Washington Redskins 2018 NFL Season Preview

Quarterback

It’s not often a team lets a healthy franchise quarterback in the prime of his career walk in free agency, but that’s exactly what the Redskins did this off-season with Kirk Cousins. Originally franchise tagged after a breakout 2015 season, in which he completed 69.8% of his passes for an average of 7.67 YPA, 29 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions, Cousins was made to prove it again in 2016. That was probably a smart decision on the Redskins’ part, but then when he did prove it again in 2016, completing 67.0% of his passes for an average of 8.11 YPA, 25 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions, they franchise tagged him again and lowballed him with long-term offers.

The Redskins actually took it one step further, announcing their lowball offer to the public in an attempt to make it seem like Cousins was being unreasonable turning down their offer, The contract they offered him had just 2 guaranteed years on it, even though he already had 1 guaranteed year locked in with the franchise tag and he would cost about 34 million to franchise tag again in 2018. At this point, it became clear that Cousins and the Redskins were heading for a divorce after the season, but Cousins still played well in 2017, completing 64.3% of his passes for an average of 7.58 YPA, 27 touchdowns, and 13 interceptions, despite losing a pair of thousand yard receivers in free agency last off-season and playing behind a banged up offensive line.

Seeing the writing on the wall with Cousins, the Redskins moved quickly to acquire veteran quarterback Alex Smith from the Chiefs. Smith is coming off arguably the best season of his career, completing 67.5% of his passes for an average of 8.00 YPA, 26 touchdowns, and 5 interceptions, but he’s going into his age 34 season, meaning he’s 4 years older than Cousins, and he doesn’t come cheap, as the Redskins had to surrender a 3rd round pick and promising young cornerback Kendall Fuller in the trade and then they had to give him a 4-year, 94 million extension with 55 million guaranteed to keep him beyond 2018. That’s ironically more guaranteed money than they ever offered Cousins. Cousins, meanwhile, took a fully guaranteed 3-year, 84 million dollar deal from the Vikings.

Smith is not a bad fall back option and could easily be an adequate replacement for him in the short-term, but, given his age and how much they had to give up to acquire him, it was probably worth offering Cousins more guaranteed money last off-season. Smith is a solid starter, but you never want to have to change quarterbacks and there could be some growing pains for him in his first season in a new city in a new system with new teammates.

Grade: B

Offensive Line

As mentioned, the Redskins had major injury problems on the offensive line last season. Only Miami and Baltimore had more adjusted games lost to injury on the offensive line. It wasn’t just their offensive line that had injury problems though, as they led the league in adjusted games lost as a team. They also had the 3rd hardest schedule in the NFL in terms of DVOA. A 7-9 team in 2017, it won’t be easy for them to make the post-season in a what is once again a tough NFC, but they could easily win more games if they have better health.

Center Spencer Long missed the most games with injury last season, limited to just 397 snaps in 7 games. He’s no longer with the team though, signing with the Jets on a 4-year, 27.4 million dollar deal as a free agent this off-season, and the Redskins didn’t really do anything to replace him, so they can’t count on improved play at the center position in 2018. Chase Rouiller, a 2017 6th round pick who made 7 starts in Long’s absence last season, is expected to be the starter, but he was pretty underwhelming last season and was not a very high pick, so he’s not a guarantee to ever develop into a starting caliber player.

Left guard Shawn Lauvao also missed 7 games, but he wasn’t really missed, as he’s been one of the worst starting guards in the league over the past few seasons. He has 85 career starts in 8 seasons in the league, but has earned negative grades from Pro Football Focus in 5 of the past 6 seasons and finished last season 62nd out of 80 eligible guards. Now going into his age 31 season, Lauvao could remain the starter now that he’s healthy, as the Redskins didn’t add another option this off-season, but they also left him unsigned into May before bringing him back and might opt to move forward with 2015 4th round pick Arie Kouandjio, who made 6 starts in Lauvao’s absence last season. Kouandjio has just 8 career starts in 3 seasons in the league and has been pretty unimpressive, but he at least gives them more upside than Lauvao.

Fortunately, the rest of this offensive line should be pretty strong if they can stay healthy. Left tackle Trent Williams is typically one of the best players in the NFL at his position, but that was not the case last season, as he missed 6 games and was limited in several others with a knee injury that eventually needed surgery. He still finished 13th among offensive tackles on PFF, his 6th straight season in the top-22 at his position, but he was their #1 offensive tackle in 2016 and also finished 2nd in 2013, so he has higher upside than he showed last season. His age is becoming a minor concern in his age 30 season, but, assuming he’s healthy, he should be one of the top left tackles in the league again.

