The Washington Redskins will feel confident about maintaining their hold on the NFC East in 2013. Mike Shanahan's team was an impressive 5-1 in the division in 2012, and that provided the platform for its first postseason appearance since 2007.
The health status of youthful dual-threat quarterback Robert Griffin III will prove crucial this time around, as will the performance of a revamped secondary.
If both those factors go the Redskins' way, then they are well-positioned to repeat 2012's success. One note of caution, however, is provided by a tougher overall schedule:
2 at Green Bay Packers
4 at Oakland Raiders
5 BYE WEEK
6 at Dallas Cowboys
8 at Denver Broncos
10 at Minnesota Vikings
11 at Philadelphia Eagles
15 at Atlanta Falcons
16 Dallas Cowboys
17 at New York Giants
The Redskins face three division winners on the road in the Green Bay Packers, Denver Broncos and Atlanta Falcons. That brutal triple-header will offer ample proof of whether the 2013 version of the Redskins are Super Bowl contenders or not.
They also entertain the powerful San Francisco 49ers to kick-start a late-season run of three straight home games. That run can make or break a return to the playoffs.
The following slides offer a win-loss prediction of Washington's 16 games for the upcoming 2013 NFL season.
All statistics courtesy of NFL.com and Pro-Football-Reference.com.
The Redskins will run away from the Eagles in Week 1.
Entertaining a rebuilding divisional foe is the perfect way for the Redskins to begin the defense of their NFC East crown. In terms of both personnel and scheme, the Philadelphia Eagles have experienced a major overhaul under first-year head coach Chip Kelly.
The offense is likely to feature a more fast-paced style, similar to the one Kelly made famous at Oregon. On defense, things could be even more unpredictable, with Kelly favoring a blend of hybrid fronts.
Yet even with all the changes, the Eagles remain a formidable opponent. They still boast explosive playmakers on both sides of the ball.
Wideout DeSean Jackson's vertical speed will be a good early test for Washington's remodeled defensive backfield. But the Redskins will be equally wary of the threat the Eagles pose on the ground.
Kelly favors a heavy dose of a zone-style running game based on speed. In LeSean McCoy, Bryce Brown and Felix Jones, he has a trio of lightning-fast rushers.
But the Redskins were stingy against the run last season, ranking fifth overall. Beefy nose tackle Barry Cofield can gain early penetration to disrupt runs at their source. Meanwhile, edge defenders like Ryan Kerrigan can prevent Philly's runners from exploiting the outside.
Of course, the Redskins offense will counter Kelly's schemes with their own dominant brand of zone running. In two games against the Eagles last season, the Redskins piled up 297 yards on the ground.
The offensive line must control veteran nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga and quickly get blockers on inside 'backers DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks. That will allow the likes of Alfred Morris and Roy Helu Jr. to flourish.
Their rushing efforts, combined with a few turnovers from an often mistake-prone Eagles offense, can get the Redskins off to a winning start.
Prediction: Eagles 14, Redskins 21 (1-0)
Aaron Rodgers will escape pressure to eventually thwart the Redskins in Week 2.
Despite their positive showing in Week 1, things will come undone for the Redskins on the road in Green Bay. The Packers will prove too strong, thanks in large part to their ability to harass Griffin into some costly errors.
Despite the presence of hulking defensive linemen like B.J. Raji, the Redskins can still find plenty of room to run at Lambeau Field. But coordinator Dom Capers' complex array of zone-blitz pressures will cause real problems.
Linebackers Clay Matthews and Brad Jones can overwhelm Washington's blocking scheme and keep Griffin under near-constant duress. Green Bay's zone-droppers can also fool the youthful quarterback more than once in coverage.
Of course, Washington's defense can counter with a strong pass rush of its own. Returning outside linebacker Brian Orakpo will prove too much for a suspect Packers O-line.
However, despite the pressure, stud quarterback Aaron Rodgers will produce enough of his brilliance to stake the Pack into an unassailable lead.
Prediction: Redskins 20, Packers 31 (1-1)
The Redskins will survive a close scare against the Lions.
The Detroit Lions will prove a very tricky opponent in the Redskins' second home game of the season. The NFC North side's formidable defensive line can give Washington's front five all they can handle.
