For the first time in 13 seasons, the Washington Redskins are heading into draft weekend as the defending champions of the formidable NFC East.
Still sounds kinda weird.
Not all that long ago, fans of the burgundy and gold were watching disastrous trick plays devised by a head coach who referred to the team as "maroon and black."
We were watching Detroit celebrate its first victory in more than a year against our team.
Michael Vick combined for six touchdowns in a 59-28 drubbing.
I could go on, but I believe we all get the point clearly. It was ugly for football fans in D.C.
Enter three names: Robert Griffin III, Alfred Morris and Pierre Garcon. Suddenly, you have a team with a revolutionary new offense, the top rushing attack in the league and a NFC East crown.
Yes, this is entirely comprised of "what ifs," but my point is that this team got really good, really fast. The New York Giants, the Dallas Cowboys, and even Chip Kelly's Philadelphia Eagles, will all enter 2013 with their sights set directly at Washington
Despite a difficult schedule, there are no reasons to think the Redskins cannot defend their NFC East title. There are a few reasons to think they will.
Here they are:
While a loss to Seattle came harsh for Redskins fans, they can take comfort in the fact that their quarterback can finally be given the medical attention and rest that he desperately needs.
With an MCL and ACL tear, his recovery time might extend into the 2013 season, but he should be able to return and impact the team at some point next season.
Griffin is a rare talent, one that captured the sports nation by storm in 2012. He is a different breed. He is the face of the franchise.
What Griffin was able to do in his first season with the reins of this team was nothing short of remarkable, giving the city its first division title in 13 seasons.
He redefined the pistol offense.
He perfected the zone read.
When was the last time a Redskins quarterback won? Not just games, but won teammates, a city and the NFC East.
Griffin's rookie season might be clouded by the results of Haloti Ngata's hit on his right knee or the slip on the shredded turf, but fans all remember what it felt like when he glanced back at that Vikings defender.
Or after a 4th and 10 in New York.
Or a Thanksgiving evening in Dallas.
Or the final score following Monday Night Football.
Or Week 17's division championship.
It was the year of Robert Griffin III, and he is the biggest reason the team has hope for 2013. Get Well Soon RGIII.
For every moment that Griffin stepped out of the spotlight, there was Morris.
On March 10, 2012, the Redskins completed a colossal trade with the St. Louis Rams. They gave away three first-round picks and a second.
On July 28, 2011, the Redskins received a conditional sixth-round pick from the Minnesota Vikings for Donovan McNabb.
While it paled in comparison, the Minnesota trade provided the Redskins with a running back who outperformed every first- or second-round running back this season. It provided them with Morris.
Morris and Griffin III were attached at the hip from Day One.
They created the most formidable play-action game in the nation. And at the ages of 22 and 24, respectively, the two can only improve on that game.
Morris' grinding, barreling style of running captivated Redskins' nation and the attention of opposing defenses.
For years, analysts would joke about Mike Shanahan's fickleness when it came to choosing running backs.
There is no fickleness anymore.
Morris is your franchise running back for 2013. Get pumped.
I first thought the season was over in October when Fred Davis signaled to the sideline for the trainers.
Davis was the Redskins' most dangerous receiver in 2011. He was the one player that defenses had to plan for and prior to his four-game suspension, he was the team's leading receiver with 796 yards on 59 receptions.
With his loss, the Redskins and Robert Griffin III lost their security blanket. Davis is a mismatch for opponents. His size is too much for most defensive backs while his speed is too much for linebackers to cover in man coverage.
In 2013, the Redskins managed to retain Davis at a lower salary for one year after franchising him last year. He provides the team with one of the league's top receiving tight ends.
Last year, Garcon was the most formidable weapon in the Redskins' arsenal as a receiver. Insert Davis, and that is no longer the case.
A healthy Davis will help the Redskins in their play-action sets, and his skills as a blocker also add a boost to their pistol zone reads.
