It's been a rough year for the Washington Redskins. The team finished 3-13 in 2013, fired its former head coach, Mike Shanahan, and remains mired in controversy over a nickname that many folks around the country consider to be offensive.
But 2014 is a chance for a new start, with a new coach in place and the general feeling that, hey, things can't get much worse than they were in 2013. With a star at quarterback in Robert Griffin III and weapons surrounding him on offense, there is reason for optimism.
But what will the schedule look like? Which teams will Washington have to get past to improve in 2013?
You know the NFC East games will be tough. Let's take a look at the team's entire schedule.
|1||9/7||at Houston Texans||1 p.m.||FOX|
|2||9/14||vs. Jacksonville Jaguars||1 p.m.||CBS|
|3||9/21||at Philadelphia Eagles||1 p.m.||FOX|
|4||9/25||vs. New York Giants||8:25 p.m.||NFL Network|
|5||10/6||vs. Seattle Seahawks||8:30 p.m.||ESPN|
|6||10/12||at Arizona Cardinals||4:25 p.m.||FOX|
|7||10/19||vs. Tennessee Titans||1 p.m.||CBS|
|8||10/27||at Dallas Cowboys||8:30 p.m.||ESPN|
|9||11/2||at Minnesota Vikings||1 p.m.||FOX|
|11||11/16||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||1 p.m.||FOX|
|12||11/23||at San Francisco 49ers||4:25 p.m.||CBS|
|13||11/30||at Indianapolis Colts||1 p.m.||FOX|
|14||12/7||vs. St. Louis Rams||1 p.m.||FOX|
|15||12/14||at New York Giants||1 p.m.||FOX|
|16||12/20||vs. Philadelphia Eagles||4:30 p.m.||NFL Network|
|17||12/28||vs. Dallas Cowboys||1 p.m.||FOX|
Washington's schedule is no cakewalk, but it also isn't unmanageable. Based on opponent winning percentage from 2013, its schedule is ranked the 17th-hardest in the league, right in the middle of the pack.
The team has five games against playoff teams from a year ago and eight games against teams that finished .500 or better.
This is the sort of schedule that could end up being much better than it looks on paper—the St. Louis Rams, Houston Texans and New York Giants should be better than they were a year ago—but looks very manageable for Washington.
Of course, Washington is a bit of an unknown coming into the season. New coach Jay Gruden is bringing a whole new energy to the team, as defensive tackle Barry Cofield told Joseph White of the Associated Press (via The Virginian-Pilot):
He's just a younger guy, so it's a different type of eye. I played for coach (Tom) Coughlin and coach Shanahan, who are two of the older coaches in the league, so they've got a different mindset, different mentality. They're both great coaches in their own way ... but coach Gruden will bring something a little different, a different type of energy.
Cofield added further comments about how he envisions the new staff impacting the players from a mental and emotional standpoint:
You can see him interacting with his staff. I feel like the whole staff, they seem a little bit maybe more comfortable, a little bit more free. Obviously it's early. The way we finished up with coach Shanahan was obviously disappointing. It was a whole different atmosphere, so bringing in kind of a new regime, I think a lot of the assistant coaches and coordinators, they feel like they've got a new lease on life, a new chance to prove themselves. And the players feel like it's a blank slate.
For a team that just finished the year 3-13, a blank slate is exactly what is needed.
Of course, everything comes down to the health and productivity of RG3. When healthy, he's one of the most dangerous weapons in the league, though his ability to break the pocket and scramble also means he's always just one hit away from the training table.
This year, he'll have an exciting assortment of weapons to work with. The team signed DeSean Jackson in the offseason after he was cut by the rival Eagles, pairing with Pierre Garcon to give Washington one of the most dangerous pairs of deep threats in the NFL.
But there is a reason that the Eagles let the mercurial receiver go, and Washington will now have to weather the Jackson storm, as Jonathan Tamari wrote for Sports on Earth:
For all the on-field explosions, though, there was always a sideline implosion looming. The Jackson "I've learned my lesson and matured" damage-control interview was a recurring staple of Eagles coverage.
As he headed to another offseason this past January—this one full of promise after his best year and a rebound season for the Eagles—Jackson said he deserved a new contract. It was less than two years after signing the deal that made him so purportedly content at that Philly church in 2012. He wouldn't get his wish, at least not in Philadelphia.
In Washington, Jackson recently told Redskins writers, "People will understand and see the real DeSean Jackson and not see the painted picture that was put out of me before."
After six years in a spotlight, though, the only thing that's clear is that the real Jackson is as unpredictable as a harmless swing pass turned into a score, or an incompletion blown into a tantrum.
Washington will have to enjoy the ride. And it could be a good one. He, Garcon and tight end Jordan Reed in the passing game will give RG3 plenty to work with, while Alfred Morris has emerged as one of the league's steadier running backs.
In theory, this offense should be very exciting this year.
The defense will be the bigger question. There is talent on that side of the ball, led by Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan, but this is a team that gave up 29.9 points per game last year, tied for 30th in the league.
In other words, don't be shocked if this team is involved in its fair share of shootouts in 2014.
Road games against the Philadelphia Eagles, Arizona Cardinals, San Francisco 49ers and Indianapolis Colts will all be major tests. Luckily, Washington was able to avoid playing the Seattle Seahawks in Seattle, where the defending Super Bowl champions are extremely difficult to beat.
And as always, NFC East games are highly competitive, so matchups against the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys will be vital. Washington will be really tested this season, so winning its NFC East games will be the key to the season.
Washington also drew Tampa Bay and Minnesota out of the NFC. The Bucs are looking to rebound from the Greg Schiano era under new head coach Lovie Smith. They also plan to feature a new starter at QB with veteran Josh McCown. Because the NFC South figures to be a slugfest, stealing a game from the Buccaneers could prove to be huge down the road for Washington's potential playoff aspirations.
The same goes for the Vikings. Minnesota made the postseason as recently as 2012 despite a lack of quality quarterback play. Mike Zimmer is the new head coach and Adrian Peterson is still Adrian Peterson, so traveling to Minnesota will be an important NFC battle to watch as well.