Washington Mascots 2020 NFL Season Preview

Update: The Washington Redskins will go by the name Washington Football Team in 2020 due to their inability to confirm a new name in time for the season. That is a stupid name. I will be calling them the Washington Mascots instead until they settle on a permanent name.

Quarterback

It’s hard to believe, but the Mascots were 6-3 and very much in the mix for the NFC East title going into week 11 of 2018. That week, their season was derailed by a devastating leg injury to franchise quarterback Alex Smith, which not only ended his season, but led to severe complications that have put his career in jeopardy. Backup Colt McCoy got injured a few weeks later and the Mascots had to resort to starting street free agents at quarterback down the stretch in what ended as a 7-9 season.

The Smith injury is an obvious reason for the decline, but the Mascots were never as good as their record with Smith, as they ranked 26th in first down rate differential when he went down,  with just a +1 point differential, despite a +11 turnover margin. That’s the reason why the Mascots still struggled in 2019, finishing with the 2nd worst record in the NFL at 3-13, even with quarterback play that was competent compared to what they got down the stretch in 2018. The Mascots were every bit as bad as their record suggested, finishing with the 2nd worst first down rate differential at -6.31%.

There are some reasons to be optimistic for the Mascots. The big one is new head coach Ron Rivera. Rivera was mostly successful in 9 seasons (76-63-1) in Carolina, including a Super Bowl appearance, and his dismissal mid-season last season was more about the Panthers simply wanting to make a change than anything. It’s hard to imagine too many coaches having success with the injury plagued rosters Rivera has had the past two seasons and it’s definitely not surprising the Panthers’ defense got even worse once they fired the defensive minded Rivera. Rivera could have had his pick of most of the available jobs this off-season, so it’s a bit surprising he picked Washington, but it’s a big win for the Mascots and legitimizes the organization at least somewhat.

A big part of the reason why Rivera took this job is probably second year quarterback Dwayne Haskins, who was the 15th overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, as it’s unlikely Rivera would have taken this job if he was not high on the former Ohio State quarterback. Haskins’ rookie year numbers aren’t impressive, as he completed 58.6% of his passes for an average of 6.72 YPA, 7 touchdowns, and 7 interceptions and led the Mascots to a 33.42% first down rate in his 7 starts, but he led the Mascots’ offense to a 40.08% first rate down in his final 4 starts of the season before missing week 17, completing 63.2% of his passes for an average of 7.48 YPA, 5 touchdowns, and 1 interception over that stretch, so he definitely got better as his rookie year went on.

It’s overly optimistic to assume Haskins can keep that kind of production up for 16 games, but it’s not hard to imagine Haskins taking a step forward in his second season in the league. Haskins was considered raw coming out of college, as he was just a one-year starter, though he had one of the most impressive statistical seasons in Big Ten history in that one season. Only going into his third season as a starter between college, Haskins has a high ceiling and could easily develop into an above average starter long-term, even if it isn’t this season.

Experienced Veteran Case Keenum began last season as the starting quarterback and made eight starts in total, but he’s no longer with the team, so this is completely Dwayne Haskins’ job now. To replace Keenum as the backup, Rivera sent a late round draft pick to his former employer to acquire Kyle Allen, who made 12 starts in Cam Newton’s absence for Rivera’s Panthers in 2019. 

Allen got off to a good start last season, but finished with 62.0% completion, 6.79 YPA, 17 touchdowns, and 16 interceptions, with another 12 potential interceptions dropped, giving him the most expected interceptions of any quarterback in the league besides Jameis Winston. Overall, Allen finished 38th out of 39 qualifying quarterbacks on Pro Football Focus. The former undrafted free agent has his moments, but ultimately profiles as a backup at best long-term and he would likely struggle if he had to see action in Haskins’ absence this season. The Mascots are banking on Haskins taking a step forward and they may get that, though how much of a step forward remains to be seen.

Grade: C+

Receiving Corps

One factor working against Haskins is his lack of a supporting cast on offense. The Mascots had the most adjusted games lost to injury in the league in 2019, which is normally a good sign for future improvement, as injuries tend to be very inconsistent year-to-year, but on offense a lot of the players they lost last season are no longer with the team, including top-2 tight ends Jordan Reed and Vernon Davis and former starting wide receiver Paul Richardson. 

The Mascots also did very little to upgrade Haskins’ supporting cast and as of this writing have the second most unused cap space in the league, along with 14 million in dead cap and a 21.4 million dollar cap hit for Alex Smith, who is unlikely to play a snap this season. Normally teams with potential franchise quarterbacks on a cheap rookie deal tend to be aggressive in free agency upgrading around that quarterback, but the Mascots were anything but, especially in the receiving corps, where the Mascots will be relying on a very young group.

