When the Washington Redskins begin their season tonight against the Philadelphia Eagles at home, all eyes will be watching how Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III plays after recovering from major surgery eight months ago on his right knee.
A second key question about the Monday Night Football opener will be how new Eagles coach Chip Kelly’s uptempo offense fares in the NFL. Linked to that will be the uncertainty of whether Kelly’s fast offense will lead to a resurgence for Eagles quarterback Michael Vick.
But a startling statistic shows another storyline that has rarely been mentioned. The Redskins will be fighting history as they attempt to post a winning record and make the playoffs for the second straight season.
Of the last 10 teams to finish 10-6 the year after having a losing season, only one was able to produce a winning season the year after posting the 10-6 record (see the list below). That was the 2006 Kansas City Chiefs, who made the playoffs at 9-7 (the 2007 Philadelphia Eagles ended up 8-8). The other eight teams followed up their surprising 10-6 campaigns with losing seasons.
The last 10 NFL teams to finish 10-6 the year after having a losing record
2010: Kansas City, Tampa Bay
2009: Cincinnati, Cleveland
2006: New York Jets, Philadelphia, New Orleans
2005: Kansas City*, Washington
In fact, three of the teams listed above – the Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, and New York Jets – bookended their 10-6 seasons with 4-12 records.
Why have so many teams recently dropped back to the pack after seemingly reversing their fortunes?
One reason is parity. Except for a few teams at the top of the NFL and a few at the bottom, most lie in the middle of the pack. A combination of injuries, turnovers and luck can account for the difference between 6-10 and 10-6.
Part of the reason for the league’s parity may be that the acquisition of talent, coaching of players, and the schemes and strategies the players carry out have become so sophisticated that teams are more even than they were in the past.
Another theory is that the huge popularity of today’s NFL, enhanced by relentless 24 x 7 coverage on cable TV networks, the internet and sports talk radio stations creates an inflated emphasis on what is happening in the moment. This may cause media, fans, and even players to overreact to results now rather than looking at the big picture.
Therefore, winning teams often get more praise than they deserve, creating more pressure to succeed. Opposing teams may be more ready to play against a winning team. Likewise, it becomes easier for losing teams with low expectations to sneak up on the league, posting winning seasons seemingly out of nowhere.
The Redskins have failed to follow up the rare winning seasons they have had in recent years.
In 1999, Washington made the playoffs for the first time in seven seasons with a 10-6 record. However, in 2000 the Redskins slipped to 8-8.
The Redskins didn’t make the playoffs again until 2005, again with a 10-6 mark. But Washington followed that up with just five wins in 2006.
In 2007, the Redskins made the playoffs for second time in three seasons at 9-7, but the next year they fell back to 8-8.
Last year the Redskins made the playoffs for the first time in five seasons. The electrifying RGIII, already the best Redskins quarterback since Joe Theismann, helped lead the Redskins to a five-game improvement and a 10-6 record in 2012.
Will the Redskins be able to buck the recent trend of the roller-coaster NFL while making the playoffs for back-to-back seasons?
The Redskins are actually better positioned than many of the teams from recent years who experienced a fall after momentarily tasting success, as well as the Redskins teams that made the playoffs in 1999, 2005 and 2007.
Assuming Griffin is healthy, he will only improve with one more year in the NFL, along with an increased awareness of when to run and when to pull back. Griffin’s Pro Bowl season in 2012 probably made the difference between a 6-10 mark in 2011 and the Redskins’ 10-win playoff run last year.
Washington has several players back who missed most of last season because of injuries. Linebacker Brian Orakpo, tight end Fred Davis and backup running back Roy Helu should all make the Redskins stronger, assuming they return to form.
Wide receiver Pierre Garçon has had an offseason to rest the injured toe that kept him out of six games last year. The Redskins were 9-1 last season when Garçon took the field.
The return of Davis should take pressure off a solid group of receivers, while Orakpo’s return is expected to free up linebacker Ryan Kerrigan from double teams.
Washington’s secondary remains a question mark with two rookies playing prominent roles. Sixth-round draft pick Bacarri Rambo is expected to start at free safety while second-round selection David Amerson will either start or receive extensive playing time at cornerback.
Strong safety Brandon Meriweather, who was limited to one game last season because of injuries, is listed as questionable against the Eagles because of a groin issue, but his injured knee from last season is not listed on the NFL injury report.
Surprisingly, the salary cap penalty that the NFL inflicted on the Redskins in 2012 that cost Washington $36 million over 2012 and 2013 may have actually benefited Washington in one way. The Redskins have retained most of their players over the past two seasons rather than going after high-priced free agents.
Without some of the tumultuous changes of the past, the continuity of keeping the starters and backups mostly intact, including the entire starting offensive line, should ensure that the players know the system and play well together.
In fairness to the Redskins, however, the trend of building the current team through wise draft choices and judicious free agent acquisitions actually started when coach Mike Shanahan and general manager Bruce Allen arrived in 2009.
Last year in this space, it was said that anything less than a 9-7 record would be a disappointment. This season, because of continuity, players returning from injuries, and the expected improvement of RGIII, the Redskins should make the playoffs again and make progress. Call it 11-5 with at least one win in the playoffs.
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