If I didn’t know better, I would swear that the National Football League hates the Washington Redskins. The league announced the 2011 schedule this past week and team’s bye comes after only the 4th game of the season (October 9). Even though it was back in 2007, it seems like just yesterday they had a bye that early. Actually, it was during Week four that year (also in 2005) and it must have been pretty brutal to go so long without a break by the end of the season. Last year, the respite was in Week Nine.
Like many folks, the thing that strikes me about this year’s schedule is the number of 1:00 games and the lack of national games. In Week Three (September 26th), the Skins play their first and only Monday night game and it’s against the Dallas Cowboys.
(The Dallas Monday-nighter will likely be the only game that will get more than 15 seconds of discussion on the NFL channel’s show, “Total Access,” by the way. Not that I care.)
Other than two other 4:05 games – one against the Buffalo Bills in Toronto and another against the Seattle Seahawks – the rest of the games are at 1:00.
For fans that attend the games – at least for me – this is great news. I love 1:00 games because I hate getting home at 3:00 in the morning the day following those night games. But in terms of what it indicates from the league? It’s like the NFL is saying, “we’ll check in with you guys next year.”
Actually, the Redskins’ schedule this year doesn’t surprise me. Last season, Washington appeared in three nationally televised games, all three at home. The Redskins won the first of them, the season opener against Dallas, in the last minutes of a low-scoring game. Thanks to a holding call against linebacker Brian Orakpo and an earlier DeAngelo Hall (cornerback) fumble recovery for a touchdown, Washington pulled out the win. It was no barn-burner though.
The other two night games were ones best forgotten by Redskins fans. The entire nation saw the Indianapolis Colts gain 470 yards – 128 of these made by running back Joseph Addai – and beat the Redskins 27 to 24. Just after the bye, Washington was blown away by the Philadelphia Eagles 59-28 in front of our entire country, remember, on our home turf. Hence, the league has taken the Redskins out of the national spotlight – at least for now.
Last season being head coach Mike Shanahan’s much-publicized first year here in Washington, the league must have reasoned that NFL fans would be interested in how the Redskins fared. However, following the 2010 season, when off-the-field issues usually made more news than the play of the offense or defense, the league must have decided to give the national games to teams that will generate news on the field. They know that the media will talk about the other stuff anyway without them having to waste the lucrative TV ratings on football that they are not sure is going to be good.
If the Redskins end up playing meaningful games in December, the league can show those 1:00 flexed games at later times and/or in more markets (five of the last seven games are subject to flexible scheduling). Also, with TV-viewing choices like “NFL Sunday Ticket” and the NFL Channel’s “Redzone,” fans can tune in to whatever they want.
The Redskins supposedly have one of the easiest schedules in the league (see below) but Washington will not necessarily have an easy time of it. Their non-conference division opponents are the AFC East: the New England Patriots, the New York Jets, the Miami Dolphins and the Buffalo Bills. While both the Patriots and the Jets were playoff teams last season, at least the Skins will be playing them at home. Despite the losses at FEDEX Field last season, I can’t help but think that it is an advantage for the team to play here. After losing six out of eight home games last season, our guys will be very motivated to protect our home turf this year.
Other things that jump out at me about the 2011 schedule:
- The first four games are against NFC conference opponents (New York Giants, Arizona Cardinals, Cowboys and St. Louis Rams). This gives the Redskins the opportunity to get a great start in the conference and possibly the division. Obviously, it could work against them as well but I’m going to think positively.
- There are two instances when the Redskins play back-to-back home games. In the first two weeks of the season, they play the Giants (the opener) followed by Arizona. This doesn’t happen again until Week Thirteen when they play the Jets and Patriots back-to-back at home.
