The Washington Redskins are one win away from leading the NFC East as midseason approaches. Pretty amazing considering that they won only five games last season and haven't won this division since 1999.
Throw in that the offense is in the hands of a pair of rookies and that the team has been without two of its top playmakers in Pierre Garcon and Brian Orakpo, and you realize how much of a difference a stud quarterback can make.
Here's a breakdown of where the Redskins stand with six down and 10 to go.
What They Should be Thinking
The win over Minnesota was nice, but we're still not entirely sure how good the Vikings are, and we still let Christian Ponder complete 67 percent of his passes for 352 yards against our secondary. We also almost let the game slide away before Robert Griffin saved the day with his 76-yard touchdown run.
RG3 had a big day rushing, but our No. 1 back struggled against the Vikes. It was by far the worst game of Alfred Morris' career thus far, as he averaged just 2.9 yards per carry on 16 reps. However, Minnesota came in with one of the top run defenses in football, so we're not panicking yet either.
We have a huge matchup with the first-place Giants this week, but we're a little on edge because we've yet to win back-to-back games this season and have only done so once in the last two calendar years. It's possible the magic is about to run out, especially against a pass rush like that.
We compete every single week. We've led or been tied in the fourth quarter of all six of our games, which is more than can be said for our three divisional opponents. We should be better than 3-3, and thus our confidence level is high.
We haven't had a positive turnover ratio since 2005, but this year we're already at plus-9, which is near the top of the league. The young offense is turning it over just 0.83 times per game, which is the second-lowest mark in football.
And while the defense might be vulnerable if the pass rush isn't effective, we managed four sacks and 11 hurries without Orakpo against the Vikings and accumulated three more takeaways. Only three defenses have forced more turnovers than us. In fact, we only need seven more takeaways to reach our grand total from 2011 (21).
Opposing offenses are being forced to focus a lot of their energy on the suddenly dominant Ryan Kerrigan, which is giving the rest of our D a chance to make plays. Our defense has scored four defensive touchdowns in six games, which is more than it had in the previous four seasons combined.
Defenses will begin to key on Griffin more and more, but it's not that simple. So long as Morris continues to be the league's top rookie back and RG3 stays healthy, it'll be very difficult for our opponents to stop us. Plus, you have to consider that Garcon is getting healthier each week. When he's close to 100 percent, we'll be that much more dangerous.
In the short term, we have nothing to lose and everything to gain this week against a Giants team that we beat twice without Griffin last season. We believe we can keep shocking the world.
What I'm Thinking
Stock Rising (offense): Tyler Polumbus
I don't want to put too much stock into one performance, but Polumbus had by far his best game yet against the Vikings, only giving up a single hurry and producing the fourth-best Pro Football Focus rating on the offense. Pretty good when you consider he was facing a Vikings defense that entered Sunday's game with a league-high 64 sacks dating back to the start of 2011.
Maybe they don't need Jammal Brown as desperately as they thought.
Stock Rising (defense): Madieu Williams
He's quietly been one of the best players on defense this season, but he exploded against his former team Sunday with a pick six, a team-high 12 tackles and three run stops. According to PFF, it was the best game Williams has had in at least five years. If the 30-year-old can continue to perform at this level, it could make a world of difference in the defensive backfield.
Stock Dropping (offense): Kory Lichtensteiger
It's hard to find a player who's really hurting them on offense right now, because the line is actually performing OK and the skill position guys have obviously been tremendous. But Lichtensteiger hasn't really been himself all year, leading me to wonder if his reconstructed knee is still giving him trouble. Just speculating. Maybe he's still a little rusty, but he continued to struggle against Minnesota.
Stock Dropping (defense): DeAngelo Hall
This might not be totally fair either, because it was only one real bad performance and it came against a very good player. That said, Hall was the worst performer on the Washington defense Sunday, as Percy Harvin went to work on him.
No matter what happens now, this has been a very positive season for the Redskins, and they'll likely enter 2013 as a team on the playoff radar. But they might even have a chance to go from worst to first right now. This week's game with the Giants becomes the most important of Griffin's career and Mike Shanahan's tenure.
The 'Skins might be too young and inexperienced to realize what they can pull off, which could serve them well. Few poker players are as dangerous as those who have no idea what they're doing. I think Washington has a real chance to pull this off.
View last week's progress report here.
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