The NFL is known for its parity. That’s why the statement, “any given Sunday,” is said by fans and players alike; any team has a chance to beat any other team during any given week. This keeps the league interesting, provides some memorable matchups and upsets, and gives people in the media plenty to talk about.
In 2015, one division in particular is a picture-perfect example of the league’s parity: the NFC East (known by some as the NFC “Least”). Every team in the division felt like a playoff team at times this season, but each squad also looked deserving of a high draft pick at other times. It’s a division that likely won’t be determined until the final week of the year, but one team in particular seems ready to emerge from the pack.
The funny thing is that this team is the only one nobody talked about prior to the start of the season. After beating the New York Giants in Week 12, the Washington Redskins are now tied atop the NFC East with those Giants. They are in the perfect position to shock everyone and win the division. Here are a few reasons why Washington should be considered the new favorite.
A competitive and capable quarterback
The Redskins’ quarterback situation was supposed to be the weak link on their roster, with Robert Griffin III benched prior to the start of the season. Instead, Kirk Cousins has grown into (at the very least) a capable starting quarterback in the NFL. Sure, his numbers aren’t jaw-dropping, but Cousins has done enough to give Washington a chance to win most weeks.
The team could do a lot worse than 2,787 yards, 16 touchdowns, and 10 picks through 11 games. More impressive than his straight numbers is the fact that Cousins has led the team to multiple clutch-time victories this season. He pulled off a crazy comeback against Tampa Bay several weeks ago, which kept the team afloat.
Furthermore, Cousins has been critical in two tight division wins against the Eagles and, most recently, the Giants, which puts Washington in the position they are in heading into December. He won’t receive any accolades, but what Cousins is doing this season will likely earn him the status of Washington’s starter for seasons to come. Not bad for a guy that was supposed to back up RG III.
A manageable schedule
With five games remaining in the 2015 regular season, the Redskins’ schedule isn’t too daunting, mainly because they still have multiple NFC East games, which will be interesting, no doubt. Next weekend, they’ll begin their stretch run at home against the Dallas Cowboys minus Tony Romo.
Then, they will take on a tough and competitive Chicago Bears team — that has been giving everybody fits — on the road. Washington will then host the Buffalo Bills before finishing the season on the road against the Eagles and Cowboys. The major problem and hurdle for Washington during their final five games will be proving that they can win on the road — something they have yet to do this season (they are 0-5 so far).
They are great at home, winning five straight since a Week 1 defeat to the Dolphins, but fail to find the win column away from the friendly confines. With three of their final five games on the road, Washington has to win at least one, and probably two, away from home if they want to capture the division. Games against the struggling Eagles and Cowboys could provide the necessary wins to get it done.
Who’s going to stop them?
Yes, every team in the NFC East is still alive in the division race (even the Cowboys), but when you analyze each of these teams, the Redskins seem to be the only team that isn’t in a major state of crisis. The Eagles are dealing with injuries to Sam Bradford and others, as well as their complete and utter failure to live up to expectations. It’d be surprising to see them win more than three additional games over the remainder of the season (especially if Mark Sanchez remains under center).
Then you look at the Cowboys and see a team that can’t do anything positive without Tony Romo, who won’t walk back onto the field until next season. They may tank for the rest of the year and focus on building a contending squad for next season. Finally, you have the Giants, who are certainly talented with the likes of Odell Beckham Jr., but they can’t get out of their own way. They could easily have seven or eight wins this season, yet they are under .500 heading into the stretch run.
Washington was the only team in this division not expected to be any good, which is a factor they are taking advantage of. With every other team in the NFC East floundering, it’s beginning to look like the Redskins might take the division. Of course, they will have to earn it, but Washington is hungrier than the other teams, and (to be frank) they are playing the best football in the division, too. Not a great accolade this season, but the NFC East is Washington’s to lose.