The Washington Redskins managed to gut out a 24-21 win over the Chicago Bears Sunday, keeping the team afloat atop the woeful NFC East.
The win moves Washington to 6-7 and into a tie with the Philadelphia Eagles. If the New York Giants, who are currently 5-7, win on Monday night, they'll be in on the tying action as well. However, Washington will remain on top because of tiebreaking procedures.
If you want a full breakdown of the tiebreaker rules and how they apply to the NFC East, Jordan Raanan of NJ.com provides a great overview here. However, things boil down to the fact the Eagles have the most wins among common opponents, but the Redskins have won their lone head-to-head matchup.
The Giants, at 2-3 in the division, have a worse NFC East record than the Eagles or Redskins (each at 2-2 in the division). This means that all Washington has to do is win its final three games in order to secure the division.
"We have everything we want still in front of us," coach Jay Gruden said, per ESPN.com. "It keeps us alive, it keeps our heart beeping, heart pumping, guys should be excited to come back to work on Monday."
The Redskins should be excited, and they should also feel confident because the division is there for the taking.
Now, a lot of folks are going to argue that the Redskins are only still in playoff contention because the NFC East is terrible, but this isn't entirely true.
Well, OK, the NFC East being a tad on the subpar side is part of the equation. However, the reality is that Washington has the tools and the talent to win the division, and possibly even do a little damage early in the postseason.
I'm not going to sit here and try to sell Washington as a Super Bowl contender, because it isn't. However, there are some nice pieces in place on this team on both sides of the football.
For starters, let's take a look at the quarterback play in Washington.
When head coach Jay Gruden decided to sit Robert Griffin III before the season began and chose Kirk Cousins as his starter, many viewed the move as a precaution to ensure Griffin's 2016 injury-guaranteed salary wouldn't get paid. However, Cousins has been surprisingly efficient, and even downright impressive at times this season.
Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post explained how an impressive performance from Cousins sparked the win over Chicago:
It was Cousins who set the winning tempo from the outset with his zipline throws, going 24 for 31 for 300 yards and accounting for two touchdowns. At the head of a team that had gone a floundering 0 for its last 9 on the road, he was the one who established that this Sunday would be different when he completed 10 of his first 11 passes to help stake them to a 14-0 lead. And when they led by just three points throughout the fourth quarter and needed some tough, risky completions to keep the tensile, predatory Jay Cutler at bay, he made them.
Cousins seems to be taking to Gruden's coaching and his system a lot better than Griffin ever did, anyway. Is he an elite passer? Absolutely not. Yet his play this season (3,306 yards, 18 touchdowns, 93.2 passer rating) is up there with Giants quarterback Eli Manning (3,318 yards, 24 touchdowns, 91.6 passer rating), who is easily the best healthy quarterback in the division.
Griffin, by comparison, had a passer rating of just 82.2 in 2013 and 86.9 in 2014.
Washington also has a number of weapons on the offensive side of the football, which is exactly why Cousins can be dangerous at times. The wideout trio of DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garcon and Jamison Crowder is above average. Tight end Jordan Reed (694 yards, seven touchdowns) has been even better than that.
The Redskins may not have a true premier receiver like a Dez Bryant or an Odell Beckham Jr., but the receiving corps as a whole is deeper than any other in the division.
Washington also possesses one of the more reliable defenses in the division. Again, there's nothing elite here, and the Redskins have suffered a couple of ugly losses this season. The Redskins, though, are ranked a respectable 17th in scoring defense (23.6 points per game allowed).
In the NFC East, only the Cowboys (23.5 points per game allowed) have allowed fewer points per contest.
The wild card here is Washington's rushing attack. It has struggled quite a bit at times this season, and is ranked just 23rd in the NFL (94.6 yards per game). It isn't a total liability, though, and is still better than what the Giants (88.1 yards per game) are dealing with.
In many ways, the Redskins are really the most balanced team in the NFC East right now. However, the Eagles appear close, especially after winning two tough matchups (at the New England Patriots and against the Buffalo Bills) over the past two weeks. This is why the Redskins essentially have to win out to secure their playoff spot.
I say essentially because Washington doesn't necessarily need a 9-7 record to win the division.
The Redskins finish with the Bills at home and then road games against the Eagles and Cowboys. At the very least, the team has to win the two remaining division games and try to lean on its 4-2 division record to stay on top.
The Giants still have the Carolina Panthers and Minnesota Vikings on their upcoming slate, so there's a good chance the best they finish is 8-8 and with a 3-3 division record. Beating both the Cowboys and Eagles would obviously give the Redskins the division in this scenario.
The trick for Washington is going to be winning against both the Cowboys and the Eagles on the road. Sunday's win over the Bears was Washington's first road win of the season.
Washington has the tools to get the job done, and if it can, the Redskins will be NFC East champions—not just because the division is mediocre, but because the Redskins have taken the necessary forward steps this season to be competitive in that mediocre division.
After a few years of apparent regression in Washington, this should be seen as a major win for the franchise.