The best of that young group by far is 2019 3rd round pick Terry McLaurin, who had a tremendous rookie season. Not only did he put up an impressive 58/919/7 slash line, but he did it despite not being an every down player for most of the season, ranking 33rd in the NFL in snaps played by a wide receiver. In terms of yards per route run, he ranked 14th in the NFL among wide receivers at 2.05, which is even more impressive when you consider how ineffective the rest of this offense was. Overall, he finished the season as Pro Football Focus’ 5th ranked wide receiver. 

McLaurin benefits from familiarity with Haskins, who was a college teammate at Ohio State, but he produced regardless of the quarterback last season. McLaurin was a little old for a rookie, but he’s still only going into his age 25 season and has a bright future as he and Haskins continue to develop together. Even if the rest of this offense struggles, I would expect McLaurin to top his 2019 production, as he’ll likely have a larger target share and play closer to every down.

No other Redskin topped 400 yards receiving last season and they didn’t make any real additions to this group this off-season; in fact, they lost free agent pass catching back Chris Thompson, whose 42/378/0 slash line made him the team’s 2nd leading receiver last year. Without proven options, the Mascots are banking on some young players taking a big step forward. Kelvin Harmon finished 2nd on the team among wide receivers in snaps played, though he only played about half the snaps, posting a middling grade across 482 snaps and averaging a mediocre 1.26 yards per route run. A 6th round pick in 2019, he’ll likely have a larger role in 2020 and is probably the favorite for the #2 receiver job, but he’s a very underwhelming starting option. 

Trey Quinn, a 2018 7th round pick, was the Mascots’ primary slot receiver for most of last season, but he was abysmal in the first significant action of his career, averaging just 0.66 yards per route run and finishing as PFF’s 98th ranked wide receiver out of 102 qualifiers before going down for the season with injury in week 13. His replacement Steven Sims was a clear upgrade in limited action, so Quinn isn’t going to be guaranteed to get his job back. 

Sims averaged 1.46 yards per route run on 213 routes, flashed his speed on 9 carries for 85 yards and a 1 touchdown, and earned a middling grade from PFF on 310 snaps, but he’s hardly a reliable option either, as speedy the but undersized (5-10 177 pounds) 2019 undrafted free agent has still barely played in the NFL. Other options for playing time at wide receiver include veteran Cody Latimer, primarily a special teamer who has never topped 24 catches in 7 seasons in the league, and raw 4th round rookie Antonio Gandy-Golden. They would both be underwhelming options as well.

Things aren’t any better at tight end either. Jordan Reed and Vernon Davis were once a solid tight end duo, but injuries cost Reed all of 2019 and limited Davis to 186 snaps in 4 games, leaving bottom of the roster talents Jeremy Sprinkle and Hale Hentges to lead the team with 601 snaps and 230 snaps respectively. Reed and Davis are both no longer with the team, but outside of signing another couple bottom of the roster talents in Richard Rodgers and Logan Thomas, the Mascots did nothing to address the position this off-season.

Sprinkle is penciled in as the starter, even though the 2017 5th round pick has struggled throughout his career as both a blocker and a receiver. That was especially the case last season in his first extended starting experience, as he averaged just 0.79 yards per route run on a 26/241/1 slash line and finished as PFF’s 42nd ranked tight end overall out of 44 qualifiers. Hentges was better, but only by default and the 2019 undrafted free agent still has very little NFL experience. 

Richard Rodgers is the most proven of the bunch with a 58/510/8 slash line in 2015, but that was largely due to playing with Aaron Rodgers and he’s been limited to just 43 catches in 4 seasons since, in part due to injuries. Thomas, meanwhile, has never topped 16 catches in a season in 6 seasons in the league. Outside of Terry McLaurin, it’s tough to see where Haskins is going to be able to find a reliable target in the passing game.

Update: Kelvin Harmon is out for the season with a torn ACL, capping this group’s upside even more. Steven Sims and Trey Quinn will now have to see significant roles.

Grade: C

Running Backs

With passing down back Chris Thompson now in Jacksonville, the Mascots used a third round pick on Antonio Gibson, who played both wide receiver and running back in college and is expected to be the primary passing down back in 2020. Gibson could also see some snaps at wide receiver in certain situations. The Mascots also added veteran Peyton Barber in free agency, although that one is a little harder to understand. 

Not only does Barber have a redundant skill set to their top-2 backs Adrian Peterson and Derrius Guice, as a two down between the tackles runner, but he’s also coming off of a horrendous season in Tampa Bay, ranking dead last in the NFL in yards per carry with 3.05 YPC average on 154 carries. He also has just a 3.60 YPC average for his career and has never topped 20 catches in a season. The 2-year, 3 million dollar deal the Mascots gave him in free agency seems like a total waste, as he figures to start the season 4th on the depth chart and likely wouldn’t be a useful option if even Peterson or Guice was to get injured.

