- The Washington Times - Monday, October 10, 2011

It was back to the grindstone for the Washington Redskins on Monday, though I’m not sure exactly why. Had they just stayed on vacation a while longer, the rest of the NFC East probably would have eliminated itself from playoff contention.

Just wondering: Does the new collective bargaining agreement allow for personal days? If so, the Redskins should definitely start using them.

You wouldn’t think a bye week would alter your perspective much, not this early in the NFL season; but it certainly has for me. After watching Michael Vick and Eli Manning throw pick-sixes Sunday that helped doom the Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants, I’m beginning to think the division title is the Redskins’ to lose. Yes, I’m going out on a limb, with 12 games left, and saying: If they don’t make it to the playoffs this year, when will they make them?

Consider how the NFC standings could look six days from now - provided that is, the Redskins take care of business against the bleeding Eagles. The Dallas Cowboys, after all, have a date this weekend with the Patriots (4-1) in New England, and the Giants meet the talk-of-the-league Buffalo Bills (4-1) at the Meadowlands. When all the pad popping is done, the pecking order might be something along these lines:

Redskins 4-1

Giants 3-3

Cowboys 2-3

Eagles 1-5

The Redskins, in other words, might be two games up in the loss column - if not more - on everybody else in the division. FYI: Only once in the past dozen seasons has an NFC East club been two games up in the loss column after just six weeks (in 2003, when the Cowboys were 4-1 and Redskins, Giants and Eagles had three defeats).

That’s a nice little cushion to build in mid-October, a nice hedge against the various catastrophes, physical and otherwise, that can befall a football team. It doesn’t guarantee anything, obviously, but it keeps hope alive, and there hasn’t been much of that lately in Redskinsland.

“A long ways to go,” DeAngelo Hall cautions. “Just because we’re in the lead now - [after] one lap, with a whole lot of laps to go - doesn’t mean much to us.”

Still, you compare the Redskins’ schedule to those of their rivals and, you have to admit, it’s pretty favorable. The Giants, for instance, have to play Green Bay (5-0) and New Orleans (4-1) - back to back, no less. The Redskins don’t play either of them. The Cowboys already have played (and lost to) Detroit (4-0) and must travel to Tampa Bay (3-2) in Week 15. The Redskins avoid both of those clubs, too. The Eagles, meanwhile, already have played (and lost to) Atlanta (an NFC-best 13-3 a year ago, and undoubtedly better than their 2-3 record indicates). The Redskins dodge the Falcons - and also the Bears (NFC finalists last season), another Philly opponent.

To recap: no Packers, no Saints, no Lions, no Bucs, no Falcons, no Bears. How much sweeter can it get?

(By the way, it’s funny that not having Detroit on your schedule is now thought of as fortunate. After all, losing to the Lions in 2009 was so incomprehensible to Dan Snyder that he immediately began looking for a new coach. But here the Lions are, riding an eight-game winning streak - or at least they were going into last night’s battle with Chicago. The Redskins haven’t had one that long in two decades, since their last Super Bowl season.)

Not that the road ahead will be easy for the Redskins. The next two Sundays, they’ll have to chase after Michael Vick and Cam Newton, whose mobility gives defensive coordinators the DTs. (Plus, I seem to remember Vick and Co. piling up 59 points against the Redskins last year before the third quarter was even over.) Next come the Bills and San Francisco 49ers (4-1), two of the NFL’s biggest surprises, and in the final five weeks the Redskins will have contend with the Patriots (here), New York Jets (here), Giants (there) and Eagles (there).

But as Kory Lictensteiger says, “This is real. We’ve got an opportunity to make some noise this year. And it starts with the Eagles this week.”

This is real, all right. And a week from now, it could be even realer.

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