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Need to Know: Tandler's Take—The best- and worst-case scenarios for the 2018 Redskins

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Need to Know: Tandler's Take—The best- and worst-case scenarios for the 2018 Redskins

Here is what you need to know on this Sunday, May 20, two days before the Washington Redskins start OTAs.  

Best- and worst-case scenarios for the 2018 Redskins

Last week I took a stab at figuring out what the best-case and worst-case scenarios were for the key players on offense and defense. While individual stats are fun to track, it’s what the team does that really matters. What range of outcomes is realistic for the 2018 Redskins? While anything is possible, here are my thoughts on the best they are likely to be able to do and the worst. 

In both cases, I am assuming that the Redskins have reasonably good fortune when it comes to injuries and that the good and bad bounces of the ball equal out over the course of the season. 

Worst case: 6-10, last in NFC East

This is based mostly on Alex Smith having a tough time adjusting to Jay Gruden’s offense, his new teammates, and the NFC. Thinking he could struggle is not just negative thinking, there is history to back it up. 

Smith was traded from the 49ers to the Chiefs in 2013. In his first nine games, he completed just 59.7 percent of his passes with nine touchdowns and four interceptions He had an adjusted net yards per attempt of 5.23. Had he finished the season there he would have ranked 28th in the NFL. His passer rating was 81.4, which would have ranked 25th. It’s safe to say he was off to a very slow start. 

But the Chiefs went 8-1 in those nine games. It is doubtful that the Redskins could survive such a slow start. In the past three seasons, with Kirk Cousins at quarterback, they were 4-17 in games where Cousins’ passer rating was under 90. If you drop the ceiling to 81, the record drops to 0-14. 

Kansas City managed to start 9-0 in 2013 because of a running game that produced at least 100 yards rushing every game and a defense that got at least one takeaway every game and got three or more turnovers in a game five times. 

Could the Redskins duplicate that and survive a slow start by Smith? It’s possible, but this is the worst-case scenario. And there is no guarantee that the Redskins will significantly improve a running attack that was 27thin the league last year or a rushing defense that was dead last. 

Offensively, the hope is that Derrius Guice will improve the running game. But rookies are, well rookies. And being a high draft pick is no guarantee of success. In the past three drafts, 20 running backers were drafted in the first three rounds. Of those players, four rushed for 750 yards or more as rookies. Maybe Guice will be one of the productive players but the odds are not in his favor. This isn’t saying he will be a bust; however, he may not have instant impact. 

One other note about the rushing game. It’s important to remember that both tackles are coming off of surgery, the right guard was injured last year, the center has all of six starts under his belt, and left guard remains up in the air. Maybe everything will hum when the season starts but that seems like a tall order. 

Improvement in the stopping the run also relies at least in part on rookies. Daron Payne will have an adjustment period as will Tim Settle. The inside linebacker spot should be stronger but it’s hard to say that it will be a strength. The rushing defense probably won’t be last again, but it may not climb out of the twenties in the rankings. 

The Redskins haven’t been awful at getting takeaways, but they have not done it at a consistently game-changing level. They have three or more takeaways in a game five times in their last 30 games. I don’t see any reason to think that this will change dramatically. 

To put the 6-10 worst-case scenario onto the schedule, the Redskins could go 2-4 in the division with splits against the Cowboys and Giants and getting swept by the Eagles. Against the NFC South, which had three teams with 10 wins or more last year, they might be 1-3. That leaves a split with the AFC South (two of the final eight teams in the playoffs last year) and of their two other NFC games for a 6-10 record. 

Best-case scenario: 10-6, Wild card, win a playoff game

This scenario doesn’t require a whole lot of explanation beyond flipping the elements of the worst case into more positive outcomes. 

Smith could pick up where he left off last year when he completed 67.5 percent of his passes and was third in the league with 7.2 adjusted net yards per attempt. Maybe the yards per attempt will drop some as he tries to find a consistent deep target.

A healthy Jordan Reed would help Smith out tremendously. If Reed can participate in most of training camp, the two could hit the ground running. Smith’s ability to connect with Josh Doctson on some 50-50 balls also will be important. 

As for the running game, Guice could break out early behind a line that gels quickly. It’s not out of the question for him to gain 1,000 yards (that’s just about 65 yards per game), maybe a little more. A healthy Chris Thompson could kick in over 1,000 yards from scrimmage. 

Jonathan Allen and Matt Ioannidis could pick up right where they left off last year before Allen was lost for the season with a foot injury and Ioannidis missed two games with a broken hand and was hampered by the injury for a few weeks after that. That would let Payne and Settle, well, settle into the pro game. 

The Redskins also would need at least to maintain the solid pass defense they had last year. And they would benefit from fewer turnovers on offense (27 last year, 26thin the NFL) and by adding a few takeaways to the 23 they got in 2017.

So how could they pull this off? The would need to go 4-2 in the division, with a sweep of the Giants and splits against Philly and Dallas. They then would need 2-2 records against the NFC South and AFC South. That part of it is probably the toughest task. To get to 10 they would need to beat the Cardinals on the road in the season opener and then have a good day against Aaron Rodgers and get a win over the Packers. It’s not an easy road but if enough pieces fall into place it’s not out of the question. 

