Seemingly out of nowhere, or out of their bye week to be specific, the Washington Redskins turned a 3-6 season into a 10-6 NFC East division championship and a playoff berth. Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris played indispensable roles in the seven-game run. One could say unequivocally that he 'Skins couldn't have made their late-season surge without their two rookie stars.
In order to repeat, if not exceed, their 2012 success, Washington will need more than good fortune on their side.
Over the course of a season, every team deals with adversity—injuries, suspensions, player regressions and outright disappointment. And like any every other NFL team, the Redskins could have their hopes of repeating as division champs and making noise next postseason derailed by any number of unfortunate scenarios.
And here are some of the worst possible developments that could spell disaster for Washington in 2013.
The 2013 season will be the first time in nearly a decade that the Redskins will be without Danny Smith as their special teams coach.
Smith's tenure was marked by ups and downs, but his violent sideline gum chewing and fiery attitude will be missed.
More importantly, the Redskins won't have the "One Man Gang" Lorenzo Alexander as their special teams ace.
Keith Burns takes over as special teams coach, and it remains to be seen who will succeed Alexander as the special teams captain. But it's not hard to imagine the absence of Smith and Alexander having a drastically negative effect on the unit's performance.
The Redskins coverage expects to be strong, but the return game is nothing to write home about, and there are no clear-cut leaders among the special teams ranks. It could be a rough season if the coaching change and loss of field leadership ruins an important but often overlooked aspect of the game.
The Redskins defense was crippled early in 2012 when Adam Carriker and Brian Orakpo landed on IR just two weeks into the season. Orakpo, a four-year veteran, has been on the cusp of being one of the most intimidating outside linebackers in the NFL.
After a frustrating, injury-shortened campaign, Orakpo enters his first contract year with a terrifying chip on his shoulder.
Whether anyone is man enough to say it to his face or not, Orakpo is in put up or shut up mode for 2013 because he has failed to tally double-digit sacks since the 11 he recorded as a rookie in 2009, when he played under a completely different coaching staff and scheme.
If Orakpo can't become the 15-sack-per-year player he is expected to be, the Redskins pass rush will be as pitiful as it was last season.
And so too will their overall defense.
Washington's pass defense was woeful in 2012 due to a lack of depth and a lack of production from its starters. DeAngelo Hall was inconsistent, and Josh Wilson couldn't cover anyone—and this doesn't even begin to touch the gaping void at both safety spots.
Phillip Thomas, David Amerson and Bacarri Rambo were drafted to solve those problems. All could vie for starting jobs early in the season.
Take those possibilities, hopes and dreams with a grain of salt though. The trio of talented, ball-hawking defensive backs could be impact players, but they could just as easily struggle with the intricacies of the game at the pro level.
If none of them step up, or make the expected impact on defense, the Redskins may very well be dead in the water.
Adam Carriker sort of came out of nowhere in 2011, notching an unexpected career-high 6.5 sacks at defensive end. He earned a hefty contract because of it, but landed on IR after just two games in 2012, leaving Jarvis Jenkins to become the starter opposite Stephen Bowen.
Jenkins, mind you, was still working back to full strength from an ACL injury that robbed him of a true rookie season, also in 2011, which began with him turning heads in training camp.
The expectation is that Jenkins will be 100 percent in 2013 and provide a playmaking presence in the trenches. If Jenkins is unable to wrest the starting job from Carriker, who is still recovering from his quad injury, it would diminish the potential for a monstrous Redskins defensive front.
And if there is one thing this defense could use, it is a better push up front from the likes of Jenkins, Carriker, Bowen and Barry Cofield.
In 2011, Fred Davis was having a breakout season, catching 59 passes for 796 yards and three touchdowns. He was then suspended for the final four games of the season for failing multiple drug test. In 2012, Davis was poised to pick up where he left off, and establish himself as an elite tight end.
An Achilles tear ended Davis' season after just seven weeks, where he enjoyed quiet success, catching 24 pass for 325.
If Davis, for whatever, sees his 2013 campaign cut short, it means trouble for him and the Redskins offense. If the 'Skins offense can't boast a tight end to stretch the field, they can't really evolve and grow to stay ahead of defensive adjustments.
Without Davis, there is no comparable receiving threat on the roster, at least not a proven one. Rookie Jordan Reed is a receiving tight end, but unspectacular production at Florida doesn't set the table for an early explosion of yards and touchdowns to start his career.