Injuries have been the story of Guice’s career thus far, as the 2018 2nd round pick missed his entire rookie season with a torn ACL and was limited to 42 carries in five games last season by further knee injuries. Guice flashed on those 42 carries last season, averaging 5.83 YPC, and he still has plenty of talent and plenty of time to show why he was drafted highly, still only going into his age 23 season, but he’s hardly a reliable player. 

The Mascots originally signed Adrian Peterson after Guice tore his ACL and, despite his advanced age for a running back, he’s been a capable lead back for them, rushing for 1,940 yards and 12 touchdowns on 462 carries (4.20 YPC). How the carries would be divided between a healthy Guice and Peterson, now in his age 35 season, remains to be seen, especially with Peyton Barber around as a wild card option for carries. None of Barber, Guice, and Peterson are much of a pass catcher, so the only player likely locked in a role is the rookie Gibson on passing downs. There’s some potential at this position, but a lot of questions as well.

Grade: B-

Offensive Line

Another player the Mascots were without in 2019 was left tackle Trent Williams, who sat out the whole season, but he’s not coming back either, as the Mascots finally granted his trade request this off-season and sent him to the San Francisco 49ers for draft picks. The Mascots also lost Donald Penn, Williams’ replacement last season, and left guard Ereck Flowers, who were both capable starters last season, and they didn’t do much to replace either of them, so this is still a very underwhelming offensive line.

Left tackle is the biggest area of concern as, without Penn and Williams, the Mascots are down to free agent acquisition Cornelius Lucas and 2018 3rd round pick Geron Christian, who would both be questionable options. Lucas flashed in 5 starts down the stretch for the Bears last season, but that was on the right side and it’s very possible that stretch was a flash in the pan for a player who has made just 14 total starts in 6 seasons in the league. 

Lucas would almost definitely be overmatched as a 16-game starter on the blindside, but Christian wouldn’t necessarily be better, as he’s struggled on 189 career snaps and has been unable to earn coaching staff’s trust enough to get onto the field consistently, even with plenty of available opportunity on this unit. It’s possible 4th round rookie Saadhiq Charles could also see starts at left tackle down the stretch if neither Lucas nor Christian can lock down the job, though he enters the league very raw. Donald Penn also remains a free agent and could be brought back, but it’s unclear what he’d have left for his age 37 season or if he’d even want to return.

At left guard, free agent Wes Schweitzer is expected to be the replacement for Ereck Flowers, after coming over from the Falcons on a 3-year, 13.5 million dollar deal this off-season. Schweitzer is experienced, making 36 starts in the past 3 seasons, but the former 2016 6th round pick has been middling at best, including a 62nd ranked finish out of 89 qualifying guards in 2019, so he’s an underwhelming option and figures to be a downgrade from Flowers, who ranked 34th.

The Mascots did fortunately keep right guard Brandon Scherff on the franchise tag, as he’s one of the few bright spots on this offense. He’s also a player the Mascots can expect more from this season, after injuries limited him to 11 games in 2019, though it’s worth noting he hasn’t played more than 14 games in a season in 2016. Even with the injuries, Scherff has developed from the 5th overall pick in 2015 to one of the better guards in the NFL, finishing in the top-27 among guards on Pro Football Focus in all 5 seasons, including top-7 finishes in both 2017 and 2019. Even though he’s set to make 15.03 million on the franchise tag, retaining him was a no brainer and the Mascots should try to get him signed long-term as soon as possible, even if they have to make him one of the top paid guards in the league to do so.

Right tackle Morgan Moses and center Chase Rouiller also remain. Moses is a long-time starting right tackle for the Mascots, making all 80 starts there over the past five seasons. He’s never been a dominant player, but he’s been consistently average or better on PFF in every season, he’s still in the prime of his career in his age 29 season, and his durability is an added bonus. Rouliller, meanwhile, has been a middling starter in 37 career starts, since being drafted by the Mascots in the 6th round in 2017, and is coming off of his best season, ranking 15th among centers on PFF. There’s some continuity on this offensive line, but the left side is a real question mark.

Grade: B-

Edge Defenders

The Mascots have concerns on defense as well, but they are mostly in the backend. In fact, the Mascots are moving to a 4-3 defense this year after years of playing a 3-4 and their new 4-man defensive line is an obvious strength. The Mascots’ interior defenders and edge defenders played well last season and the Mascots got even better upfront this off-season when they used the 2nd overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft on Ohio State edge defender Chase Young. With Young coming in and this defense moving to an attacking 4-3 style, the Mascots could be very disruptive upfront this season.