Right guard Brandon Scherff is also one of the better players in the league at his position. Only missing 2 games with injury, Scherff finished last season as PFF’s 9th ranked guard. The 5th overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, Scherff has improved in every season in the league, going from 28th among guards on PFF as a rookie to 20th in 2016 and then taking another step forward last season. Now in his 4th season in the league, he could keep improving. The Redskins made the no brainer decision to pick up his 5th year option for 2019, which guarantees him 12.525 million for injury, and will work to reach a long-term extension with him in the next year or so. He could push to be the highest paid guard in the league, upwards of 14 million annually.

Right tackle Morgan Moses made all 16 starts, but he suffered a ankle injury week 13 and, though he played through it for the rest of the season, he needed surgery in the off-season and is questionable for the start of training camp. Moses was having a pretty disappointing year even before the injury and ended up falling to 41st among offensive tackles on PFF, after ranking 15th in 2015 and 13th in 2016. A 2014 3rd round pick, Moses is only going into his age 27 season and has obvious bounce back potential, but he needs to stay healthy. The Redskins signed him to a 5-year, 38.5 million dollar extension last off-season ahead of what would have been the final year of his rookie deal in 2017, making him the 3rd highest paid right tackle in the league in average annual salary, so they need him to get healthy and return to form.

The Redskins also used a 3rd round pick on Louisville offensive tackle Geron Christian. With Moses out, he’s seen a lot of work with the first team this off-season and figures to be the swing tackle as a rookie, though he may end up at guard long-term, where he has a clearer path to playing time. With no clear starter at left guard, Christian could end up making starts there as a rookie and might be the first one off the bench after an injury at either tackle or guard. The Redskins are obviously hoping they can stay healthier though.

Grade: B

Receiving Corps

In addition to a banged up offensive line, Kirk Cousins also had a pretty underwhelming group of pass catchers. After losing a pair of thousand yard receivers in free agency last off-season (DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon), the Redskins were banking on leaps forward by young receivers Jamison Crowder and Josh Doctson and a big year from free agent addition Terrelle Pryor, but they didn’t really get any of those. Pryor and Doctson played roles, as did 2014 5th round pick Ryan Grant, but none of them topped 600 yards receiving. Jamison Crowder led the team with a 66/789/3 slash line, but that was actually down from his 2016 numbers, 67/847/7, despite receiving 7 more targets in 2017 than 2016.

Crowder could have his breakout year in 2018 though, as he’s only going into his age 25 season and is a good fit with new quarterback Alex Smith, who prefers underneath targets that can make plays after the catch. A 4th round pick in 2015, Crowder has an average depth of target of just 5.99 yards from the line of scrimmage in 3 seasons in the league, but adds about 5.57 yards per catch after the catch. He’s been about a league average receiver in his career, but could be better now in his 4th season in the league. He’s the favorite to lead this team in catches and yards.

In 3 wide receiver sets, Crowder will move to the slot, where the undersized 5-9 177 pounder is at his best, with Josh Doctson and free agent acquisition Paul Richardson serving as the two outside receivers. Unlike Crowder, Doctson and Richardson are not good fits with Alex Smith because they primarily run deep routes, averaging 14.3 yards per catch and 16.0 yards per catch respectively last season. Smith did a good job on deep balls last season, but that was mostly because he had Tyreek Hill at his disposal, which he doesn’t with the Redskins.

The Redskins are hoping Smith can have that same connection with Richardson, giving him a 5-year, 40 million dollar deal, but that seems like wishful thinking for a team that struck out with Allen Robinson and Sammy Watkins at the top of the market. A 2nd round pick in 2014, Richardson was only a part-time player in 2014 and 2016, with a lost year due to injury in between, before having a 44/703/6 slash line in his first year as a starter in 2017. Those are decent numbers, but he also played with a much better deep ball thrower with Russell Wilson last season and he finished slightly below average on Pro Football Focus on the season. Only 26, he could be keep getting better, which is probably what the Redskins are banking on, but that’s far from a guarantee.

Doctson also has upside, going in the first round in 2016, but he’s shown very little thus far in his career. Limited to 31 snaps by injury as a rookie, Doctson played 74.3% of the snaps in 2017, but had an underwhelming 35/502/6 slash line on 78 targets and finished as PFF’s 91st ranked wide receiver out of 118 eligible. He’s entering a make or break 3rd season in the league and may struggle to get on the same page with Alex Smith. Both Richardson and Doctson could disappoint statistically with Smith looking to other parts of the field, but, with Grant and Pryor leaving this off-season, they should be locked into their roles.

