses had come to top teams in Green Bay and New England and even the loss to the Giants didn't look to bad as they had gotten on a roll. The defense had turned things around and Sean Taylor was leading the NFL in interceptions. It appeared that a playoff run was distinct possibility for this team.
At 4:30 PM on December 2—At about this moment Joe Gibbs was taking responsibility for his team's loss to Buffalo. Whether or not the back to back timeouts cost the Redskins the game seemed to be irrelevant. The team's best player had just been murdered. In the next four days the Redskins faced going to his funeral and then another game in four days. Certainly the slim playoff hopes would be gone in five days. Everyone in the organization would have taken a one and done at that point.
After beating Minnesota to take control of their playoff destiny—At that point, the Cowboys looked vulnerable, the Redskins had overcome the odds, and a trip to Arizona, while still a longshot, certainly was a tantalizing possibility. Certainly, the Redskins would be playing past the first week of January.
You can go further back. A sixth seed and first-round loss in year four of Gibbs II isn't what we expected after Gibbs was hired or after the 2005 season unless it had something to do with a Super Bowl hangover.
I think that the best spot to judge it on is from the perspective of the start of the season. If you'd have said that the right side of the O-line would be gone by halftime of the second game, that two defensive starters would be gone for the season with injuries and that a third, the team's best player, would be shot dead, that the team would blow a number of second-half leads and that the Redskins would be counting on Todd Collins in a string of can't-lose situations, most would have said that a winning record and a playoff spot would be the best that they could hope for.