- The two instances when Washington plays away games back-to-back, they both happen to be fairly early. In Week Four and Five they play at Dallas (the Monday-nighter) and then at the St. Louis Rams. They’re both west of the Mississippi (the Rams’ Edward Jones Stadium is practically on the west bank of the river…) but at least they are not on the west coast. The other set of away games are against the Carolina Panthers and the Bills in Weeks Seven and Eight. I suppose if there is any saving grace, it is that these latter two away games come shortly after the bye. Log those frequent flyer miles, guys!
- The Skins have to travel to the west coast only once – to play the Seattle Seahawks in Week 11. Fortunately, on either side of this game they play at home. The other two teams they play that “live” across the country – Arizona and the San Francisco 49ers – they play at home. Thank you, NFL, for small favors.
- When the Redskins travel to Toronto, Canada to play the Bills (October 30th) they should encounter pretty decent football weather. Last October, the Canadian city had 11 days that were 60 degrees or above (although that appeared to be a heat wave of sorts) and the average was somewhere between 50 and 60 in 2009. Also, Toronto is a nice city. I would rather go there than Buffalo, New York any day.
According to ESPN, based on their opponent’s schedules and records from last year, out of the 32 teams, the Redskins’ toughness of schedule is listed at number 27 (tied with Pittsburgh and Cincinnati). All things considered, i.e., the lack of nationally televised games, the number of 1:00 games, their opponents (Panthers, Bills, 49ers) and the hope that comes with every new season, I believe they will end up above .500 in 2011. That, however is as far as I’ll go in terms of any sort of win/loss prediction.
The cliché that this is the NFL and you never know what can happen is true, no matter how tired the saying is. While the NFC East may not be as tough as it used to be, the Giants have some things to prove this year after losing twice to the Eagles last season and once to the lowly Cowboys. The Eagles have quarterback Michael Vick starting in his second year their system with, so far, a long list of offensive weapons still intact. Dallas finally showed improvement last year after head coach Jason Garrett was installed and they must have hope for the coming season. Obviously, playing these three teams in 2011 could be very difficult for Washington.
While nothing has changed in Washington’s roster that would indicate a huge changes for the better, the team is in its second year of a new system and many of the guys that were playing by the end of 2010 were playing well. Being in Year Two is a plus.
I hope that Shanahan learned a lot last year that will help him improve as a coach here in this city that is so very different from Denver, Colorado.
In a perfect world, by the time the coin toss of the first game has taken place, Shanahan and quarterback Donovan McNabb would have mended fences, D-lineman Albert Haynesworth would have been banished to the UFL, the Redskins would have drafted defensive tackle Marcell Dareus with the 10th overall pick in the 2011 draft and many more talented young players would have been drafted as well.
Moving on with my fantasy, Cowboy-killer wide out Santana Moss would be wearing the burgundy & gold again, and Malcolm Kelly would have stayed healthy throughout training camp.
And finally, in this whimsy, our talented linebackers and pass rushers – guys like Chris Wilson, Lorenzo Alexander and Brian Orakpo – would have thrived with a prototypical nose tackle on board. Because in this ideal world the lockout would have only lasted another short week, new Redskins’ safety A.J. Otogwe would have had a chance to entirely memorize his new play book by training camp. This would mean that in the first game, fellow safety LaRon Landry would be up in the box spreading hate and discontent among the Giants’ offensive line, causing Eli Manning considerable angst while Otogwe flew around in the secondary. D.Hall would have given countless interviews.
Alas, it’s not a perfect world. There is a lockout going on and, truthfully, we have no idea how long it will be in place. McNabb will probably end up calling signals across the field from our defense when we play Minnesota in December and Dan Snyder could still be paying Haynesworth.
Oh well. One can dream.
With the release of the 2011 schedule – and no matter what message I might infer from the league - there is renewed hope for the burgundy & gold faithful. As a Redskins fan myself, no matter what happened in 2010, I know that the roster is made up of a bunch of great guys that have a lot of talent. I will assume that Shanahan will bring in more.
As well as new hope, there is gratitude on my part. I will not have any 3:00 a.m. treks home from FEDEX Field in 2011.