Two of Smith’s favorite targets will likely be tight end Jordan Reed and running back Chris Thompson, assuming both can stay healthy. That’s far from a guarantee with either of them though. Limited by chest, shoulder, toe, and hamstring injuries, Reed played just 234 underwhelming snaps in 6 games last season and managed just a 27/211/2 slash line. He was a top-4 pass catching tight end on PFF in 2015 and 2016 though and has averaged a 85/866/7 slash line per 16 games in his career.

The problem is he’s never actually played all 16 games, missing 28 of 80 games in 5 seasons in the league and maxing out at 14 games played in 2015, when he had a 87/952/11 slash line. Only going into his age 28 season, he has obvious upside with Alex Smith if he can stay healthy, but history suggests he’ll miss at least a few games. He’s also never been a good run blocker at 6-2 245. When on the field, expect him to be Smith’s favorite target, much like Travis Kelce was with the Chiefs.

Thompson, on the other hand, was actually having a great season last year before going down, rushing for 294 yards on 64 carries (4.59 YPC), catching 39 passes for 510 yards, and scoring 6 touchdowns in 10 games, before going down for the season with a broken leg. An undersized scat back at 5-8 193, Thompson has durability concerns dating back to his collegiate days, but he has Dion Lewis type upside when he’s healthy. He probably won’t average 13.1 yards per catch again, but he’s averaged 50.5 catches per 16 games over the past 3 seasons and could easily top that number with Smith under center if he can stay healthy.

Backup tight end Vernon Davis will also be in the mix, after posting a 43/648/3 slash line on 69 targets last season. Assuming this receiving corps is healthier in 2018, I don’t expect him to have quite as big of a role in the passing game and his age is also a concern, going into his age 34 season, but he’ll continue having a role in two-tight ends with Reed and is good insurance behind an unreliable starter. This is a decent receiving corps with upside if they stay healthy and young players progress.

Grade: B-

Running Backs

Even with Thompson averaging 4.59 yards per carry on his 64 carries, the Redskins still only managed just 3.61 yards per carry on the season, 30th in the NFL. Between that, their banged up offensive line, and their underwhelming receiving corps, this offense ranked just 23rd in the NFL in first down rate last season, despite a strong season from Kirk Cousins. Thompson will continue to have a role as a runner, but he averaged just 6.4 carries per game and is unlikely to see significantly more carries per game this season. Not only is he not built to handle a big workload, the Redskins also used a 2nd round pick in the draft on LSU running back Derrius Guice.

Guice is not much of a pass catcher, but the 5-11 224 pounder could have an immediate role as an early down hammer and he complements Thompson well. He’ll face competition from Samaje Perine and Rob Kelley, but both are underwhelming options. Perine averaged just 3.45 yards per carry on 175 carries as a 4th round rookie in 2017, while Kelley averaged 4.19 yards per carry on 168 carries as an undrafted round rookie in 2016, but then was limited to 3.13 yards per carry on 62 carries in an injury plagued 2017 season. Neither does much on passing downs either, so they’re probably just competing for one spot. If Thompson can stay healthy and Guice has a solid rookie year, this should be a much improved backfield.

Grade: B

Defensive Line

While their offense was underwhelming in 2017, their defense was actually surprisingly solid, finishing 11th in first down rate allowed. That’s despite the fact that they had some significant injuries on defense as well. On the defensive line, their biggest injury was first round rookie Jonathan Allen, who flashed on 159 snaps in 5 games before going down for the season with a foot injury. Pro Football Focus’ 14th ranked 3-4 defensive end at the time of the injury, Allen could have a breakout second season in the league if he can stay on the field. At one point considered a likely top-5 pick, Allen fell on draft day because of durability concerns, but he has a sky high upside.

In Allen’s absence, Matt Ioannidis led this defensive line in snaps with 584 and the 2016 6th round pick had a mini-breakout year. He struggled against the run, but had 4.5 sacks, 7 hits, and 34 hurries on 379 pass rush snaps and finished as PFF’s 6th ranked 3-4 defensive end in pass rush grade. He’s still a one-year wonder, but he’s also only going into his age 24 season, so he could easily keep getting better. He and Allen should play the majority of the snaps inside in sub packages. 2016 undrafted free agent Anthony Lanier will also be in the mix in sub packages. He’s terrible against the run, but the 6-6 285 pounder flashed with 5 sacks, 4 hits, and 8 hurries on just 232 pass rush snaps last year in the first significant action of his career.

In base packages, this year’s first round pick Da’Ron Payne figures to have a big role. The 13th overall pick will be their nose tackle in base packages and has the potential to develop into a better pass rusher and stay on the field in sub packages, although he might not do so as a rookie. He’ll replace Ziggy Hood, who finished as PFF’s worst ranked defensive tackle out of 79 eligible defensive tackles on 539 snaps as the starting nose tackle last season.

