Dec 12, 2011, 05:45AM

A Turnaround Could Be Close For the Redskins

All they have to do is lose a few more games.

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With Sunday’s 34-27 loss to the New England Patriots, the 2011 Washington Redskins are now 4-5-4. That’s victories, moral victories, and losses. Of course, moral victories and losses are the same in the real standings, so that puts the Skins at 4-9, good for last place in the NFC East. Last week in this space I wrote about how the NFC East “kinda sucks.” How do you describe finishing in last place in a division that sucks?

But even though the result was expected, the way it was achieved was about as positive as any Redskins fan could realistically hope for. Washington was competitive if not dominating in a seesaw game that came down to a cheap offensive pass interference penalty that kept the Redskins from scoring the tying touchdown and forcing overtime at the end of the fourth quarter. Minus more than half their starters on offense, the Redskins scored the second most points the Patriots have allowed all season long.

At the end of the season, all beat up with nothing to play for, many teams throw in the towel. The Redskins aren’t doing that. They flew across the country to beat Seattle three weeks ago, and lost close games in the final minutes to Super Bowl contenders the Jets and the Patriots in back-to-back weeks. If nothing else, that is a reason to be optimistic about the direction of the franchise.

Year-to-year turnarounds are easier in the NFL than in any other of the big four team sports for two primary reasons. First, there are fewer games so luck can play a larger role. A few bounces of the ball here, a missed field goals by the opponent there and the suddenly the record looks much brighter. Second, the NFL’s schedule makers insist on giving the worst teams the easiest schedules. As one of the worst teams of 2011, the Redskins will play an easy schedule in 2012. So with some luck and a few extra crappy opponents, a bad team like Washington can look like a decent team and decent teams make the playoffs all the time.

Some better players wouldn’t hurt either. With the Redskins’ 4-9 record they are currently in line for the fourth pick in next year’s NFL draft. Six other teams have identically lousy records so with three weeks still to go, keeping that fourth pick is going to require more games like this past Sunday’s. The schedule could help. Washington must travel to New York to play the Giants, then play Minnesota at home and then finish on the road in Philadelphia against the Eagles.

The Giants aren’t great, but they’re better than the Redskins, though it’s always possible Eli Manning could dial up one of his four-should-have-been-seven interception games and the Redskins could win. The Vikings, like the Redskins, are an under-talented team playing hard up till the end. The Eagles are the opposite, an over-talented team moping towards the offseason.

Two more losses would get the Redskins a pick somewhere in the top 10 and maybe as high as number five in next year’s draft. Three more would put them in the top five for certain. With a productive draft like last year’s, the Redskins could find themselves in playoff contention next season.


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