Young has the potential to be one of the best edge defenders in the league long-term and he’ll immediately have a big role, even at a position where the Mascots were pretty deep last season. Along with using the 2nd pick on Young this year, the Mascots also used a first round pick on an edge defender in 2019, taking Montez Sweat 26th overall, and a second round pick in 2017, taking Ryan Anderson 49th overall. Add in former first round pick Ryan Kerrigan (16th overall in 2010) and the Mascots go four deep on the edge and should rotate their players heavily. Neither Sweat nor Anderson have broken out as more than a middling player yet though, so it definitely doesn’t hurt to add more talent to the mix. 

Sweat still profiles as an above average starter long-term, while Anderson’s future is murkier, as he’s going into his 4th season in the league and finished 92nd out of 118 qualifying edge defenders on Pro Football Focus in the first starting experience of his career in 2019. Kerrigan, meanwhile, is coming off of his lowest graded season since his rookie year, not a complete surprise given his age, as he’s now going into his age 32 season. Kerrigan finished above average on PFF in 9 straight seasons prior to 2019, including a career best 15th in 2017, but he fell to 71st out of 118 qualifiers in 2019 and it’s likely his best days are behind him. He could still continue to contribute as a rotational player for another few years, but he could also continue declining.

Given his age and decline, it’s surprising Kerrigan wasn’t released or forced to take a pay cut this off-season, owed 10.75 million non-guaranteed in the final year of his contract next year. An extension that guarantees him some money beyond 2020 in exchange for a significant pay cut could make the most sense for both sides, especially with Kerrigan wanting to finish his career in Washington. This is a deep edge group, but they need a young player like Montez Sweat or Chase Young to breakout if they’re going to have a top level player at the position.

Grade: B

Interior Defenders

The Mascots also have a bunch of recent high draft picks on the interior, including a pair of former first round picks in Da’Ron Payne (13th overall in 2018) and Jonathan Allen (17th overall in 2017). The 6-3 319 pound Payne was primarily a nose tackle in the Mascots’ old 3-4, but he played more sub packages than your typical nose tackle, averaging 50.2 snaps per game in his career thus far. He’s been a good run stuffer, but needs to develop as a pass rusher (5.7% pressure rate) if the Mascots are going to continue justifying playing him in sub packages. Fortunately, Payne is only going into his age 23 season, so he still has a high ceiling as a potential three down player. Allen, meanwhile, is a more well rounded player, but doesn’t excel in any one area.

Matt Ioannidis was only a 5th round pick in 2016, but he’s arguably developed into the Mascots’ best interior defender, earning an above average grade from Pro Football Focus in each of the past 3 seasons, while averaging 42.0 snaps per game. Ioannidis leaves something to be desired against the run, but has consistently been a productive pass rusher for this team, totaling 20.5 sacks, 19 hits, and a very impressive 12.4% pressure rate from the interior over the past three seasons combined. The Mascots also have good depth on the interior, as 2018 5th round pick Tim Settle has shown promise on 449 snaps thus far in his career, both as a pass rusher (7.1% pressure rate) and a run stuffer. Little has changed with this unit, beyond their young players having another year another their belt, so this should remain an above average unit with upside.

Grade: B+

Linebackers

While the Mascots’ defensive front looks strong, their backend has a lot of problems. That was the case in the linebacking corps last season, as their top-2 linebackers Jon Bostic (1,031 snaps) and Cole Holcomb (718 snaps) finished 66th and 64th respectively among qualifying off ball linebackers on Pro Football Focus, while top reserve Shaun Dion Hamilton (387 snaps) wasn’t much better. There’s a good chance things are better in 2020 though and not just by default, as the Mascots made a pair of additions in free agency in Thomas Davis and Kevin Pierre-Louis and they are also expected to get linebacker Reuben Foster back from a devastating knee injury that cost him all of 2019. All three have potential in 2020 and will compete for roles with the three holdovers in the Mascots’ new 4-3 linebacking corps.

Davis is easily the most proven of the bunch, although his best days are definitely behind him, now going into his age 37 season. Davis was once one of the better every down 4-3 outside linebackers in the league in his prime and he did so in Carolina with Ron Rivera, but last season with the Chargers, while he still played at a high level against the run, he struggled in coverage and was limited to base package work down the stretch. He has the opportunity to earn an every down role in a thin linebacking corps in Washington, but he could continue to struggle in coverage given that he doesn’t have the same athleticism he once did. He was signed to a one-year deal worth 3.5 million this off-season and could easily be entering the final year of what would be a 16-year NFL career.

Pierre-Louis also comes to town on a one-year deal, signing for 3 million this off-season. Pierre-Louis has primarily played special teams thus far in his career, never topping 273 defensive snaps in 6 seasons in the league, but he flashed in 4 starts down the stretch as an injury replacement for the Bears last season. He’s already going into his age 29 season and could prove to be a flash in the pan, but he’s a worthwhile flyer for a team that needs help at the position. The Mascots shouldn’t expect much from him defensively and he’s not guaranteed to lock down a role, but he does come with some upside and should at least help on special teams.