A 9-year veteran, Hood has earned a positive grade on PFF just once in his career and has frequently been one of the worst defensive linemen in the league. The Redskins also used a 5th round pick on Virginia Tech defensive tackle Tim Settle, so Hood is not a roster lock, owed 1.7 million non-guaranteed in his age 31 season. If he makes the roster, he may play most of his snaps as a base defensive end, where he has some experience.

Stacy McGee is also a base defensive end. He had a solid season in his first season in Washington on 432 snaps, after signing a 5-year, 25 million dollar deal last season, coming over as a free agent from the Oakland Raiders. He’s never played more than 40% of the snaps in a season in 5 years in the league and likely won’t this season either, but he’s developed into a capable rotational player. With Allen returning from injury and Payne replacing Hood on the nose, this should be an improved defensive line. It’s a solid unit overall.

Grade: B

Linebackers

The Redskins had injury problems in the linebacking corps as well, as starting middle linebackers Zach Brown and Mason Foster both suffered major injuries and outside linebacker Trent Murphy tore his ACL before the season even began. Foster played just 288 snaps in 5 games before going down for the season with a shoulder injury, while Foster played through leg injuries for most of the second half of the season and then missed the final 3 games with the Redskins eliminated from playoff contention. The Redskins re-signed both Brown and Foster as free agents this off-season and they should remain the starters inside in Washington’s 3-4 defense.

Foster may have to compete for his job though, as he only re-signed on a 2-year, 3.4 million dollar deal. He has 76 starts in 7 seasons in the league, but he’s been an marginal starter at best throughout his career. The Redskins don’t really have good competition for him though, as the players they started in the absence of Brown and Foster didn’t show much. Zach Vigil was the only one to earn a positive grade from Pro Football Focus, playing a career high 394 snaps and making the final 6 starts of the season. The 2015 undrafted free agent is probably Foster’s biggest competition, while bottom of the roster talents Martrell Spaight and Josh Harvey-Clemons will compete for a roster spot with 6th round rookie Dion Hamilton. I expect Foster to start, even if he has to compete for it.

Brown, on the other hand, is locked in as an every down player, after re-signing on a 3-year, 24 million dollar deal this off-season. In 5 seasons as a starter, he’s made 61 starts and has earned a positive grade from PFF for a season 4 times, topping out at 13th in 2016. He fell to 22nd in 2017, but that was largely due to the injury, as he ranked 4th among middle linebackers through week 8. Only in his age 29 season, he has obvious bounce back potential if he can stay healthy all year. Having him and Foster healthy should be a boost for this linebacking corps.

At outside linebacker, Trent Murphy won’t be returning, signing with the Bills on a 3-year, 22.5 million dollar deal this off-season. Considering he missed all of last season, he won’t really be missed. Ryan Kerrigan and Preston Smith will remain the starters. Kerrigan is as reliable as they come, playing all 112 games in 7 seasons in the league since the Redskins drafted him with the 16th overall pick in 2011 and he’s been a consistently good pass rusher, getting at least 7.5 sacks and earning a positive pass rush grade from PFF in all 7 seasons.

All in all, he has 71.5 sacks and 50 quarterback hits in his career and, after struggling against the run early in his career, he’s earned positive grades against the run in each of the past 2 seasons. As a result, he’s finished 12th and 8th among 3-4 outside linebackers on PFF in 2016 and 2017 respectively. Going into his age 30 season, he may begin to decline in the next couple years, but he has no injury history and should still have a strong season in 2018.

Smith is not as good, but the 2015 2nd round pick is only in his age 26 season, so he could keep getting better. After struggling early in his career, he’s improved in every season in the league and was about an average starter on 754 snaps in 2017. He should play a similar role in 2018. Now going into the final year of his rookie deal, he could be a candidate for an extension this off-season.

Junior Galette was their 3rd outside linebacker last season, playing 407 snaps in a rotational role and excelling as a situational pass rusher, with 3 sacks, 9 hits, and 25 hurries on just 258 pass rush snaps. He was not brought back as a free agent this off-season, but the Redskins did a good job replacing him with ex-Bear Pernell McPhee. McPhee has been limited to 658 snaps in 22 games by injury over the past 2 seasons combined, but he’s earned a positive grade from PFF in all 7 seasons in the league and topped out at 4th among 3-4 outside linebackers in both 2014 and 2015.