Davis will boost an already potent offense and significantly improve Griffin's short-range attack.
This injury was definitely felt.
For weeks, the Redskins had a complete lack of a pass rush as offenses could double-team Ryan Kerrigan and sit comfortably in the pocket.
As weeks progressed, Rob Jackson made them pay for that mistake, however, the damage was done against teams such as Atlanta and Pittsburgh who had ages to sit and wait for a leaky secondary to break.
Brian Orakpo is the best natural pass rusher on the Washington Redskins. The fans know it, the coaches know it, and opponents know it.
The 3-4 defense works best with two edge rushers, and Orakpo and Kerrigan provide a young and talented group.
Fans looked forward to seeing the two continue the havoc they wreaked in their first year together but a torn pectoral cost them that experience.
Orakpo is a hungry player, and I expect him to return to full form in 2013 and continue to progress an already-improved pass rush.
Without question, the glaring weakness of the Washington Redskins was their secondary—particularly the safety play.
For one game last season, the Redskins held their opponents to under 10 points. Coincidentally, that was the only game Brandon Meriweather played.
Now don't get ahead of yourselves, it was the Philadelphia Eagles, but the return of their starting strong safety definitely boosted the play on the back end.
Meriweather immediately made an impact, intercepting a Nick Foles pass to set up the offense for a scoring drive.
His spirit and energy is praised by his teammates who claimed he brought an attitude to a group that had struggled for weeks.
I believe Meriweather showed the coaches enough to give him a spot atop the depth chart in their 2013 plans, and I doubt he'll disappoint.
Getting a glimpse of what Pierre Garcon brought to this offense was eye-opening to say the least.
For weeks, he had received criticism for failing to live up to the large contract that brought him to Washington. But Thanksgiving in Dallas changed everything for game-planning the Redskins.
Pierre is very much a true No. 1 receiver. He was the go-to guy in this offense. After playing a little more than a half-season, Garcon still accumulated the most targets and yardage among Redskins receivers.
There was no doubt that Garcon added a spark in his play and his attitude.
There also was no doubt that he did so with a hobbled foot. And evident in his final game of the season, he is still dealing with pain in his toe.
When you combine the damage that Garcon can do on the back end of a defense with the presence that Davis offers in the short passing game—that's a lethal combination.
An offseason of healing would do well for Garcon. He and his signal-caller should benefit from extended rest and recovery, and prepared to return healthy and hungry in 2013.
Morris will be the first to say, you don't need a first-round pick to find a star.
The Redskins enter the 2013 draft without a first-round pick, but there is still plenty of talent to be had after the second round.
The Redskins likely will draft with a defensive mindset. They are weak in the secondary as well as the right side of the offensive line.
Watch free safety D.J. Swearinger (South Carolina), FS Phillip Thomas (Fresno State) and CB David Amerson (NC State). These three have been the biggest names surrounding the Redskins' 51st overall pick and 85th selection in the second and third rounds.
Shanahan has been able to get solid production out of his later picks the last three seasons, and if he continues that trend in 2013, the ceiling is high for the Washington Redskins
In 2012, the Redskins were hit by the injury bug early and hard.
Griffin, Orakpo, Davis, Garcon, Meriweather, London Fletcher, Adam Carriker and Jammal Brown all entered the season topping their respective positions on the depth chart.
Enter Rob Jackson, Jarvis Jenkins, Logan Paulsen, Leonard Hankerson, Dejon Gomes, Keenan Robinson, Kirk Cousins and Tyler Polumbus.
All these players filled their positions and made a difference in key situations in 2012.
All these players now have the experience and maturity to make a difference in 2013. Robert Griffin III is recovering from a prolonged injury, but Cousins has proved he can step up to the challenge.
Jackson offers a dominant edge rusher in defensive rotations and blitz packages.
Robinson appears to be an apprentice to Fletcher and played well when London was forced to the sidelines.
The experience that these players were able to gain in 2012 only sets the team up for better things in 2013.