This past season the Washington Redskins defied the odds and won the NFC East Division title.
The team overcame preseason drama that centered on head coach Jay Gruden making a huge change from quarterback Robert Griffin III to Kirk Cousins.
As well, Washington overcame the injuries that were a big part of the dynamic of the team on a weekly basis. Key losses before the season even began were that of safety Duke Ihenacho, linebacker Junior Gillette and a pair of tight ends in Niles Paul and Logan Paulsen. Once the season started, wide receiver DeSean Jackson re-injured his hamstring and became sidelined for seven weeks. Starting offensive guard Shaun Lauvao missed the final 13 games of the season after suffering a lateral sprain to his left ankle.
Other players of significance who would be injured and miss extensive playing time were starting center Kory Lichtensteiger, cornerback Chris Culliver and running backs Matt Jones and Chris Thompson.
Injuries were a central theme regarding the rest of the NFC East as well.
The Dallas Cowboys lost perhaps their best two players to injury: quarterback Tony Romo and wide receiver Dez Bryant.
The New York Giants were not spared from the injury bug as All-Pro defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul missed a large portion of the season battling back from a horrific offseason accident which cost him a finger and severely disfigured his hand. All-Pro wide out Victor Cruz missed the entire season due to a knee injury sustained back in 2014.
The Philadelphia Eagles also dealt with injuries to key players.
Put all of these factors into play and top it off with a favorable 2015 schedule and the Redskins did what they should have done… beat bad teams in a bad division.
Regardless of the scenarios that played out, the Burgundy and Gold are in a good position to strike again in 2016.
The upcoming season brings a much harder schedule, to be sure. It is a schedule that will see Washington face six teams that were in the 2015 playoffs. And the law of averages should favor rebirths of their division foes with healthy rosters.
In analyzing where the Redskins could finish next season, there are several factors that play into the equation such as the draft and free agency.
General Manager Scot McCloughan did a phenomenal job of accruing talent during his first draft with the team last year and had a decent amount of success via free agency. He will look to do it again this offseason.
The GM will also have to decide what to do with Cousins. Will he be given a long-term deal after his stellar play in 2015? Or, will the franchise tag be placed on him in order for him to prove his worth for one more season?
Look for Cousins to be franchised.
Regardless, the Burgundy and Gold should be in good shape with him under center. Having an offseason of workouts in OTA’s, minicamps, training camp and the preseason should help his growth and development. This, in and of itself, will help the team against the aforementioned tougher schedule.
Having gone 9-7 last year, the odds are that with a good draft and successful free agency period, the team should be better in 2016.
But better in what way? What factors should account for wins and losses for the Redskins?
* To start, more continuity among the starters on both sides of the ball (for instance, Cousins will be in his second year as starter) should bring a two-game improvement by itself. That would equal 11 wins — if the team performs at least as well as it did in 2015.
* Better coaching. Jay Gruden will be in year three of his tenure and should know the personnel even better than he has the last two years. This should be a two-game improvement from last year, again bringing Washington to 11 wins.
* A decent draft. This fosters more competition and should be a one-game improvement totaling 10 wins.
* In terms of losses, the harder schedule should present a significant challenge for the team and may add three more losses to the record bringing the win total down to six from the Redskins’ nine in 2015.
* The NFC East will likely be a better division in 2016 with the teams that were ravaged by injuries becoming more competitive than in 2015. Washington went 4-2 against the Dallas Cowboys, Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants.
Again the law of averages state that the competition in the division will be better having the teams split play. That would mean a 3-3 record in the division and one less win the year at eight.
* Intangibles for the Redskins will be big this year, having won the division and made the playoffs. They did this with multiple key injuries as well and, if healthy in 2016, Washington should see a two-game improvement totaling 11 wins.
When averaging everything out, the win-total on the upcoming 2016 season — without the breaks and luck required to be special — would be 9.5 games.
All things considered, the team should be in contention in 2016 to defend its division crown and perhaps make the playoffs again.