A 10-6 record should be good enough for a wild-card spot. If they get through their fairly tough schedule with double-digit wins, they should be good enough to go on the road and take out the three or four seed. 

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

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Timeline  

Days until:

—Minicamp (6/12) 23
—Training camp starts (7/26) 68
—Preseason opener @ Patriots (8/9) 82

The Redskins last played a game 139 days ago. They will open the 2018 NFL season at the Cardinals in 113 days. 

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Dustin Hopkins isn't 100-percent so the Redskins reportedly worked out five kickers

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Dustin Hopkins isn't 100-percent so the Redskins reportedly worked out five kickers

Lost in the fact that Tress Way is having a stellar season is that his fellow specialist, Dustin Hopkins, is getting it done, too.

The Redskins' kicker has made 17 of 19 field goals so far in 2018, giving him an 89.5-percent conversion rate on kicks. Against Carolina, he nailed a career-long 56-yarder, plus he's 17-for-17 on extra points.

But on Tuesday, a report came out saying that Hopkins is "a bit banged up." As of now, the Redskins don't know if they'll have Hopkins or not this weekend vs. the Texans, which is why they worked out five kickers five days before the Houston matchup, per Field Yates.

Among the group of free agents was former 'Skin Kai Forbath, who made 32-of-38 three-pointers for the Vikings in 2017. He was with the Burgundy and Gold from 2012-2014 and also briefly in 2015. 

Washington also reportedly tried out two maligned kickers in Roberto Aguayo and Blair Walsh. 

The Bucs drafted Aguayo in the second round of the 2016 draft but he flamed out in Tampa and was gone after a single year and poor 2017 preseason. Walsh, meanwhile, hasn't been the same since missing a 27-yard game winning playoff attempt versus Seattle while he was with Minnesota.  

Rounding out the group was Sam Ficken and Jon Brown.

The Redskins have been very reliant on both Hopkins and Way this season, seeing as their offense has had its issues. They've needed Hopkins to cash in on field goals to avoid wasting points and Way to help win the field position battle each week.

For some franchises, losing a kicker for a week or two wouldn't be much of a problem. And while Washington could very well be OK without Hopkins, they'd rather not have to bring in a new foot for any amount of time.

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NFC East Update: The division race is shaping up very well for the Redskins

NFC East Update: The division race is shaping up very well for the Redskins

The Redskins helped themselves in the NFC East division race with a big Week 10 win over the Buccaneers, and then the Cowboys helped their rival out again with a big win in Philadelphia.

With seven games remaining and the NFL calendar starting to get serious about playoff situation and scenarios, the 6-3 Redskins are in the driver's seat in the division. 

"I think the good thing being 6-3, being in first place is we control what we have to control. We don’t have to look at the other teams, we just have to focus on what we do and if we do our job, we don’t have to worry about anything," head coach Jay Gruden said Monday. 

And he's right. The Redskins have built a cushion in the division, and if they keep winning at a .667 clip, nobody can catch them.

Here's the NFC East update:

  1. Washington Redskins (6-3, 2-0) - This team isn't winning pretty, and they certainly don't make many highlight plays on offense, but the Washington formula for victories is working. At +11, the Redskins are 3rd in the NFL in turnover margin and they own a defense that doesn't give up many points. Fans can debate if the offense is too limited, but for now running the ball and playing strong defense is piling up wins. Washington hasn't been 6-3 since 2008. Another large test looms on Sunday when Houston comes to FedEx Field, riding a six-game win streak. Up next: Nov. 18th vs Texans,1 p.m.
  2. Dallas Cowboys (4-5, 2-1) - Things have been a roller coaster in Big D. Two weeks ago it looked like the Cowboys season might spiral out of control after a blowout loss at home to the Titans. Speculation began to mount about the future for head coach Jason Garrett. A week later, after a major win in Philly on Sunday Night Football, Cowboys fans are back focused on the playoffs, not firing their coach. Dallas has built an impressive young defense, though the offensive struggles remain. Similar to the Redskins, Dallas has one of the worst pass games in the NFL but relies on running the football. Up next:  Nov. 18th @ Atlanta, 1 p.m. 
  3. Philadelphia Eagles (4-5, 1-1) - At no point this season have the Eagles looked like the same 2017 juggernaut that won the city's first-ever Super Bowl. Much of that was chalked up to injury, particularly Carson Wentz working back from a knee injury last year, and new parts on defense. The Eagles had a Week 8 bye, made a trade to acquire WR Golden Tate, and were facing the slumping Cowboys in Week 9. All signs pointed to a big Eagles win and the Philly machine getting back on track for the second-half of the 2018 season. Only it didn't happen. The Eagles haven't won two games in a row yet this season, and road games against the Saints and the Rams are still on deck. Up next: Nov. 18th @ New Orleans, 4:25 p.m.
  4. New York Giants (2-7, 0-3) - The Giants doubled their season win total with a road win in San Francisco over the 49ers. It was a good victory, but hardly impressive. The Niners are equally bad and currently starting their 3rd-string QB. Still, Odell Beckham remains optimistic for his New York squad and thinks the team could go on a undefeated streak to close out the season. It's not realistic considering the offensive line and Eli Manning's play at quarterback, but it's a nice theory. The Giants are 0-4 at home and 0-3 in the division. Up Next: Nov. 18th vs Tampa Bay, 1 p.m.

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