Now going into his age 30 season, given his injury history, McPhee’s best days are probably behind him, but he can still make an impact in a situational role if he’s healthy. He’s not the most reliable option, but he was worth a flyer on a 1-year, 1.8 million dollar deal and the Redskins have insurance for him in 2017 2nd round pick Ryan Anderson. Despite being a high pick, Anderson played just 193 mediocre snaps as a rookie, but he could be better in his 2nd season in the league and should have a bigger role, especially if McPhee can’t stay healthy. With better health at middle linebacker, this should be an improved linebacking corps in 2018.

Grade: B+

Secondary

Injuries were also an issue in the secondary. Starting cornerbacks Josh Norman and Bashaud Breeland each missed a pair of games, while safety Montae Nicholson went suffered a season ending concussion week 11 after 319 snaps. Third cornerback Kendall Fuller played all 16 games, starting 6 of them, and finished as Pro Football Focus’ 6th ranked cornerback on 719 snaps. He was traded to the Chiefs in the Alex Smith trade though, which is a big blow to this secondary.

The Redskins also lost Bashaud Breeland in free agency, but at least they prepared for his departure, taking Fabian Moreau in the 3rd round in 2017. He played just 59 snaps as a rookie, but should be a top-3 cornerback in 2018 and could easily be the starter opposite Josh Norman. Breeland also didn’t play as well as Fuller, grading out about average on PFF, so he won’t be as hard to replace. Fuller’s replacement will likely be veteran free agent addition Orlando Scandrick, who comes over from the Cowboys.

Scandrick has been a solid starter for a number of years, making 50 starts since 2013 and earning positive grades from PFF in each of his previous 4 healthy seasons prior to 2017, but he’s going into his age 31 season and was PFF’s 115th ranked cornerback out of 121 eligible in coverage grade last season. Originally owed 3 million non-guaranteed before being released by the Cowboys, the Redskins actually gave him a raise with a 2-year, 7 million dollar deal. He’s a low upside veteran stopgap, though his ability to play the slot will be valuable. With the Redskins not drafting a cornerback until the 7th round, his only real competition is Quinton Dunbar, a 2015 undrafted free agent who has been a decent reserve cornerback in 3 years in the league, but he’s never played more than 372 snaps in a season and is a projection to a larger role.

Josh Norman remains locked in as the #1 cornerback. PFF’s 8th ranked cornerback in 2015 with the Panthers, Norman hasn’t quite lived up to the 5-year, 75 million dollar deal they gave him the following off-season, but he’s been an above average starter in both seasons in Washington and has earned 4 straight positive grades for a season overall. He’s a one-year wonder in terms of being a dominant top level cornerback and he’s already going into his age 31 season, so he could decline over the next couple seasons, but he should still be a solid starter and is probably the Redskins’ best defensive back.

Safety DJ Swearinger was their only defensive back to make all 16 starts last season. A 2nd round pick by the Texans in 2013, Swearinger was a bust early in his career, bouncing around from the Texans to the Buccaneers to the Cardinals, but he had a breakout year in his contract year in 2016 in Arizona, finishing 8th among safeties and, though he fell to 27th in his first season in Washington, he proved to be more than worth the 3-year, 13.5 million dollar deal the Redskins signed him to as a free agent last off-season. Still only going into his age 27 season, Swearinger should remain a solid starter.

Montae Nicholson is expected to return after his rookie season was cut short by a bad concussion in 2017. A 4th round pick, He played well enough in limited action to warrant starting again, but he’s still pretty inexperienced, so he probably won’t be handed the job. Deshazor Everett, a 2015 undrafted free agent, made 8 starts in Nicholson’s absence last year in the first significant action of his career and wasn’t terrible, though Nicholson is the higher upside option. The Redskins also used a 4th round pick on Penn State Troy Apke, but it’s unclear if he’ll have much of a role beyond special teams as a rookie. A freak athlete, Apke has developmental upside, but was considered a late round pick at best on tape before an eye opening combine. This isn’t a bad secondary overall, but they’ll miss Kendall Fuller.

Grade: B-

Conclusion

The Redskins bungled their quarterback situation and had to give away a high pick and a promising young cornerback in order to get a starting caliber quarterback this off-season, but Alex Smith isn’t really a downgrade and this supporting cast should be healthier in 2018. The problem is they play in the NFC, which will have numerous talented teams competing for wild card spots. The Redskins played a hard schedule last year, but it won’t be much easier this season, so they’ll have a hard time qualifying for the post-season. I will have an official prediction later in the off-season.