The player with the biggest upside is Reuben Foster, but it’s tough to know what to expect from him, given the extent of his leg injury. Foster was a first round pick by the 49ers in 2017 and his career got off to a good start, as he played well across 16 starts in his first two seasons in the league, but then his career was derailed by legal issues, followed by last season’s injury. The allegations against Foster proved to be largely unfounded, so he should be in the clear to return from a conduct standpoint, but he has injury problems dating back to his collegiate days and it’s tough to know what to expect from him from a health standpoint. If healthy, I would expect him to at least have a base package role and he’s still only going into his age 26 season, so he still has time to develop into an above average starter, but his future is very uncertain.

Among the three holdovers, Jon Bostic is the most experienced of the bunch, making 62 starts in 7 seasons in the league and playing 91% of the snaps for the Mascots last season, but he struggled last season and has never been more than a snap eater in his career, so he shouldn’t be guaranteed a starting role. Cole Holcomb also started 16 games last season, but he also struggled and, though the 2019 5th round pick could be better in his second season, there’s no guarantee he ever develops into a consistent starter. Shaun Dion Hamilton, meanwhile, has played just 516 snaps since being drafted by the Mascots in the 6th round in 2018 and probably isn’t a roster lock, even at a position without established roles. This is a deeper group than last year and one with more upside, but they also don’t have any sure things either.

Grade: C

Secondary

The Mascots also have a lot of problems in the secondary. At cornerback, the Mascots got rid of Quinton Dunbar and Josh Norman. Cutting Norman was a no brainer and won’t hurt this team, as he was owed 12.5 million non-guaranteed after a season in which he totally fell off and finished 128th out of 135 qualifying cornerbacks on Pro Football Focus, but Dunbar, who was traded because the Mascots didn’t want to sign him to a big contract long-term, was one of the best cornerbacks in the league last season, finishing 3rd at his position on PFF. He’ll obviously be a huge loss for a team that had a lot of problems in the secondary last season even with Dunbar around.

Dunbar will be replaced by free agent acquisition Kendall Fuller, who returns to Washington on a 4-year, 40 million dollar deal, after spending the past two seasons in Kansas City, where he was sent as part of the Alex Smith trade. Drafted by the Mascots in the 3rd round in 2016, Fuller was dominant as the primary slot cornerback in his second and seemingly final season with the Mascots in 2017, finishing 3rd among cornerbacks on PFF on 720 snaps (0.74 slot yards per route run allowed, 3rd in the NFL among cornerbacks).

However, he never matched that level of play in Kansas City, falling to 33rd among cornerbacks as an every down player in 2018 and then getting benched in a middling 2019 season in which he ended up playing just 498 snaps in 11 games. Given that, it’s surprising the Mascots paid him as much as they did to return, but, still only going into his age 25 season, Fuller still has upside going forward and he has obvious bounce back potential in 2020, even if he never repeats his dominant 2017 season.

The Mascots also signed ex-Eagles cornerback Ronald Darby to a one-year, 3 million dollar deal in free agency and he has a good chance to lock down a starting job in Washington. Like Fuller, Darby has had success in the past, finishing 13th among cornerbacks on PFF in 2015, 17th in 2016, and 37th in 2018, but he’s missed 20 games over the past three seasons combined, he’s never played all 16 games in a season in 5 seasons in the league, and his injuries seem to have sapped his abilities, as he fell to 129th among 135 qualifying cornerbacks on PFF in 2019. Still only going into his age 26 season, Darby still has bounce back potential if he can stay healthy, but he’s a big question mark.

The biggest reason Darby is likely locked into a starting role is the Mascots lack a good alternative, with holdovers Fabian Moreau and Jimmy Moreland, who both struggled in 2019, being their only other real options for snaps at the position. Playing 664 snaps and 471 snaps respectively, Moreau and Moreland finished 115th and 96th respectively among 135 qualifying cornerbacks on PFF last season. Both are young and could improve in the future, but Moreland was just a 7th round choice in 2019, while Moreau has been mediocre in 3 seasons in the league (17 starts) since the Mascots took him in the 3rd round in 2018. One of the two will have to play in three cornerback sets and, given Darby’s injury history, it’s likely both will see significant action together at some point this season.

At safety, Landon Collins remains as the starter at one spot, while free agent acquisition Sean Davis is likely to start at the other spot. Collins came to Washington last off-season on a huge 6-year, 84 million dollar deal that makes him the 3rd highest paid safety in the league in average annual salary. He’s not as good as that suggests, particularly because he’s a much better player against the run than he is in coverage, where he has his struggles from time to time, but he’s earned an above average grade from PFF in each of the past 4 seasons, including a 10th ranked finish in 2016 and a 12th ranked finish in 2017, though he was just 40th in 2019. Still very much in his prime in his age 26 season, Collins should remain an above average strong safety.