Pierre Garcon missed six games due to a lingering foot injury suffered in the season opener against the New Orleans Saints. He played hurt through most of the 10 games he started and yet still led the Redskins offense in receiving yards (633) and caught 44 passes, four for touchdowns.
Santana Moss, Leonard Hankerson and Josh Morgan played integral roles in the passing game, but none of them proved to be true starter material.
Many expect Hankerson to break out in his third year, but he has struggled with focus and his hands since his days at the University of Miami. Moss is in decline, and Morgan doesn't stretch or spread the field the way he needs to.
A healthy Garcon can top 1,000 yards, no problem, but not without a credible second receiver. If the Redskins have to suffer through a season of stagnant production from their receivers, Washington's offense is doomed.
Mike Shanahan turned yet another late-round pick into a 1,000-yard running back, when he plucked Alfred Morris from near obscurity. Morris exploded onto the scene with 13 touchdowns and 1,613 yards, second most in the NFL, behind Adrian Peterson.
Morris can either be seen as an overlooked talent or a product of the system, but no one will argue that the Redskins are just as good without him as they are with him.
The term sophomore slump exists for a reason, and though Shanahan's zone-blocking scheme has proven to be effective no matter the running back, Morris could falter in his second season. Even worse would be if Morris failed to repeat even a shred of the success he enjoyed as a rookie, and no one else in the stable of running backs can carry the load either.
Without a workhorse running back or a productive rotation, the Redskins offense simply doesn't work, which would be a problem.
Which is an understatement.
The Washington Redskins went the entire offseason without truly addressing their need at right tackle. They signed veterans Tony Pashos and Jeremy Trueblood, as well as signed undrafted free agent Xavier Nixon, but they didn't do anything to show they'd be moving on from the unimpressive Tyler Polumbus.
Polumbus, admirable as his effort may have been in 2012, is not a long-term solution to protect Griffin's frontside.
It is possible that Nixon could overtake Polumbus for the starting job, assuming he shows more consistency than he did while at Florida, but that may be a pipe dream.
Rest assured—barring an amazing progression from Polumbus—the blitz packages of opposing defenses will key on Polumbus and the right side of the Redskins offensive line.
Against the Dallas Cowboys in two games alone, Graham Gano missed four field goals in 2011, which when added together would have been two extra wins in an otherwise sorry season. Kai Forbath, however, has been a breath of fresh air since taking over for Billy Cundiff early in 2012.
Kobra Kai hit 17 of 18 field goals, his lone miss coming in a 10-point victory over the Cowboys.
The Redskins have not had the best of luck with kickers in the last 20 years or so, and more often than not it is because their kickers cannot string together successful seasons. If Kai fails to maintain or improve upon his 2012 season, the Redskins could be on the losing end of a lot of close games—as then in the market for another kicker.
The hallmark of Washington's offense in 2012 was its unpredictability—at least early on.
Teams weren't sure how to handle RGIII and the read option, which made Griffin's legs and arms, as well as Morris, a substantial threat.
Based on the success enjoyed last year by the Redskins, the Seattle Seahawks (Russell Wilson) and the San Francisco 49ers (Colin Kaepernick), you can imagine NFL defensive coordinators have put in an immense amount of work this offseason toward stopping the read-option offense dead in its tracks.
The hallmark of an elite offense is its ability to adapt and evolve each season. There is more than enough evidence to suggest the ground game will be successful; it is just the way Mike Shanahan operates. The biggest concern is how the passing game evolves.
If Leonard Hankerson or someone else doesn't emerge alongside Pierre Garcon, the deep passing game is limited. If Fred Davis doesn't rebound from two shortened seasons, that is one less threat defenses have to worry about.
If either Mike or Kyle Shanahan believe that what worked last season will work in 2013, the Redskins will be out of playoff contention early.
Robert Griffin III was the talk of the NFL in 2012, dazzling fans, experts and opponents with his grasp of the game as well as his blistering speed, versatility and rocket arm. He was voted Offensive Rookie of the Year by the Associated Press and Pro Football Writers of America, and for good reason.
Imagine if Griffin suffers a setback in his recovery from offseason knee surgery and is out for more than just the season opener or the first few weeks.
Kirk Cousins is a capable backup, with many praising him as having the potential to be an NFL starter. However, he is not RGIII. He does not have the same dynamic skill set and is thus a much easier quarterback to scheme for on defense.
It wouldn't be the first time a D.C.-area pro athlete who looked to be 100 percent recovered from a major knee surgery but suffered numerous setbacks and failed to recapture their former luster—lest we forget Gilbert Arenas, circa 2007.