COMMENTARY: Redskins Could Still Rise from NFC East Muck

Charles E. Sutton | 10/7/2013, 12:01 p.m.
The Washington Redskins have won one game going into Week 6 of this season. After Week 6 is over, the ...

The Washington Redskins have won one game going into Week 6 of this season. After Week 6 is over, the Redskins could be in first place in the NFC East.

I know, it's hard to believe. But don't rejoice too quickly, Redskins faithful. The team hasn't gotten good, their division has gotten bad — really bad.

Six weeks ago, fans and pundits alike were calling the star-studded NFC East one of the best divisions in football, if not the best. However, after five weeks of play, not a single team in the division has a winning record.

So the Redskins should feel quite optimistic about the rest of this season, in spite of their 1-3 record, right?

Certainly, since the top three teams in the division are separated by less than a game in the standings. The 0-5 New York Giants notwithstanding, all of the NFC East teams should feel good about going to the playoffs, because… well, at least one of them has to.

In years past, such a slow start for the Redskins would have put them squarely on the path to the dreaded "eliminated from playoff contention" status, particularly with a divisional loss to the Philadelphia Eagles and two other NFC losses to the Packers and the Lions.

But the pack hasn't pulled away from them. The Dallas Cowboys fell to 2-3 after yesterday's loss to Denver, and while the Eagles pulled even with their win over Giants, the oft-gimpy Michael Vick's health has again cast a cloud over the organization. As for the Giants, the less said, the better.

It's apparent that the NFC East is not playing at the same level as the rest of the league. It's no accident that each team in the division has a losing record, and the biggest reason why for all of them is porous defensive play. The Redskins are last in the NFL in yards allowed, with the Eagles just one spot ahead of them. The Giants rank 23rd and the Cowboys, though solid against the run, rank 21st overall against the pass.

If these teams don't tighten up defensively, only the division winner will make the playoffs, which would be the fourth straight season that has occurred.

Since 2002, when the NFL restructured into eight four-team divisions with the addition of the expansion Houston Texans, only eight of 88 teams have won their division with a record of 9-7 or worse. With the Cowboys and Eagles currently atop the division with 2-3 records and the Giants all but done, the chances of any NFC East team finishing with double-digit wins is quite slim.

But luckily there's no style points for division champions — win and you're in the playoffs, where every team's record resets to 0-0 and any team can get hot. In fact, the last 9-7 division winner was the 2011 Giants, and that team went on to win the Super Bowl. (Don't count on them doing it this year.)

And the Redskins need look back no further than last season as proof that things can turn things around, and quickly. They shrugged off a 3-6 start to win the division, surging into the playoffs with seven straight wins to finish the regular season.

The Redskins, coming off a bye this week, will play at Dallas on Sunday night. A win coupled with an Eagles loss at Tampa Bay would land Washington at the top of the division. For a 1-3 team, especially considering how poorly they've looked at times, they couldn't ask for much more.