Prediction: XX-XX XX in NFC East

Washington Redskins at New York Giants: 2017 Week 17 NFL Pick

Washington Redskins (7-8) at New York Giants (2-13)

The Redskins got off to a disappointing 5-8 start, but that was largely the result of a tough schedule, as they had the toughest schedule in the league through 13 games. Their schedule has gotten a lot easier over the past few weeks and they have gotten better results because of that, as they have beaten the Cardinals and Broncos in Washington by scores of 20-15 and 27-11 in the past two weeks, covering the spread in both games.

This week, they are 3-point road favorites in New York against the Giants, who have the 2nd worst record in the league at 2-13. Making matters even worse for the Giants, they enter this game very banged up, as safety Landon Collins, tight end Evan Engram, and wide receiver Sterling Shepard have all gone down in the last week. The Giants struggled mightily on the road in Arizona last week in a 23-0 loss, especially struggling after those players went down with injuries.

The Redskins have a good chance to cover this spread, but I’m not that confident in them because they aren’t healthy either, losing left tackle Trent Williams, center Spencer Long, running backs Rob Kelley and Christian Thompson, wide receiver Terrelle Pryor, tight end Jordan Reed, defensive end Jonathan Allen, middle linebackers Zach Brown and Mason Foster, and safety Montae Nicholson since the start of the season. If this was earlier in the season when the Redskins were competitive with teams like the Seahawks, Saints, Rams, Chiefs, and Vikings, I would take the Redskins in a heartbeat, but I only have this line calculated at Washington -4 because of the Redskins’ injury situation, so this is just a low confidence pick.

Washington Redskins 24 New York Giants 20

Pick against the spread: Washington -3

Confidence: Low

Denver Broncos at Washington Redskins: 2017 Week 16 NFL Pick

Denver Broncos (5-9) at Washington Redskins (6-8)

The Redskins have had a tough year. Up until last week, they had the toughest schedule in the NFL in terms of opponent’s strength of schedule. Over the final 3 weeks of the season, they have one of the easiest schedules in the league, starting with a home game against the Blaine Gabbert led Cardinals last week, but they are completely out of the playoff race right now and also incredibly banged up, losing left tackle Trent Williams, center Spencer Long, running backs Rob Kelley and Christian Thompson, wide receiver Terrelle Pryor, tight end Jordan Reed, defensive end Jonathan Allen, middle linebackers Zach Brown and Mason Foster, and safety Montae Nicholson since the start of the season.

This week, the Redskins face the 5-9 Broncos, but the Broncos have been a little better than their record suggests, as they rank 23rd in first down rate differential at -1.38%. Their issue has been that they have the league’s 2nd worst turnover margin at -15, only better than the Browns, but turnover margin tends to be unpredictable on a week-to-week basis, so the Broncos could easily play turnover neutral football to close out their season. The Broncos’ quarterback situation is so bad that they will probably continue throwing interceptions at a higher than average rate, but their talented defense (4th in first down rate allowed) only has 13 takeaways through 14 games, which could definitely improve in the final 2 weeks of the season.

Given that and the state of the Redskins’ roster with all of their injuries, I have these two teams about even. That suggests this line should be about 3 in favor of the hometown Redskins, so we are getting a little bit of line value with the Broncos, as long as this line stays at 3.5. About 1 in 6 games are decided by exactly a field goal, so getting the full 3.5 is key. At Washington -3, I might take the Redskins, though this is a no confidence pick either way.

Sunday update: The Broncos ruled out both Emmanuel Sanders and Cody Latimer on Sunday morning. Despite that, this line has dropped to 3. I’m changing my pick to Washington, but this is still a no confidence pick.

Washington Redskins 20 Denver Broncos 16

Pick against the spread: Washington -3

Confidence: None

Arizona Cardinals at Washington Redskins: 2017 Week 15 NFL Pick

Arizona Cardinals (6-7) at Washington Redskins (5-8)

The Redskins have fallen to 5-8 after a big 30-13 loss in Los Angeles against the Chargers last week, while the Cardinals snuck out a 12-7 home victory over the skidding Titans to improve to 6-7. As a result, this line shifted from Washington -6 to -4, a significant line movement, considering about 15% of games are decided by 4-6 points. Typically I love going against significant week-to-week line movements, as they tend to be an overreaction to a single week of play. This time is no exception.

The Redskins looked bad against the Chargers last week, but the Chargers are a legitimately good team, so I don’t hold that against them too much. The Redskins have looked a lot better against other legitimately good teams this season, beating the Seahawks and Rams and coming close against the Saints. In fact, they’ve had the toughest schedule in the NFL so far this season, so their 5-8 record doesn’t look so bad all things considered. The good news for them is they close out the season with arguably the easiest schedule in the league, facing the Cardinals, Broncos, and Giants.

