Don’t look now but the Washington Redskins are in first place in the NFC East. Not the Reigning Superbowl champion Philadelphia Eagles, but the team being led by a 33-year-old running back. This is no knock on Adrian Peterson, it’s just weird to see a team that some predicted to finish last in the division to be in first. Especially because Peterson wasn’t even on the team till halfway through preseason. But this is how the season has unfolded.
The next three weeks the Redskins face winnable games and have a chance to put a stranglehold on the division. This comes at a time where teams like the Cowboys and Eagles are struggling to find some consistency.
Philadelphia just blew a 17 point fourth quarter league and the Cowboys have yet to win a road game this year. Washington will need to dig deep and win the next three games to prove to the NFC East and NFL who is in charge. Let’s preview the next three games.
New York Giants
The Giants are 1-5 and just traded two of their defensive starters away. Let the rebuild begin! Now by all accounts, this game SHOULD be a win. But for some strange reason, the Redskins always find a way to blow it against divisional rivals when they are favored or have a chance to prove a point. The matchup against the Giants is definitely a trap game, but if Washington wants to win the division for the first time since 2015 they will have to not fall into old habits.
The Redskins will need to establish the run game immediately. This will take the pressure off of Alex Smith, especially if key players such as Chris Thompson, Paul Richardson and Jamison Crowder are all still out with injuries. The rush defense will face a tough opponent in Saquon Barley. If the Bama Boys, Jonathan Allen and Da’ron Payne can contain him and the secondary can limit Odell Beckham Jr., then Washington will be in great position to win three straight.
The Falcons are 3-4 but are better than their record shows. They have been in multiple shootouts and came out on the losing end. Atlanta also lost two key defensive players for the year in Keanu Neal and Deion Jones. But any team led by Matt Ryan and Julio Jones should not be counted out. At the same time, this is not the team that people believed heading into the season were Superbowl contenders.
Washington’s secondary will be tested against the Falcons receivers, such as rookie Calvin Ridley, Mohamed Sanu and Julio Jones. The key will be applying as much pressure to Matt Ryan as possible. Ryan Kerrigan will need to step up and resemble his 2017 self. Atlanta will be without star running back Devonta Freeman who has been out since week one. Tevin Coleman has filled in and has struggled this year. Washington will need to suffocate the run game early and force Ryan to win the game on his own.
On the offensive side, Alex Smith will have to step up so Peterson will not be forced to carry the offense on his own. Richardson and Thompson should be back by then, and this will help Smith greatly. If Thompson returns, Washington will be able to help limit the burden on Peterson. Thompson’s return will help Smith, especially if he is forced to throw to his check down as Thompson is great at breaking tackles and picking up extra yardage.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
It has been a few weeks now since “Fitz Magic” has died down once again. After starting 2-0, Tampa is 3-3 and barely beat the Browns thanks to a59-yardd field goal in overtime. To make matters worse, Tampa just lost Pro Bowl linebacker, Kwon Alexander to a torn ACL. Things are spiraling out of control fast for Tampa and will struggle to limit Washington’s young and hungry defense.
In the off season, Tampa beefed up their D-line, who will be tested by a rejuvenated Peterson. Vinny Curry and Gerald McCoy are both out but may return in time for the match up with Washington in three weeks. If that is the case, this will be a hurdle the Redskins will need to overcome in order to prove to the division and their selves that they will win the NFC East this year. Both of Washington’s losses have occurred when Peterson has been shutdown early. Smith will need to step up and stop missing wide open targets. Smith is a veteran and should finally be on the same page with his receivers.
Washington’s defense will need to stick to the game plan and stop the run early and force Quarterback, Jameis Winston to beat them.
If Washington sticks to the game plan of running with Peterson and relying on the defense, they should be in a great position to be the new NFC East champs.
Feature Image From Pro Football Focus.