The interior group must win their battle against tackle tandem Ndamukong Suh and the increasingly dominant Nick Fairley. Center Will Montgomery and guards Kory Lichtensteiger and Chris Chetser were outstanding last season. They will need to work together to thwart what is sure to be their toughest test of 2013.
Shanahan's carefully crafted play-action passing game could buy Griffin extra time in the pocket. As a result, the Redskins will manufacture some key big plays through the air.
But the Lions can keep pace thanks to premier wide receiver Calvin Johnson, who will consistently challenge the Redskins secondary. Either veteran safety Brandon Meriweather or rookie Bacarri Rambo must provide help against Johnson on every snap.
But thanks to a greater run-pass balance, the Redskins are well-stocked to outgun the Lions in a shootout.
Prediction: Lions 27, Redskins 30 (2-1)
London Fletcher and the defense will stomp all over the Raiders in Week 4.
The Redskins can take advantage of the scale of the Raiders' rebuilding project to trounce the Silver and Black on the road. Not too surprisingly, the key to an emphatic victory is another dominant rushing performance.
Oakland head coach Dennis Allen has worked hard to revamp his defensive front this offseason. However, despite the additions of linemen like Pat Sims and Vance Walker, Allen's group will still prove soft against the run.
Shanahan can ruthlessly exploit the departures of veterans Richard Seymour and Tommy Kelly by turning his deep stable of runners loose. The Redskins will nudge close to 200-250 yards on the ground, and a backup runner will enjoy a big day.
Defensively, coordinator Jim Haslett must have his finger pressed firmly on the blitz button to attack an O-line that surrendered 41 sacks in 2012. Oakland quarterback Matt Flynn should spend most of the game getting acquainted with the O.co Coliseum turf.
Orakpo has a good chance to reproduce his monster four-sack showing from the last time the Redskins faced the Raiders on the road, back in 2009.
Prediction: Redskins 24, Raiders 13 (3-1)
The Redskins will lose a close one against their fiercest rival.
Washington's fiercest rival can gain a measure of revenge for last season. The Redskins trampled all over the Cowboys during two meetings in 2012, but will slip to a narrow defeat here.
The ground game will again be a force, as Shanahan's zone-based system can exploit the Cowboys' new 4-3 defense. While ace sack master DeMarcus Ware will still be a threat as a pass-rusher, moving him to defensive end does create more opportunities to test him against the run.
The Redskins are likely to put that theory to the test by running several of their stretch runs at Ware. That will help build an early advantage. However, that lead will be threatened by the struggles of Washington's own defense.
The secondary and linebackers will find it hard to cope with tight end Jason Witten and wideout Dez Bryant. The pair combined for 28 receptions for 346 yards and three scores against the Redskins last season.
They will enjoy hugely productive performances and ultimately push the Cowboys ahead.
Prediction: Redskins 16, Cowboys 20 (3-2)
The Redskins can outlast the Bears in a defensive struggle.
Both defenses can take command in a war of attrition when the Redskins host the Chicago Bears. Orakpo and Kerrigan are skilled enough to savage the Bears' offensive front and regularly send quarterback Jay Cutler fleeing from the pocket.
When faced with relentless pressure, the impatient triggerman is usually prone to take risks. Those gambles often lead to costly mistakes, and this game will be no different.
Any errors from Cutler will be welcome, as Chicago's still-solid defense can stifle the Redskins offense. Even with Brian Urlacher no longer patrolling the middle, the Bears' veteran unit remains a tough and resourceful group.
It will take Griffin replicating some of his rookie-season heroics to earn the win.
Prediction: Bears 16, Redskins 19 (4-2)
Brian Orakpo and the defense will find things tough in Denver.
Peyton Manning and the Broncos will be just too ruthlessly efficient for the Redskins in Denver. The legendary gunslinger can outsmart defensive coordinator Haslett and always keep the Broncos in front.
Haslett cannot be trusted to resist dialing up an array of blitzes to get after Manning. The savvy signal-caller's flair for adjustment will soon put Haslett between a rock and a hard place.
He will find himself caught in two minds and struggle to get the coverage-pressure balance right. That will let Manning capitalize and pick the Redskins apart.
Defensively, the Broncos possess the versatile athletes, including Von Miller and Shaun Phillips, to clamp down on Griffin.
Prediction: Redskins 20, Broncos 31 (4-3)
The Chargers can produce a damaging upset in Week 9.