Davis, meanwhile, replaces Montae Nicholson, who was released this off-season after a miserable 2019 season in which he dealt with off the field problems and finished 95th out of 100 qualifying safeties on PFF. Davis should be an upgrade, although that’s not saying much. A 2nd round pick by the Steelers in 2016, Davis started 40 games in the first 3 seasons of his career and was a solid starter in 2018, but he struggled in both 2016 and 2017 and he missed all but 55 snaps last season with injury, so it’s tough to know what to expect him from in 2020. With only 2018 4th round pick Troy Apke, who flashed on the first 210 snaps of his career last season, is an alternative, Davis is likely locked into a starting role. Even if Davis is an upgrade at safety, it’s hard to say this secondary didn’t get worse by losing Dunbar at cornerback.

Grade: C+

Conclusion

The Mascots did well to get Ron Rivera as their head coach this off-season, quarterback Dwayne Haskins could easily take a step forward in his second season in the league, and the Mascots made the obvious decision to take Chase Young 2nd overall, but that’s about where the good news ends for the Mascots, who have positions of weakness across the depth chart, on both sides of the ball. This team has the 3rd lowest payroll in the NFL in terms of average annual salary, even with Alex Smith commanding significant cap space while injured and unavailable, and it shows with a roster that is arguably the NFL’s worst around the quarterback. Even if Haskins makes progress in his second season, it’s hard to see him having much luck in the win/loss column. I will have an official prediction closer to the start of the season.

Offensive Score: 70.24

Defensive Score: 71.27

Total Score: 70.76 (4th in NFC East)

Washington Redskins at Dallas Cowboys: 2019 Week 17 NFL Pick

Washington Redskins (3-12) at Dallas Cowboys (7-8)

The Cowboys are just 7-8 and their playoff hopes are hanging by a thread, needing a win and a Philadelphia loss to win the historically bad NFC East. Despite that, they rank 7th in the NFL with a +82 point differential. Their average margin of victory is 18.57 points per game, but they’ve had a very tough time in close games, going 1-6 in games decided by one score or less and 0-4 in games decided by 4 points or fewer. This is a year after going 9-3 in one score games with almost the same roster and coaching staff. A team’s record in close games tends to be unpredictable on a year-to-year basis and tends to even out in the long run, but the Cowboys have done a complete 180 this season.

Fortunately, the Cowboys end the season with a very easy home game against the Redskins and could easily get their 6th win by 18 points or more this season. Even if they don’t quite get to 18, this spread is only 11 and they should be able to win with ease and cover this spread. The Redskins were a pretty bad team to begin with, but they come into this game with a skeleton crew roster due to injuries. Their defense has already been without their top pass rusher Ryan Kerrigan and cornerback Quinton Dunbar for several weeks, but they will also be without talented safety Landon Collins as well as fellow defensive backs Fabian Moreau, Josh Norman, and Montae Nicholson this week. Over the past 4 weeks, the Redskins have allowed a 40.00% first down rate without Dunbar and Kerrigan and their injury situation is even worse this week.

The only reason the Redskins haven’t been getting blown out in recent weeks is rookie quarterback Dwayne Haskins developing into a capable starting quarterback, leading this offense to a 40.08% first down rate, but Haskins is also out this week, forcing the Redskins to go back to backup caliber quarterback Case Keenum. Making matters even tougher for Keenum, he’ll be without top wide receiver Terry McLaurin and top offensive lineman Brandon Scherff. Missing everyone they are missing, the Redskins rank dead last in my roster rankings this week and are very likely to be blown out by the Cowboys like many others have been this season.

I wish the Cowboys were in a better injury situation though, as quarterback Dak Prescott is playing at less than 100% through a shoulder injury, while cornerback Byron Jones, left tackle Tyron Smith, and linebacker Sean Lee are considered truly questionable after not practicing on Friday. Even with the Cowboys’ injury uncertainty, I have this line calculated at Dallas -15.5, so the Cowboys are still worth a small bet, but I was considering a much larger bet earlier in the week before the injury uncertainty. 

