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Examining how the Redskins could lose a game and still make the playoffs at 9-7

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We know the Redskins would win the NFC East division title by winning their last two games and finishing 10-6. If they win at Philadelphia on Sunday and at home against Dallas on Dec. 30, they’d host a playoff game for the first time in 13 years. That’s Washington’s best-case scenario, and it’s straightforward.

The Redskins, however, could still make the playoffs with a final record of 9-7. I worked with scenarios Friday until I forgot my own name. The takeaways from that include:

1. The Redskins are in great danger of missing the postseason if they lose either of their last two games.

2. If the Redskins do lose one of their last two, the damage would be less if the loss were to Philadelphia. Because the Redskins would lose the two-team tiebreaker with Dallas if the Cowboys beat Washington on Dec. 30, the Redskins can hardly afford to lose the finale.

Before we proceed, here’s the current playoff picture, as presented by NFL.com.

OK, let’s move on by noting three particularly important facts:

1. If the Redskins split their last two games and finish 9-7, regardless of whether they beat Philadelphia or Dallas, they would win any two-team tiebreaker against NFC playoff contenders New York, Seattle, Minnesota or Chicago.

2. The Redskins would win any two-team tiebreaker with Dallas if they beat the Cowboys on Dec. 30.

3. The Redskins at 9-7 would win any three-team tiebreaker that involves only them, Seattle and an NFC North team (either Minnesota or Chicago). This scenario is possible only if Washington beats Dallas in the finale.

Such a favorable tiebreaker outlook means the Redskins could qualify for the postseason at 9-7 IF the other contenders lose along with them. That’s a big ‘if.’.

So let’s consider the scenarios the Redskins would encounter by splitting their final two games and finishing 9-7. There are two ways to get there, of course: losing to Philly and beating Dallas, or beating Philly and losing to Dallas. As I said before, losing to Philly wouldn’t be as detrimental as losing to Dallas.

If the Redskins lose to Philadelphia and beat Dallas, then:

- the Redskins would win the NFC East if the Giants lost at least one of their last two games (at Baltimore, vs. Philadelphia).

- the Redskins would lose the division title to New York if the Giants won both of their remaining games.

If the Redskins lose to Philadelphia and beat Dallas, AND New York wins the division by finishing 10-6, then:

- the Redskins would still earn a Wild Card berth as long as at least two teams among Seattle, Minnesota and Chicago finish 9-7. Seattle enters Week 15 at 9-5, so it would have to lose both of its remaining games (vs. San Francisco, vs. St. Louis). Minnesota and Chicago are 8-6, so they would have to lose only one of their final two games. Minnesota is at Houston and home vs. Green Bay. Chicago is at Arizona and at Detroit.

[*in that scenario, the Redskins would have the tiebreaker over Dallas by virtue of their head-to-head sweep.]

OK, the second scenario is a bit more complicated but, considering Philly’s and Dallas’ records, more likely.

If the Redskins beat Philadelphia and lose to Dallas, then:

- the Redskins could not win the NFC East.

- the Cowboys would claim the two-team tiebreaker with Washington (by virtue of their superior winning percentage against common opponents) and thus secure a higher seed in any NFC playoff scenario.

- the Redskins’ chances of earning a Wild Card berth would depend heavily on what the Giants do in their final two games.

**** If the Giants won both, then New York AND Dallas would secure a higher seed than the Redskins in any NFC playoff scenario. The Redskins, then, could qualify for the postseason only as the sixth seed. And with only one available Wild Card berth, the Redskins would need Seattle, Chicago and Minnesota each to finish 9-7. Seattle would have to lose both its remaining games; Chicago would have to lose at least one of its last two and Minnesota would have to lose at least once in its final two games.

**** If the Giants lost at least one of their remaining two games, the Redskins would claim the two-team tiebreaker with New York (by virtue of their superior record against divisional opponents) and thus secure a higher seed in any NFC playoff scenario. The Redskins, then, could qualify for the postseason as either the fifth or sixth seed. With both Wild Card berths available, the Redskins would need at least two teams among Seattle, Minnesota and Chicago to finish 9-7.

…so if the Redskins get to 9-7 by losing to Dallas in the finale instead of losing to Philadelphia on Sunday, they would need an additional team among the group of New York, Seattle, Minnesota and Chicago to drop to 9-7. That seems unlikely. That’s one reason why the Redskins’ game against Dallas is so important.

OK, all of the scenarios described above result from the Redskins’ advantage in numerous two-team tiebreakers. I’ll explain:

If the Redskins finish 9-7, they would win the two-team tiebreaker against:

- New York by virtue of a superior record against NFC East opponents. The Redskins must win one more game to get to 9 wins, and because both of Washington’s remaining games are against NFC East teams, they would finish 4-2 in the division. New York’s best possible division record is 3-3.

- Seattle by virtue of a superior record against NFC opponents. The Seahawks must lose both of their remaining games to finish 9-7, and both are against NFC teams. Seattle would finish 6-6 in the NFC, and the Redskins would finish 7-5.

- Chicago by virtue of a superior record against NFC opponents. The Bears and the Redskins currently are tied at 8-6 overall, and each team finishes with two games against NFC opponents. The Redskins currently are 6-4 in the NFC and Chicago is 5-5. If they tie at 9-7 overall, the Redskins would maintain their one-game advantage in the conference record.

- Minnesota by virtue of the Redskins’ 38-26 victory on Oct. 14.

** Dallas is the only NFC playoff contender that could possibly win a two-team tiebreaker with the Redskins at 9-7. And the Redskins would clinch victory in that tiebreaker by beating Dallas on Dec. 30.

Remember, the Redskins would clinch a playoff spot Sunday if they beat Philadelphia AND the Giants lose at Baltimore, AND Chicago loses at Arizona AND Minnesota loses at Houston.

As of now, the Redskins have a small margin for error. Sunday’s game against Philadelphia technically is not a ‘must-win.’ But they’d spare themselves considerable consternation if they didn’t test that.

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