The Washington Redskins are coming off a 7-9 campaign in 2017, where they finished 3rd in the NFC East. The Redskins failed to make the playoffs for the third time in four seasons under current head coach Jay Gruden. The only appearance came in Gruden’s second season on the job back in 2015, when they won the division with a 9-7 record.
While the mediocre finish wasn’t all that surprising, injuries did play a big part in Washington not making a stronger push for the postseason.
This has the feeling of a make or break season for Gruden, as owner Dan Synder won’t stand for his team being middle of the pack for too long.
For Washington to take that next step under Gruden, they will have to do so with a new quarterback. After holding on to Kirk Cousins via the franchise tag the past two seasons, Cousins jumped ship and finally got his long-term deal with the Minnesota Vikings. The Redskins already had a plan in place to replace Cousins before the new year started, as they agreed to a trade with the Kansas City Chiefs for Alex Smith.
Smith gets a bad rap for often being over-protective of the football. He’s more than willing to take a sack or check it down than throw into coverage. You want to take care of the football, but it can be painful to watch at times when Smith throws it 2-yards on a 3rd and long.
The one thing you can’t argue is his ability to win games. Over the last 7 seasons (mostly with the Chiefs), Smith has started 102 games and his team has gone 69-31-1.
All that success came under both Jim Harbaugh and Andy Reid, who built their offenses around Smith’s ability. The big questions is can Gruden and offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh do the same in Washington.
Smith does have some talented guys around him on offense, but doesn’t have quite the playmakers as he did last year with Travis Kelce, Tyreke Hill and Kareem Hunt. Jamison Crowder, Josh Doctson and newly signed Paul Richardson will be the primary targets at receiver. Tight end Jordan Reed could be a difference maker, but has to find a way to stay healthy.
Washington returns leading rusher Samaje Perine, but he only had 603 yards (3.4 ypc) and the team as a whole ranked 28th at just 90.5 ypg. The hope is that Perine takes a back seat to second round pick Derrius Guice from LSU.
The offensive line was one unit that was hit hard with injuries and remains a bit of a concern going into 2018. The team lost starting center Spencer Long in free agency and will likely count on second-year center Chase Roullier to take his place. The bigger question is around Pro Bowl left take Trent Williams and right tackle Morgan Moses. Both are returning from injury and might not be full go well into training camp.
As far as the defense is concerned, Washington is hoping that a lot of young guys are ready to step up and take on larger roles. The Redskins only two additions via free agency was veteran outside linebacker Pernell McPhee and corner Orlando Scandrick.
The biggest new piece came via the draft, where they used the No. 13 pick to take Alabama defensive tackle Daron Payne. He will be reunited with his former college teammate in Jonathan Allen, who shined in his rookie season last year, but also was limited to only 5 games because of injury.
The two most important pieces might just be starting outside linebackers Ryan Kerrigan and Preston Smith. The duo combined for 21 sacks last year and will need to not only produce but stay healthy for the defense to take that next step.
2018 Redskins Schedule & Projected Odds
Below you will find the early odds released by Vegas for Weeks 1-16, as well as my projected number for Week 17. Using the lines we are able to give a game-by-game win probability, which we used to come up an expected win total.
|5||at Saints MNF||+7.5||0.22|
|13||at Eagles MNF||+7.5||0.22|
Projected Wins: 6.19
Over/Under Wins Prediction: OVER 7
I would have to lean towards taking the OVER with the Redskins win total at just 7 games. I know the NFC East looks as strong as it has in quite some time, but it’s not like we need Washington win go 12-4 and win the division. All we need is for them to win keep being mediocre and finish 8-8 to secure a winning ticket.
With that said, it’s not out of the question that the Redskins could fly by this win total. Say what you want about Smith, but the guy knows how to get his team into a position to win games in the regular season.
Keep in mind that Smith has started 15 or more games in 7 of the 12 years he’s been in the league. All 7 times his team won at least 7 games. It’s also worth pointing out that the Chiefs eclipsed their win total in each of his 5 seasons with the team.
The big key to Washington’s success will be how they play at home. On top of their 3 division home games against the Cowboys, Giants and Eagles, the Redskins have to host the likes of the Falcons, Panthers and Packers. Given how little respect this team is getting (most have them picked last in the NFC East), I think they will be able to surprise a few of those teams and find a way to be a factor in the NFC.
Odds to Win the Super Bowl: +7500
The Redskins aren’t getting any love when it comes to winning the title this year. There are 24 teams with better odds to win it all than Washington. The only teams with worse odds are the Browns, Cardinals, Bills, Bengals, Bears, Dolphins and Jets.
Do I think this team has what it takes to win it all? No. As much as I think Smith doesn’t get the credit he deserves for his ability to win games in the regular-season, he’s not going to carry a team in the playoffs with the way he plays. He’s simply too conservative and the only way that works is if the defense is an elite unit.
Washington ranked 21st in total defense (324.9 ypg) and T-27th in points allowed (24.2 ppg) last year. Even if the unit takes a huge step forward, it’s not going to be able to carry this team in the playoffs against the elite teams in the NFC.
Odds to Win the NFC: +2500
You also won’t find me holding a ticket for the Redskins to win the NFC. I’m not saying it can’t happen, I just think it’s too big a long shot to play.
For those wondering, only the Bucs, Bears and Cardinals have worse odds to win the NFC.
Odds to Win the NFC East: +750
While not every team has what it takes to win the Super Bowl, things can definitely break a teams way when it comes to winning a division title. With that said, a lot would have to go right for Washington to finish on top the NFC East.
The Eagles are the defending Super Bowl champs, Dallas should be better with a full 16-games from Ezekiel Elliot and the Giants could be poised for a major turnaround if rookie running back Saquan Barkley has the kind of impact most are expecting.