Dallas Cowboys 26 Washington Redskins 10

Pick against the spread: Dallas -11

Confidence: Medium

New York Giants at Washington Redskins: 2019 Week 16 NFL Pick

New York Giants (3-11) at Washington Redskins (3-11)

Both of these teams are 3-11 and have had pretty horrible seasons, but the Giants have been the noticeably better of these two teams, holding a significant edge in point differential -99 to -132, despite the Redskins holding a significant edge in turnover margin +2 to -15. Turnover margins tend to be highly unpredictable on a week-to-week basis, so the Redskins aren’t necessarily going to win the turnover battle this week just because they have the advantage in that metric on the season. In terms of first down rate differential, the Giants have the edge at -2.02% to -6.07%. Unfortunately, we’ve lost a lot of line value with the Giants in the past week, as the Redskins were favored by 3 points on the early line last week, but this line is now even. I have the Giants calculated as 1.5 points, so they should be the right side, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

New York Giants 17 Washington Redskins 16

Pick against the spread: NY Giants PK

Confidence: Low

Philadelphia Eagles at Washington Redskins: 2019 Week 15 NFL Pick

Philadelphia Eagles (6-7) at Washington Redskins (3-10)

This was one of the toughest games of the week to decide. The Eagles are favored by 6 points on the road in Washington and my calculated line for this game falls slightly to either side of 6 depending on whether or not Redskins top cornerback Quinton Dunbar is able to play after not practicing all week due to injury. It seems like he won’t play, so I’m taking the Eagles, but I would flip to the Redskins if Dunbar is able to go. Either way, this would be a no confidence pick. I may have an update tomorrow morning.

Final Update: Dunbar isn’t playing, so I’m leaving this as is. Much has been made of how thin the Eagles are at wide receiver, but the Redskins have an awful group of cornerbacks without Dunbar.

Philadelphia Eagles 24 Washington Redskins 17

Pick against the spread: Philadelphia -6

Confidence: None

Washington Redskins at Green Bay Packers: 2019 Week 14 NFL Pick

Washington Redskins (3-9) at Green Bay Packers (9-3)

The Packers have been close to an auto-bet at home with Aaron Rodgers under center, going 42-21 ATS since 2011 in games that Rodgers starts and finishes. Unfortunately, we’re not getting good line value with them at home this week. The Packers are 9-3, but 5 of their wins were decided by a touchdown or less, as opposed to just 1 of their losses, and they’ve benefitted from a +11 turnover margin, which tends to be very unpredictable on a week-to-week basis.

In terms of first down rate differential, the Packers rank just 16th at +0.52% and have been even worse in recent weeks, ranking 22nd since week 7 at -0.76%. The Redskins are one of the worst teams in the league, ranking 31st in first down rate differential at -7.07%, but I still only have this line calculated at Green Bay -11.5. I’m still taking Green Bay -13 for pick ‘em purposes because of the Packers’ incredible homefield advantage, but I’m not confident in this one at all. 

Green Bay Packers 27 Washington Redskins 13

Pick against the spread: Green Bay -13

Confidence: None

Washington Redskins at Carolina Panthers: 2019 Week 13 NFL Pick

Washington Redskins (2-9) at Carolina Panthers (5-6)

This was one of the toughest games of the week to decide. On one hand, the Panthers have struggled in recent weeks with Kyle Allen falling back to earth after surprisingly playing well in his first few starts of the season and, as a result, they probably shouldn’t be favored by double digits against anyone, even the Redskins. Dating back to week 7, the Panthers have a first down rate differential of -7.81%, 29th in the NFL over that time period. I still have them calculated as 7.5-point home favorites this week against one of the worst few teams in the league, but we’re getting line value with the visitors.

On the other hand, the Redskins are in a tough spot as big underdogs before being big underdogs again. It’s tough for an inferior team to keep it close against a superior team with another tough game on deck, as teams are 29-59 ATS since 2002 as underdogs of 10 or more before being underdogs of 10 or more again. The Redskins are currently 14.5-point underdogs on the early line for next week’s matchup in Green Bay with the Packers and, in a lost season, might not bring their best effort for this game with a tougher game on deck. I’m taking the Redskins for pick ‘em purposes, but this is one of my lowest confidence picks of the week and a push is a strong possibility.

Carolina Panthers 20 Washington Redskins 10

Pick against the spread: Washington +10

Confidence: None

Detroit Lions at Washington Redskins: 2019 Week 12 NFL Pick

Detroit Lions (3-6-1) at Washington Redskins (1-9)

The Lions are arguably the most injury affected team in the league right now. The most visible absence is quarterback Matt Stafford, who will miss his third straight game with a back injury, but the Lions are also missing several other key contributors. Defensive end Trey Flowers, center Frank Ragnow, running back Kerryon Johnson, defensive tackle Da’Shawn Hand, and safety Tracy Walker are all out for this game, while cornerback Rashaan Melvin is questionable after picking up a late week injury. The Lions only rank 25th in first down rate differential at -3.11% and, factoring in all their absences, they rank 30th in my roster rankings.