This home game against the Cardinals is arguably their 3rd easiest game of the entire season, outside of home games against the 49ers and Giants. The Cardinals have been destroyed by injury this season, particularly on offense, where they are without quarterback Carson Palmer, running back David Johnson, wide receiver John Brown, and 4 of their 5 starting offensive linemen from week 1. On defense, they are without safety Tyvon Branch and outside linebacker Markus Golden, two above average starters.

They’ve won 3 games since losing Carson Palmer in a week 7 blowout loss in London to the Rams (33-0), but one of them came in San Francisco against a 49ers team that was winless at the time and the other two came in close fashion at home against the Titans and Jaguars, in games in which the Cardinals won despite losing the first down battle. They’ve also lost at home to the Seahawks and Rams and even lost by 10 in Houston to Tom Savage. They haven’t been very good on the road in general this season, going 1-5 ATS away from home. On top of that, they could be a little flat after a big home victory last week. Teams only cover the spread at a 45% off of a home upset victory. I like the Redskins a good amount this week.

Washington Redskins 24 Arizona Cardinals 16

Pick against the spread: Washington -4

Confidence: High

Washington Redskins at Los Angeles Chargers: 2017 Week 14 NFL Pick

Washington Redskins (5-7) at Los Angeles Chargers (6-6)

The Redskins are only 5-7, but they’ve also faced the 2nd toughest strength of schedule in the NFL thus far. Unfortunately for them, their schedule doesn’t get much easier this week. The Chargers are only 6-6, but they rank 10th in point differential at +56 and 7th in first down rate differential at +4.28%. The Redskins have had some success against top level teams this season though, with wins in Los Angeles against the Rams and in Seattle against the Seahawks and a near win in New Orleans against the Saints.

They lost by 24 in Dallas last week, but that was on a Thursday night and the game was closer than the final score. That loss also puts them in a good spot, as road underdogs tend to cover in their 2nd of two road games off of a loss. Teams are 121-78 ATS in that spot since 2008. That’s because teams typically do better in their second of two road games, as opposed to a single road game sandwiched between two home games, but lines don’t really adjust for that. Teams are 256-274 straight up in their 2nd of two road games since 2008, getting outscored by an average of 0.89 points per game, as opposed to 379-523 straight up in a road game that’s sandwiched between two home games, getting outscored by an average of 2.94 points per game, a difference of about 2 points.

On top of that, the Redskins are also in a much better spot than the Chargers because, while the Chargers have a game that could decide the division next week in Kansas City, the Redskins have one of their easier games of the season next week, at home against the Arizona Cardinals. The Redskins are expected to be 6 point favorites in that game, according to the early line, while the Chargers are expected to be 2 point underdogs in Kansas City.

Underdogs are 67-41 ATS since 2014 before being favorites when their opponent will next be underdogs and underdogs of 6+ are 44-33 ATS since 2008 before being favorites of 6+ the following week. Both of those trends are in play here. With a tough upcoming game, the Chargers could overlook the Redskins a little bit, while the Redskins should be completely focused. The Chargers also draw very few home fans in Los Angeles and have very little homefield advantage as a result, so the Redskins have a very good shot to give them a tough game. They are worth a small bet at +6.

Los Angeles Chargers 23 Washington Redskins 20

Pick against the spread: Washington +6

Confidence: Medium

Washington Redskins at Dallas Cowboys: 2017 Week 13 NFL Pick

Washington Redskins (5-6) at Dallas Cowboys (5-6)

After a convincing win on Sunday Night Football over the Kansas City Chiefs in week 9, the Cowboys were 5-3 and appeared to be back as a legitimate contender. However, the sky has completely fallen for them in the 3 weeks since then. Running back Ezekiel Elliott’s suspension was reinstated just a few days after the win over Kansas City. Left tackle Tyron Smith then injured his groin in practice. And then they lost linebacker Sean Lee in the first half against Atlanta. The Cowboys ended up losing that game by 20 after jumping out to a 7-0 lead in the first quarter and they’ve lost all 3 games overall since that Kansas City game, by a combined 70 points. Making matters even worse, that win over Kansas City no longer looks impressive because the Chiefs have now lost 5 of 6, including losses to the Giants and Bills.

The good news for the Cowboys is that teams tend to bounce back after consecutive blowout losses. Teams are 46-32 ATS since 2002 off of 2+ straight losses by 21 or more. It’s counter-intuitive, but it makes sense, as teams tend to be overlooked, underrated, and embarrassed after getting blown out in back-to-back weeks. I don’t know for sure that Washington will overlook them or that Dallas will play better after being embarassed, but you could definitely argue that they are underrated, as they are coming off of 3 games against teams with top-10 rosters, the Falcons, Eagles, and Chargers. Last week’s loss to the Chargers led to a significant line movement in this game, as the Cowboys have gone from being 3 point favorites on the early line last week to 2 point underdogs this week. That seems like an overreaction, given how talented the Chargers are.