This has the makings of a true trap game. Both the secondary and the O-line will face severe tests against the San Diego Chargers.
San Diego's defense is better than advertised, especially up front. In particular, veteran Dwight Freeney and young duo Corey Liuget and Kendall Reyes have the talent to constantly harass Griffin.
He will be left at the mercy of the pressure if Morris and Co. struggle to outrun inside linebackers Manti Te'o and Donald Butler. The pair are dynamic enough to bottle up Washington's normally prolific running game.
Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers is hit and miss, but his bombs-away approach can expose the Redskins' safeties in deep coverage. Speedy receivers Malcom Floyd and Vincent Brown will be major threats.
A loss here will have significant implications for Washington's postseason hopes.
Prediction: Chargers 21, Redskins 17 (4-4)
The zone-running game will prove too much for the Vikings.
With the season in the balance, the Redskins can respond with a defiant return to form in Minnesota. The key will be the renewed vigour of a running game which will prove too much for the Vikings.
Shanahan will choose to wear down the Minnesota defense with a committee approach. The Vikes' lack of a true nose tackle, along with changes at linebacker, will haunt them against Washington's deep bevy of zone-runners.
The Redskins can use the same formula the Tampa Bay Buccaneers used to thump the Vikings in Week 8 last season. The Bucs ran the ball 41 times, and the Redskins' own prolific rushing can keep Vikings star runner Adrian Peterson on the sidelines for long periods.
Even with new weapons like veteran Greg Jennings and Cordarrelle Patterson, Minnesota's passing game is still reliant on unconvincing young quarterback Christian Ponder.
The Redskins also have a good record in Minnesota, having produced some decisive victories in the past. They include wins during the late surge to the postseason in 2007 and as far back as the Wild Card Round at the end of the 1992 season.
History will be with them in another crucial victory.
Prediction: Redskins 27, Vikings 17 (5-4)
The Redskins will continue their recent dominance of the Eagles.
The Redskins boast a good recent record in Philadelphia under Shanahan. They scored impressive wins at Lincoln Financial Field in 2010 and 2012.
While Kelly's offensive schemes will have taken hold by this point, his defense will still struggle to contain Redskins runners. With the ground game once again leading the way and a ruthlessly efficient passing game, the Redskins possess the formula to repeat last season's clean sweep of the Eagles.
Prediction: Redskins 26, Eagles 21 (6-4)
The Redskins will struggle to escape San Francisco's swarming defense.
The 49ers have the right weapons on defense to stifle what the Redskins do best. Ultra-athletic, all-action linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman can lead the charge to stuff the running game.
That will leave Griffin at the mercy of premier pass-rush ace Aldon Smith. Under too much pressure, the Redskins will not be able to test out a remade secondary featuring rookie safety Eric Reid.
Defensively, the Redskins should know how to counter the dual threat posed by 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. After all, the unit has seen similar skills from Griffin in practice often enough.
Cofield and the defensive front will also make it tough for running back Frank Gore to overpower them. However, a potential defensive stalemate favors the 49ers, who are built to win these kind of games.
Prediction: 49ers 23, Redskins 15 (6-5)
The Redskins will make life difficult for Eli Manning and the Giants.
The Giants love to play spoilers for their divisional rivals at crucial times in the season. However, the Redskins will feel confident about their Week 13 matchup, having won three of their last four meetings with Big Blue.
Yet as impressive as that record is, only one or two plays have separated the teams. What has proved crucial has been the Redskins' happy knack for making the most of Giants mistakes.
They also succeeded in keeping Big Blue's pass rush at bay last season. By continuing to keep the defensive front off-guard, the Redskins will have a clear advantage.
The bigger challenge will be corralling Giants pass-catchers Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks. Both have given the Redskins fits in the past, with Cruz producing a 77-yard game-winning score in Week 7 last season.
The key will be troubling quarterback Eli Manning in the pocket, something the Redskins have done well. In their last four games against the Giants, Haslett's unit has sacked Manning 10 times and forced him into six interceptions.
As tough as this game will be, the Redskins can maintain their recent good form against the G-men.
Prediction: Giants 20, Redskins 24 (7-5)
The Redskins will have enough to humble the Chiefs in Week 14.
