SNIDER: Redskins must earn way back to prime time

Washington coach Ron Rivera believes his teams play their best later in the season. As an incoming coach with no expected offseason camps, a possible delayed season's start because of COVID-19 might help the Redskins by flipping the first month to the end. Then again, the schedule's ending already has five playoff contenders in six games, with four on the road, so moving the opening weeks – that might bring another 0-5 start – to the end really won't help. The Redskins are staring hard at 5-11 . . . at best. There's a reason why schedule-makers gave the Redskins 13 1 p.m. starts and no night games. The persistent lopsided late-night losses over recent years kill ratings, so Washington is in purgatory until proving worthy of prime-time appearances. That they're playing the Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving is only because the matchup traditionally draws great ratings and the NFL needs every break it can muster against a possible pandemic shutdown. That all said, the NFL did the Redskins no favors with this schedule. The first five games include four expected playoff contenders. It's only faith that Rivera kicks enough butts versus predecessor Jay Gruden's simmering death march that last year's 0-5 isn't repeated. But, it's 2-3 at the very best.
Washington has lost six straight to Philadelphia, five by 10 or more points. The Eagles have even owned FedEx Field the last two years, so maybe playing before no fans would be easier on the Redskins. The season starts 0-1. Traveling to Arizona is a winnable game. The Cardinals have their problems, too. Just to find a way to five wins, let's say Washington triumphs. Cleveland should be a loss if the Browns are real, which they weren't last year. But Cleveland improved its roster and has the home empty stadium advantage. No Dawg Pound? Hosting Baltimore for the second time in a month is a strange schedule quirk. The preseason finale will offer no insight for the rematch, but the Ravens are for real. Redskins fall to 1-3. It becomes 1-4 the next week against the Los Angeles Rams. And then there's this midseason sweet spot, where Washington might go 3-2 with a bye in the middle that provides some short-term optimism of a Rivera revival before being crushed by the closing schedule. Washington plays the New York Giants twice in three weeks. The Redskins have lost four of five to the Giants, but mostly the games were competitive, so figure a split. Dallas has owned Washington since 2013, winning 11 of 14 and three straight. Maybe Washington wins the home game on Oct. 25 because it sure won't take the Thanksgiving rematch. More likely is another Cowboys sweep. Washington meets Detroit and Cincinnati as part of the midseason arc. Both are winnable, meaning the Redskins might be 4-6 with some semblance of momentum. And then it ends. Three straight road games at Dallas, Pittsburgh and San Francisco before hosting Seattle screams 0-4. By the time Rivera faces his old Carolina Panthers, the Redskins are gassed. And yet, the Panthers stink, too, so call it a win. Then the season comes full circle with a season-ending loss at Philadelphia. A 5-11 season might offer some hope if quarterback Dwayne Haskins emerges as a long-term solution and rookie Chase Young spearheads an attacking defense. Certainly, the defense better be more competitive than last season, when allowing 31 or more points eight times. And, maybe a potential year away from the stadium will make fans realize how much they enjoy the game rather than being happy only when they're miserable. Victory is really just playing all 16 games this year.
Rick Snider has covered Washington sports since 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @Snide_Remarks