It's been a super strange year for the Washington Redskins and their fans. That's because they're 3-5, which is pretty much normal in comparison to recent seasons, but they certainly don't feel like a six-win team.
That's what a promising young quarterback can do for a franchise. Instead of hanging their heads and wondering if they're ever going to become anything more than mediocre, the Redskins know they're very close to contending with Robert Griffin III at the helm of the offense.
And as a result, this has to be one of the most upbeat teams and fanbases with a .375 winning percentage in all of sports.
Here's a look at how I view the 'Skins midway through RG3's rookie campaign.
What They Should be Thinking
We've lost too many men and given too many close games away to possibly compete this season, especially with the Giants running away with the NFC East and so many quality teams jockeying for wild-card spots in the deep NFC.
That doesn't mean we're giving up, but we're keeping that in mind and focusing on Griffin's maturation process while trying to establish the bedrock for this new era of Redskins football. We have to keep RG3 healthy and we have to find out if guys like Cedric Griffin, Richard Crawford and every safety on this roster are worthy of long-term roles on the team going forward.
We have to treat the next eight games like an open audition. Because despite those pesky salary-cap sanctions, we'll be investing heavily in the defensive backfield in the offseason. Cleaning house completely isn't out of the question, and nobody's job should be safe in that secondary.
That means we'll consider starting guys like Crawford and fellow rookie David Jones instead of nuisance DeAngelo Hall and veteran Josh Wilson—we know what we're getting from those two.
The really good news is that we've discovered this season that the offensive line isn't the concern we thought it would be. Trent Williams, Chris Chester, Kory Lichtensteiger and Will Montgomery are all reliable starters, and all are under 30. We need a right tackle, but that's about it. If we get Jammal Brown back from a hip injury in the next few weeks, he, too, will be playing for a job in 2013.
We need to maintain this nothing-to-lose mentality with the expectations low and with guys like Brian Orakpo, Adam Carriker and Fred Davis on injured reserve. If we make a sudden run, great. Otherwise, it's still all about 2013.
Of course, we'd never admit that. But it's certainly what we're thinking.
Most Valuable Player: Robert Griffin III
He could sit out the rest of the season and still win this thing. In fact, Griffin was one of the leading candidates for the NFL's MVP award before a poor performance in Pittsburgh, and is still in contention. The rookie has a chance to lead the league in completion percentage, yards per attempt and passer rating.
Defensive Player of the Half-Year: Perry Riley
With Orakpo out and London Fletcher and Ryan Kerrigan struggling, Riley has been the steadiest member of the Redskins defense. He's been extremely consistent against the run and is decent in pass coverage and on the odd blitz. He might never be a superstar, but he's still very young and has emerged as a versatile presence in his first full year as a starter.
Most Improved Offensive Player: Chris Chester
As I mentioned, every regular on the offensive line has stepped it up this season. But nobody has turned it around as dramatically as Chester, who was ranked 69th out of 78 guards by Pro Football Focus last year. This season, he's shot all the way up to No. 11 on the very same list.
Most Improved Defensive Player: Rob Jackson
A career backup until relieving Orakpo early this season, the former seventh-round pick has played extremely well. He's proved to be a decent pass-rusher, solid in coverage and is much less of a liability against the run than Orakpo was.
Defensive Rookie of the Half-Year: Richard Crawford
Rookies have impacted this offense a lot more than this defense, but Crawford has done a half-decent job as an occasional nickel corner this season. I'm not convinced the seventh-round pick is a long-term answer, but he's the only first-year player who's had any sort of impact on a bad defense.
Most Disappointing Offensive Player: Pierre Garcon
It's not his fault he suffered a bad foot injury in the season opener, but that doesn't make me much less disappointed that he's been a non-factor ever since.
Most Disappointing Defensive Player: Ryan Kerrigan
The second-year pass-rushing specialist has completely faded with Orakpo out, posting five consecutive negative PFF ratings and recording just one sack in his last four games. Considering that he isn't getting much pressure and struggles against the run, he's been something of a liability in 2012.
Projecting the Final Eight
So unfortunately I have them winning six or fewer games for the fourth consecutive season, but with an asterisk for injuries and promise. I think it'll be a whole new story in 2013.