The Redskins can offer a rude welcome to former NFC East foe Andy Reid when they host the Kansas City Chiefs. Once again, relying on the run is the smart move for Shanahan.
The Chiefs have promised to be more versatile and aggressive defensively under new coordinator Bob Sutton. But their 3-4 personnel have struggled to repel the run in recent seasons.
The Chiefs gave up 135.7 yards per game in 2012 and 132 in 2011. The Redskins should have no problem turning Morris loose for big gains.
Reid can be trusted to make the Kansas City offense better. But hints the Chiefs will use the spread and read-option should not scare the Redskins. Haslett is already very familiar with these schemes.
He can use Orakpo, Kerrigan and varied blitz designs to test 2013's first-overall draft pick Eric Fisher. But Haslett's real focus must be on explosive running back Jamaal Charles.
Prediction: Chiefs 17, Redskins 28 (8-5)
A failure to disrupt Matt Ryan will cost the Redskins in Week 15.
Scoring an upset over the Falcons will be a tough task for the Redskins because of an obvious mismatch. Their retooled secondary will struggle to hold up against the league's most talented passing attack.
Rookies David Amerson and Bacarri Rambo will be tormented by wide receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones and tight end Tony Gonzalez. Their struggles are likely to be compounded by a lack of pressure on Matt Ryan.
The pass rush found it hard to get near Ryan during a Week 5 loss last season. They will also barely feel the collar of Atlanta's star passer this time, and he will produce big numbers.
Prediction: Redskins 20, Falcons 34 (8-6)
Alfred Morris will torment the Cowboys again.
The Redskins and the Cowboys often split the NFL's best rivalry, and Shanahan's team will need the win more by the time Week 16 is upon it.
Although Romo and his weapons will remain a threat, the Redskins can stymie the Cowboys' efforts to run the ball. The catalyst for points will be Morris. He can come close to repeating last season's heroics when he tormented the Dallas defense for 200 rushing yards in Week 17.
New coordinator Monte Kiffin's defensive scheme will hardly fare any better against him. Bank on Morris keeping Washington's postseason hopes alive for one more week.
Prediction: Cowboys 20, Redskins 23 (9-6)
A balanced Giants offense will break Redskins hearts.
This final-day clash will become a division-decider between old foes. The Giants have had a habit of emerging victorious in these kind of win-or-bust games in previous seasons and can repeat the trick here.
Big Blue head coach Tom Coughlin is craving more offensive balance this season. Running backs Andre Brown and David Wilson will work together to provide it. That will eventually make the Giants offense too much for the Redskins in this decisive game.
Falling to 9-7 leaves Washington at the mercy of tiebreakers in the NFC playoff hunt. However, a projected 4-2 division mark and a 3-3 conference record could help.
Prediction: Redskins 21, Giants 26 (9-7)
Griffin and Morris won't be quite as effective in 2013.
The Redskins will experience only slight regression in key areas this season. But it will be enough to threaten their hopes of returning to the playoffs.
Coming back from such a severe knee injury and the subsequent surgery is likely to hamper Griffin somewhat. That will hinder how expansive the Redskins can be on offense.
If Griffin's threat as a runner is not as strong as in 2012, the read-option won't fool or frighten teams as often. Without that extra threat and element of unpredictability, defenses will be free to key on Morris more than they could during his rookie year.
If the offense is a step off what it was last season, more pressure will be applied to the defense. For the most part, the unit can respond.
The front seven, while lacking the speed of truly elite units, is still a formidable group. Expect the pass rush to have its most productive year of the Shanahan era.
However, there are still too many unknowns regarding the secondary. Those question only grew after Rob Rang of Cbssports.com reported that fourth-round pick Phillip Thomas will miss the season following Lisfranc surgery.
The salary-cap penalty imposed last offseason has meant the Redskins have not bee able to adapt to blows like this and sufficiently strengthen key areas of the team.
Yet despite how Shanahan's continued rebuilding efforts have been hamstrung, the 9-7 mark predicted here is still a conservative estimate. While that caution is appropriate given the issues discussed, it would certainly not be a shock if the Redskins fared a little better.
They completed a rare double of the Cowboys last season and only a blown coverage assignment prevented them from doing the same to the Giants.
It is possible for the Redskins to produce one or even two more wins from this schedule. But the team still does not appear strong enough to survive the tougher fixtures and emerge as a true contender.