We’ve known the who and the where of the Redskins schedule for quite some time, but now we finally know the when. Below I will break down the positives and negatives of the Redskins schedule with a focus on when exactly their key games are and if that is favorable or negative for the Redskins.
- Mid-Season Bye: Last year an early bye was maybe more beneficial to the Redskins given that RGIII was coming off a major injury. If the Redskins were smart and didn’t rush Griffin back, they could have sat him the first 4 games and have an extra week to get him ready for the meat of the season. The Skins didn’t take advantage of that and as a result their early bye meant they had 12 straight games, which really sent this team into a tailspin as issues started to arise and there was no chance to reset things. The Redskins have the bye during week 10, breaking up their season nicely. In 2012 the Redskins were 3-6 before their week 10 bye, but were able to go on a 7 game run after the break.
- Easiest possible first two games of the year. The Redskins ended up with the 2nd worst record in the league last year, the only team that was worse was the Houston Texans and that is who the Redskins get to face week 1. Four teams finished 4-12 last year, but the team that did so versus the easiest strength of schedule was the Jacksonville Jaguars and that is who the Skins get week 2. While both teams could be better in 2014, they are both rebuilding and likely to be the most vulnerable early in the season, before they can gel as a team. Also, both teams could end up starting rookie quarterbacks which could be a nice way to ease in the Redskins new and hopefully improved defense.
- Long week before Seattle game. The Redskins most challenging game of the season is against the Seahawks week 5 on Monday night. The Redskins have a Thursday game the week before against the Giants, which gives them an extra long week to get ready for Seattle to come to town. It’s not a total positive though as the Seahawks have a bye week 4 so they will have plenty of time to be ready for Washington.
- Easier start to the schedule. Not only do the Redskins have it easy weeks 1 and 2, but the first half of the Redskins schedule is fairly easy. Of their first 10 games only three teams (Eagles, Seahawks and Cardinals) finished better than 8-8 last year. Of the other seven games only the Cowboys finished 8-8, and in addition to the Texans and Jaguars, the Titans, Vikings and Buccaneers are all considered rebuilding teams (in fact all three have new coaches) and could have serious question marks at quarterback. The Redskins themselves are of course a rebuilding club with a new coaching staff, but at least early on they face other teams in that same boat, which gives them a fair chance to win those games.
- Chance to build momentum. The Redskins aren’t a great contending team, but with a schedule featuring a lot of easier games early on, if they are winning those football games they can build momentum and maybe steal some of their tougher games. With a schedule like this they could be 6-4 or 7-3 in the first 10 games if they can take care of the teams they are more likely to beat. While these games would be on the schedule regardless, if they were more spread out throughout the season, the Redskins wouldn’t necessarily have a chance to build that momentum. Also, with many of these rebuilding clubs in the first 8-10 weeks, they may still be struggling to find themselves in that time, making them easier to beat than if they were at the end of the season.
- Final two games at home versus the Eagles and Cowboys. It was a pretty safe bet that the Redskins last couple of games (in fact all three of their last games are against NFC East teams), would be against division rivals, but the Redskins didn’t know they’d have the final two games at home. That really could be a big advantage for the Redskins to have both of these games at home. If Washington is in the playoff hunt, having these games at home could give them the division. Even if the Redskins are only fighting for a wild card spot, it’s likely that the other teams they are competing with will have to go on the road for at least one of these two final weeks.
- Tough 4 week stretch early in the season. Though as a whole the Redskins have a very favorable start to their schedule, there is a really tough four game stretch weeks 3 through 6. It starts off with the Redskins headed to Philadelphia, a team that crushed them twice last season and which once again looks to be the favorite in the division. Next the Redskins come back home to face the Giants on a short week in a Thursday night game. Though the Giants were disappointing last year, they were dealing with a number of injuries and have really rebuilt their roster in free agency. Even with New York being such a disappointment last year they still swept the Redskins. After that the Seahawks come to town, and the advantage of the Redskins having a long week is pretty much negated by the fact that Seattle does as well. Even on the road the Seahawks are the creme of the NFL, and it’s an extremely tough contest for the Redskins. After that the Redskins head out to Arizona to face the Cardinals. Arizona was 10-6 last year, and in most other divisions would be considered the best team. That game wouldn’t be easy anywhere, but in particular out in Arizona that isn’t a favorable match-up. These are four tough games that could all end up in the loss column if the Redskins don’t bring their A game.
- Negative Momentum a real concern. As much as winning the majority of their games in the first half of the season can spark the team to go on a run, the reverse could happen as well, particularly during this four game stretch of games. If the Redskins were to drop all four gaps it could throw this team into a serious spiral, where they start losing some easier contests that follow. If that happens then the Redskins are out of the playoff race by November. If the Redskins want to contend, they must win their first two games, and win 1 or 2 of these four games (preferably the Eagles and Giants), and come out of the first six weeks with a 3-3 or 4-2 record.
- A 2nd tough stretch of games. While the first 10 weeks are pretty favorable, the final six weeks don’t have any real cupcake games on the slate. And to start that stretch the Redskins are on the road three out of four games and they are all against tough opponents. Week 12 (the Redskins 11th game), Washington heads to San Francisco, who once again figures to be one of the elite teams in the NFL. After they come back from that, they are on the road the very next week out in Indianapolis. The Colts continue to be one of the teams on the rise in the NFL, and they are particularly tough at home, a place where they have knocked off the Packers in 2012 and Broncos and Seahawks a year ago. Though the Rams were 7-9 last season, they are a far better team than that. They played over half the year with their back-up QB, and played in the toughest division in football. With Bradford back this year they should be much improved and with them holding the Redskins first round pick, they could add some real impact talent to this team. After the Rams the Redskins hit the road to face the Giants, in a game that could be crucial to both clubs. That is a rough stretch, where again the Redskins simply can’t afford to be swept. They have to take at least one if not two of those games.
- The Redskins have to succeed on the road early on. Though having the final two games at home is a benefit if the Redskins are in playoff contention, there is also a negative aspect to it as well. It means that the Redskins have to be in a position to contend for the playoffs for that homefield advantage to matter. If the Redskins are 4-10, 5-9, or even 6-8 heading into those final two weeks the Redskins being at home and facing division rivals won’t matter as the Redskins aren’t going to the playoffs at that point. For the Redskins to be in a position for these final two games to matter they have to already have at least 7 wins, meaning the Redskins have to be .500 or better in the first 14 weeks of the season, which of those 14 weeks the Redskins will be on the road for 8 of those games. The Skins will need to win a couple games on the road if they are going to be in position to make those final two games meaningful and that could be a tough task.
Overall the positives outweigh the negatives and the Redskins are in a good position with how their schedule plays out to be in playoff contention this year. From a talent perspective they probably aren’t there, but this schedule could help them make a run at a wild card spot. For that to occur though the Redskins have to start out strong. They can’t afford to drop either of those first two games, and they have to be at least 3-3 through their first rough patch. In the first 10 weeks they have to be 5-4 or better before their bye. They can’t hope for another 7 game run like in 2012, to carry them to the playoffs. Their final 7 games after the bye are much harder this time around (things can change, but you can’t count on it). The Redskins can be in a position to exceed expectations, but they have to improve in a number of areas and they can’t afford any major setbacks.