The Washington Redskins still have a chance to make the playoffs for a second straight year.
The Redskins (8-6-1) received a rare gift from NFC East arch-rival Dallas Cowboys on Monday night. The Cowboys 42-21 win over the Detroit Lions means that if the Skins defeat division rival New York Giants on Sunday they will be headed to playoffs. There is a small caveat, there must be a winner in the Green Bay Packers vs. Detroit Lions game or the Skins will go home regardless of the outcome of their game.
Washington has been inconsistent this year. The Redskins had a tough start to the season, losing two of their first three games though both of those losses were teams that are currently in the playoffs — the Dallas Cowboys and Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Skins reeled off four straight wins before losing to the Detroit Lions by three and tying the Cincinnati Bengals in London to give them a 4-3-1 mark at the midway point of the season. Since then they have gone 4-3 which include a huge 41-21 victory over the Chicago Bears on Christmas Eve.
Quarterback Kirk Cousins, who was coming off a shaky performance against the Carolina Panthers the previous week, threw for 270 yards along with one touchdown while running for two more scores against the Bears. Cousins completed 18-of-29 passes to mark the 13th time he that he completed at least 60 percent of his passes this season.
Cousins is having arguably his best season of his career. The 28-year-old, in his second season as the Skins’ starter, has completed 67.1 percent of his passes for a career-high 308.1 yards a game to go along with 24 touchdowns and 10 interceptions — which is one fewer than last year. Cousins has seven, 300-yard games which includes two games where he has surpassed the 400-yard mark. He also has four fourth-quarter comeback wins.
Still, there are questions about Cousins future with the team per the Washington Post. Cousins and the Skins couldn’t come to terms on a long-term deal this summer, so he took the $19.95 million franchise tag.
The Redskins are just 84 yards away from breaking the club-record 6,253 yards of total offense. However, with several of the Skins’ major weapons banged up, they may have to count on others to step up. The good news is that Redskins have plenty of depth at the skill positions.
ESPN reports that top running back Robert Kelley (sprained knee) is expected to play. In the meantime, the status of wide receiver DeSean Jackson (jaw contusion) and Pro Bowl tight end Jordan Reed (separated shoulder) is up in the air. Kelley was been very good since being inserted into the starting lineup in Week 7, totaling 568 of his team-high 671 rushing yards and hauling in 11 passes for an additional 81 yards. Kelly, who went undrafted out Tulane, has six rushing touchdowns and is averaging 4.3 yards per carry.
If Kelly can’t go, third-year back Chris Thompson (5.4 ypg) and youngster Mack Brown, who had 82 yards on eight carries versus the Bears, will likely get the majority of the time. Thompson also has 43 receptions. 2015 third round selection Matt Jones hasn’t seen the field since Oct. 30. Jones has two, 100-yard games this season to go along with three touchdowns though fumbling has been a problem.
Jackson is the Skins’ primary deep threat, averaging 18.0 yards per catch with 18 receptions going for at least 20 yards. Jackson has caught 54 passes for 971 yards and four touchdowns overall this season. It is hard to imagine that Jackson won’t be out there Sunday. Veteran wide receiver Pierre Garcon leads the team with 75 catches and second-year pro Jamison Crowder tops the team with seven touchdown receptions.
Reed did not play last week, however, with the Skins needing the win to make playoffs he may suit up against the Giants. Reed (61 receptions, 646 yards) and Vernon Davis (42 receptions, 534 yards) are one of the most lethal pass catching duo tight ends in the league. Football Outsiders rank the Redskins’ offensive line as one of the best in the league.
Defense and special teams are the team’s biggest issues. Washington has given up 20 or more points in each of their last 10 games, and is giving up the 22nd most points in the league at 24.3. The Skins’ defense ranks 29th in total defense, 28th in pass defense, and 25th against the run. Defensive penalties have also been an issue. They have forced 21 turnovers and recorded 37 sacks.
Linebacker is the team’s strongest position on defense with Mason Foster (107 tackles) and Will Compton (103) leading the team in tackles. Outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan has 11 sacks while defensive end Trent Murphy has eight sacks. Josh Norman is a quality cornerback, picking off three passes and being credited with 18 passes defended.
Kicker Dustin Hopkins has missed seven field goals, including two kicks less than 40 yards, and three extra points. Punter Tress Way ranks in the bottom third of the league. The Redskins return game is strong as Crowder is one of the best punt returners in the league.
New York (10-5) is in the playoffs for the first time since 2011. The Giants are coming off a disappointing 24-19 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles on Dec. 22 as Eli Manning threw three interceptions. Manning is having his worst season over the past three years as he is completing 63.0 percent of his passes for 247. 6 yards a game with 26 touchdowns and 16 interceptions.
New York doesn’t run the ball well, averaging 83.4 yards which is 29th in the league and is last with five touchdowns. Odell Beckham is an elite playmaker at wide receiver. Beckham ranks in the top-four of the NFL in receptions, receiving yards, and touchdowns. Sterling Shepard (62 receptions) is a quality No. 2 receiver and Victor Cruz (37 catches for 15.6 yards per catch) is a big play threat though he has struggled this year. Tight end Will Tye also is a solid option in the passing game, as he has 44 catches. The Giants offensive line is ranked fourth in pass blocking.
Defense is the Giants strong point. New York has held their opponents to less than 20 points in five of its last nine games. The G-Men are third overall, giving up 18.3 points a game. They also rank 11th in total defense, 22nd against the pass, and seventh against the run.
New York’s pass rush has taken a hit the past few weeks with defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul out injured since Dec. 11. Defensive end Olivier Vernon leads the team with 8.5 sacks though he has recorded just 0.5 sacks in the past three games. The Giants real strength is their secondary with safety Landon Collins, who leads the squad with 117 tackles to go along with five sacks and three interceptions. Dominique Rogers-Cromartie and Janoris Jenkins are quality cornerbacks. Rookie corner Eli Apple also has been good.
Special teams has been an issue for the Giants. The Giants have made 19-of-20 field goals with the only miss being from beyond 50-yards, however, they have missed four extra points. Punter Brad Wings has done a good job, ranking ninth in yards and 10th in punts inside the 20.
Prediction: Giants 20, Redskins 17
New York is expected to play all their starters according to Jordan Roman of ESPN despite being locked into the No. 5 seed. The Giants have won eight of 10 though they are just 3-4 on the road.
Manning, who has been picked off six times in the last four games, threw for 350 yards and one touchdown along with two interceptions in their Week 3 loss 29-27 to the Redskins. In the meanwhile, Cousins had 296 yards and two touchdowns in that game. Both teams surpassed 400 yards of total offense and were heavily penalized — the Giants were flagged 11 times for 128 yards and the Giants were penalized eight times for 70 yards. The real difference in the game was that the Giants turned the ball over three times compared to just once by the Redskins.
Washington has won the last two meetings between the teams but trails in the all-time series 98-67-4.
If the Redskins win, it will mark the first time they have made the playoffs in consecutive years since 1991-92.
[Featured Image by Charles Rex Arbogast/AP Images]