The Redskins rank 31st in first down rate differential at -8.21%, but they actually rank one spot better than the Lions in my roster rankings. With these two teams about even, I have this line calculated at Washington -3, so I genuinely don’t understand why the Lions are favored in this game by 3.5. Even if Stafford was healthy, I’d have the Lions favored by just 5 points on the road in this matchup, as their largest margin of victory this season was a 5-point home win over the Giants. The Lions are also in a tough spot with another game in 4 days on deck, a spot with a 44% cover rate all-time, so the Redskins are my top pick this week.

Washington Redskins 17 Detroit Lions 13 Upset Pick +160

Pick against the spread: Washington +3.5

Confidence: Pick of the Week

New York Jets at Washington Redskins: 2019 Week 11 NFL Pick

New York Jets (2-7) at Washington Redskins (1-8)

These two teams are very similar. Both have had awful seasons, as the Jets rank 31st in first down rate differential at -7.54% and the Redskins rank 30th at -7.07%, but both have been slightly better when a key player has been in the lineup. The Jets have a 31.14% first down rate and a -4.36% first down rate differential in the 6 games quarterback Sam Darnold has started, while the Redskins have a 31.81% first down rate and a -4.18% first down rate differential in the 7 games guard Brandon Scherff has started. Darnold has struggled in his second season in the league, but he’s been a massive upgrade over backup quarterback Luke Falk, while Scherff is one of the top interior offensive linemen in the league and his impact has been very noticeable for a team that wants to run the football up the middle.

In my roster rankings, I have these two teams with identical scores, tied for 3rd worst in the NFL ahead of the Bengals and Dolphins. This line, favoring the hometown Redskins by 2 points, suggests the Jets are slightly better, so we’re getting a little bit of line value with the Redskins, but not nearly enough to bet them confidently. The Redskins should be the pick for pick ‘em purposes, if only because the single most likely outcome in any football game is the home team winning by a field goal. 

Washington Redskins 19 New York Jets 16

Pick against the spread: Washington -2

Confidence: None

Washington Redskins at Buffalo Bills: 2019 Week 9 NFL Pick

Washington Redskins (1-7) at Buffalo Bills (5-2)

It’s unfortunate that the Redskins won’t be starting Case Keenum in this game because I probably would have made a pretty substantial bet on the Redskins this week if he was starting. The Bills are 5-2, but shouldn’t be favored by double digits except anyone except maybe the Dolphins. Despite facing the 2nd easiest schedule in the NFL in terms of DVOA, the Bills have just one win by more than 10 points, with an average margin of victory of 7.2 points per game against 5 teams that are a combined 7-31. Their only win over a team that currently has at least a .500 record came by 7 points against a now 4-4 Titans team that missed 4 field goals in the game.  However, with Keenum still in the concussion protocol, the Redskins will have to turn to first round rookie Dwayne Haskins, which adds a lot of uncertainty to this game.

Haskins still has upside long-term, but he’s been horrendous in limited action thus far, completing just 12 of 22 passes with 4 interceptions, and behind the scenes he likely hasn’t been much better, as the Redskins have been very hesitant to let him play, even with a first round pedigree and an overall lost season. He also was pretty underwhelming in the pre-season, despite playing against mostly backups. Haskins came into the NFL very inexperienced and may ultimately benefit in the long run from being forced into some action as a rookie, but he could also go through some serious growing pains in his first few starts. I still have this line calculated at only Buffalo -7.5 even with Haskins in the lineup, but there’s too much uncertainty for me to bet the Redskins confidently, even with the line moving up to 10.5. 

Buffalo Bills 20 Washington Redskins 13

Pick against the spread: Washington +10.5

Confidence: Low

Washington Redskins at Minnesota Vikings: 2019 Week 8 NFL Pick

Washington Redskins (1-6) at Minnesota Vikings (5-2)

This line is pretty big at Minnesota -16, but it’s completely understandable, as this is a matchup between one of the best and one of the worst teams in the league. The Vikings rank 4th in first down rate differential at +6.23% and are the only team in the league in the top-10 in both first down rate and first down rate allowed. Meanwhile, the Redskins rank 30th at -7.51%, only ahead of the Jets, who have been without their quarterback for most of the season, and the Dolphins, who are arguably the worst team of all-time and have given the Redskins their only win. 

This matchup should be even more lopsided on a short week in Minnesota, as it’s very tough for an inferior team to go on the road on a short week and compete on the road against a non-divisional foe. Teams are just 16-36 ATS all-time as non-divisional road underdogs on Thursday Night Football, including 1-10 ATS as underdogs of 10+. I wouldn’t go crazy with this bet because we’re not really getting any line value with the Vikings, especially with Adam Thielen questionable, but I have no problem laying this many points in this situation, as history suggests this is very likely to be a blowout.

I am also locking in one game early before the line moves. I will have a full write-up this weekend.

LAC +4.5 @ CHI

Minnesota Vikings 31 Washington Redskins 10

Pick against the spread: Minnesota -16

Confidence: Medium