The problem is the Redskins are a little underrated too, as they too have had a tough schedule. Prior to last week’s game against the Giants, the Redskins had the highest opponent win percentage in the league. Their record isn’t great at 5-6, but they beat the Rams (in LA), Raiders, and Seahawks (in Seattle) and came close against the Saints (in New Orleans) and the early season Chiefs (in Kansas City). They were underwhelming against the Giants, but that’s to be expected, as they were on a short week, coming off of a tough overtime loss in New Orleans the week before.

The Redskins also didn’t have left tackle Trent Williams in the lineup and they might have overlooked the Giants a little bit, given that it was their first easy game in weeks. Despite that, the Redskins still covered, winning by 10 as 7.5 point favorites. Now they get Williams back and they should be fresher and more focused on normal rest. Tyron Smith returned for the Cowboys last week, but Elliott still has 3 more games left on his suspension and Sean Lee remains out indefinitely, so I have the Redskins about 1.5 points better in my roster rankings.

The Cowboys also haven’t had much homefield advantage in recent years. Because they tend to attract fans throughout the country, their advantage at home is significantly less and that’s noticeable in the numbers. They are 33-28 on the road since 2010 (35-26 ATS), with a scoring differential of -0.07 per game, as opposed to 31-33 at home (22-42 ATS), with a scoring differential of +0.91 per game. Homefield advantage hasn’t even counted for a half point for them over the past 7 seasons. If the Cowboys were 6 or 7 point underdogs in Washington instead of 2 point underdogs at home, I’d like them a lot more this week.

Given the Cowboys’ lack of homefield advantage and that the Redskins are a more talented team on paper right now, I have this line calculated at even, so we’re getting some line value with the Cowboys, but not enough to be confident in them. I’d need the full field goal to place a bet on Dallas against the spread and I don’t think we’re going to get it. Unless that happens, this is a low confidence pick, though I will place a small bet on Dallas’ moneyline at +110. At the very least, this is a toss up game, probably more like 52/48 Dallas, so we’re getting some value with +110.

Also, by request, I’m going to be posting lines I lock in early in the week during my Thursday Night writeups this season, so readers can lock them in before they move. These are not all my picks for the week, just picks where I think the line may move in an unfavorable direction (usually underdogs). The rest of the writeups will continue to be posted over the weekend as normal.

NYJ +4 vs. KC (I would also take +3.5 and +3)

Dallas Cowboys 24 Washington Redskins 23 Upset Pick +110

Pick against the spread: Dallas +2

Confidence: Low

New York Giants at Washington Redskins: 2017 Week 12 NFL Pick

New York Giants (2-8) at Washington Redskins (4-6)

Both of these teams come into this game in a terrible spot, as both played games that went to overtime last week and the history of teams playing an overtime game on Sunday and then playing again on Thursday is not good. Teams are 3-21 ATS in that spot all-time as long as they are facing an opponent who is not coming off of an overtime game. Unfortunately, because both of these teams are coming off of overtime games, that trend isn’t useful in evaluating this game.

That’s not the only bad spot these teams are in either. The Redskins lost in overtime in New Orleans last week and home teams tend to struggle off of a road overtime loss anyway (43% cover since 1989), while the Giants won at home as double digit underdogs against the Giants and teams also tend to struggle after a big home upset win anyway (44% cover since 1989 after a win as 4+ point home underdogs). The Redskins are coming off of a huge blown 4th quarter lead, while the Giants are coming off of arguably their Super Bowl, so I don’t expect either teams’ best effort on a short week this week, especially since both teams are coming off of overtime games.

Neither team has an easy upcoming matchup either, as the Giants turn around and go to Oakland, while the Redskins turn around and go to Dallas. Underdogs of 6+ are 56-92 ATS since 2012 before being underdogs of 6+ again, which the Giants likely will be next week (the early line has them -7 in Oakland). Meanwhile, divisional home favorites are 24-62 ATS since 2002 before being divisional road underdogs, which the Redskins likely will be next week (the early line has them -3 in Dallas). I’m taking the Giants because I have this line calculated at 6.5, so we’re getting some line value with them as 7 point underdogs, but it’s not nearly enough for me to be confident at all in them, especially since they’re in a terrible spot.

Washington Redskins 19 New York Giants 13

Pick against the spread: NY Giants +7

Confidence: None