Today's Absurd Prediction:
The Washington Redskins will pull off a winning record.
Here's the first of my team-by-team season predictions. I'm going division by division, in reverse alphabetical order by city name. Why reverse? So I can start with the team I know best and need to do the least research about - I spent enough time already working out the other 31 teams' final record (which you have to wait to find out - hah!).
First, a word on the process: I refuse to do what many people do and make game-by-game predictions to arrive at a final record. That tends to result in lopsided results, where too many teams win fewer than six, and too many win more than ten. Upsets are more common than that, and the league has evolved to create as many 8-8 teams as possible. Last year, one-fourth of the league broke even, so the system is working. What I focused on was changes in coaching staff (mostly heads and coordinators), free agency and pre-draft trades, the draft itself, and difficulty of schedule. I gave each category a letter grade, and used these to determine a change from their 2006 record.
So, here's my breakdown for the Washington Redskins:
Coaching Changes: N/A
No change is good change. I put a lot of stock in continuity, and giving the D.C. Braintrust another year to figure out how to make their systems work can only help. It's encouraging that last year's poor showing didn't prompt any firings. Could owner Dan Snyder actually be learning a lesson or two? Well, no, but it's a good sign anyway.
Free Agency: B+
The Skins' offseason goal was clear: fix the secondary depth issue. Shawn Springs' injury last year was largely to blame for the huge meltdown, because there was nobody to step up and take his place. Many people said during the offseason that Washington needed to address defensive line issues because of the lack of a pass rush. But there wasn't a pass rush because the secondary was a liability and the defense couldn't afford extra blitzers. That will change this year, as the Redskins added Fred Smoot and Omar Stoutmire in free agency. The best news is, they didn't do much else. The only other notable additions are tackle Jason Fabini to add line depth, and linebacker London Fletcher-Baker, who should have some good years left in him. They got rid of disappointing kicker John Hall, lost linebacker Warrick Holdman who didn't play well last year, and got Adam Archuleta's contract off the books for a sixth-round draft pick. The only reason this isn't an A is the loss of guard Derrick Dockery, who wasn't an All-Pro, but he was a key member of one of the more solid lines in football, and breaking up an O-line almost always hurts.
If the players acquired for the picks lost in this draft factor in, this grade drops way down, since not one has been a success. The Skins gave away this year's 2nd, 3rd, and 4th round picks for T.J. Duckett, Brandon Lloyd, and a draft move up to nab Rocky McIntosh. However, the addition of LaRon Landry will mean huge things for this defense. Suddenly this secondary is one of the deepest in the league. Sean Taylor got burned a few times last year trying to provide run support and pass coverage at the same time, resulting in huge pass plays. This shouldn't be a problem anymore, with Taylor free to roam deep and prevent the long ball, and Landry blowing up running backs. Landry alone pulls this grade up to a C-.
Having to play the other NFC East teams twice is never a picnic, as all four usually bring their A-game. But the Skins' other NFC matchups are very favorable, which will give them a nice edge in playoff tiebreakers. They play the NFC North, and Chicago is a home game, so a division sweep isn't out of the question. Then they get Tampa Bay and Arizona, both of whom should improve, but it's better than drawing Seattle and New Orleans. The AFC East will be tough, with the Jets, Pats, and Bills all looking promising last year.
The big weakness is now the depth of the offensive line. And the pattern over the past two years has been that injuries attack where the Redskins are weakest. In 2005, it was the defensive line - almost every starter missed significant time. In 2006, it was the secondary. If this line gets battered, Clinton Portis, Ladell Betts, and Jason Campbell are in for a long season. Campbell's inexperience is also a concern, but he showed poise last year and has had time to learn the system. Chris Cooley looks like he'll be a favorite target of Campbell's, and he may find himself making the Pro Bowl this year. Also, the Redskins have been historically streaky, for example beating the Jags and Saints last year, but losing to the Titans and Bucs. So there will most likely be a number of upsets, both for and against them.
The Record: 9-7
I understand some of you may accuse me of D.C. homer-ism, but I promise you that I looked at this team as objectively as possible and really did like what I saw. If the line stays healthy (we'll say no more than five total games missed by the five starters) and Washington ends up with a losing record, I will change my profile picture to one of myself wearing a Cowboys hat, an Eagles shirt, and Giants pajama pants.