- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 6, 2002

The Washington Redskins could finish 10-6 and still miss the playoffs.
Sorry, folks, but it probably will take a 7-1 run for the Redskins to reach the postseason and there are at least two sure-fire losses looming. The Falcons likely will get the final wild card berth because of an NFC record that is better than that of the Redskins.
Get out your Sharpie. Mark the Redskins' two games against the New York Giants and the one against the Rams as must-wins. The Redskins also must sweep the Cowboys, who they face in Dallas on Thanksgiving and to whom they've lost nine straight. And unless you're really into fiction, figure the Redskins lose to the Eagles in the last game ever at Veterans Stadium.
The Monday Morning Quarterback makes a special Wednesday appearance to take a midseason look at the Redskins' postseason chances.

Q: How can the Redskins finish 10-6 and not make the playoffs? What, is Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos trying to knock off Washington's football team, too?
A: The crystal ball says the Saints, Eagles, 49ers and Packers will win their divisions. That leaves the Buccaneers (7-2), Falcons (5-3), Redskins (4-4), Giants (4-4) and Cardinals (4-4) fighting for the two wild card spots available in the new postseason format. The Bucs should finish 11-5 and secure the first one. The Cardinals' schedule is too tough to allow them a chance. The Falcons get the final wild card instead of the Redskins or Giants all three teams should finish 10-6 because they win the first postseason tiebreaker by virtue of their 7-5 record against NFC opponents.

Q: Hold on, Harry Potter. Where did those magic numbers come from? Did you work at a Florida polling office yesterday?
A: Let's walk through the Redskins' schedule. With the rosiest of scenarios, the Redskins sweep the Giants, split with the Cowboys and beat the Jaguars, Rams and Texans. You can bet the rent on losing at Philadelphia, and until the Redskins stop a nine-game losing streak against the Cowboys, a split is the best that can be expected. That's a 6-2 finish, a 10-6 final record and a 6-6 mark in the NFC. The Falcons can win at Carolina, Minnesota, Cleveland and beat the Seahawks and Lions at home. They lose to the Steelers, Saints and Bucs. That's a 10-6 record and a 7-5 NFC mark.

Q: What if Falcons quarterback Michael Vick gets hurt? Is that the key to the Redskins' playoff chances?
A: You can't factor injuries into it. What if Redskins running back Stephen Davis misses a month with his sprained knee?

Q: You've given the best-case scenario. What do you really expect the Redskins to do in the second half of the season?
A: They'll go 4-4 and finish with an 8-8 record for the third straight year. Say what you want about owner Dan Snyder, but he's consistent. Realistically, the Redskins will split with the Giants and Cowboys, lose to the Eagles and Rams and beat the Jags and Texans. Here's a telling stat: The Redskins are 0-4 against teams likely to make the playoffs this season and 4-0 against crummy teams. They're simply part of the NFL's great pool of parity.

Q: There you go again. The Redskins finally win two straight, and you're gutting all hope of them making the playoffs. What's next, there really isn't a Santa Claus?
A: Well Really, 8-8 is a respectable mark for first-year coach Steve Spurrier. The Redskins need help at guard, receiver and quarterback, but Spurrier's offense still is averaging 19.6 points. That's barely a field goal better than it managed playing MartyBall last season, but at least the games are interesting now.

Q: How can the team finish 8-8 every season when it turns over the talent so much in the offseason? Isn't this a better team than last year's?
A: Absolutely, but the schedule is much harder there just were a lot more unwinnable games this season. The defense will finish among the top 10, and the offense is better than last year's unwatchable crew. But the bottom line is that the Redskins blew chances against the Packers and 49ers that would have made the difference.

Q: What are the smoking guns? What did the Redskins miss that undermined their chances this season?
A: They should have signed at least one standout guard in the offseason. That would have helped them avoid the offensive line problems they had early on. It's amazing they've started to play better in recent weeks while making constant changes at guard. Line coach Kim Helton should receive an assistant coach of the year award for the improvement. The Redskins also should have kept quarterback Shane Matthews in the lineup instead of shuffling in Danny Wuerffel and Patrick Ramsey for three games. It might have made the difference against the Packers or Saints.

Q: But Ramsey beat the Titans in his debut. Isn't he the quarterback of the future?
A: The future, yes. Today, no. Like most rookies, Ramsey needs time to develop. It was a nice glimpse, but Matthews gives the Redskins the best chance to win this season.

Q: What marks do you give Spurrier in his first season? Would it have been better to have kept Marty Schottenheimer?
A: In the short term, Schottenheimer might have had an edge this season just because the offense would have already known the system. But the net result if Schottenheimer still were in charge? One additional victory and a lot of boring games. Spurrier is the better long-term prospect, and he likely will have the Redskins in the playoffs in 2003. As with everyone else in the NFL from the ballboys to owners the first season is a constant learning experience for Spurrier.

Q: But Spurrier will be back, right? The last two coaching staffs that finished 8-8 in Washington are now working elsewhere.
A: Let's end this now: Spurrier will be back. He's building a good program. It just won't happen overnight. Ask Nero.

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