The Washington Football Team is peaking at the right time because the next three games will decide whether it makes the playoffs.
Beating Dallas 41-16 on Thanksgiving after defeating Cincinnati four days earlier puts Washington atop the NFC East despite a meager 4-7 record.
But Washington has some serious momentum under quarterback Alex Smith and growing confidence in the offense overall. Meanwhile, the defensive line is finally showing its potential greatness with another dominating effort.
Of course, it means nothing if Washington can’t win at least one game on the road in Pittsburgh and San Francisco before hosting Seattle. The season’s last two games against Carolina and Philadelphia might be afterthoughts or must-win games to clinch an NFC East crown and a trip to the postseason depending on the next three games.
What a strange year. Washington swept Dallas for the first time since 2012 with two dominating victories. With a little luck, Washington could have beaten Cleveland and Detroit to be 6-5. Record aside, Washington looks like a .500 team starting to find its strengths. And, it can be dangerous if reaching the postseason because Smith has given them proper focus.
Maybe now you finally see why head coach Ron Rivera opted for Smith over second-year passer Dwayne Haskins. Smith is steady, makes few mistakes, and spreads confidence throughout the huddle. Why is the line suddenly looking so much better despite losing two left tackles to injury? Because they’re blocking for someone they know can win.
Meanwhile, the defense notices Smith’s impact and doesn’t want to be the ones who let the team down. The front four has no weak spots and Daron Payne and Jonathan Allen have played their best ball in Washington over the last two games. Nobody’s talking about Chase Young being a bust anymore and Montez Sweat’s interception for a touchdown showed his potential greatness and absurd athleticism.
Success is contagious and it has turned an underperforming team into a contender. Maybe Washington is only 7-9 come postseason time, but that will be enough and they will be dangerous.
Rivera’s team is about to see playoff ball over the next three games. Pittsburgh is undefeated and just beats people up. A third straight road game in San Francisco is a tough task, but the adrenaline is pumping on a young team so they can overcome it against a 49ers team that’s not as good as expected and banged up themselves. The Seahawks are solid – they could make the Super Bowl – but have laid some eggs this season. Plus, West Coast teams playing a 1 p.m. East Coast game has always been a hindrance for visitors.
If Washington finds at least one victory in these three games, a 7-9 record is theirs for the taking. Two wins and they’re in great shape to win a crummy division.
Washington’s last three playoff appearances came off undefeated streaks over the final weeks. That’s a tough ask this season, but with this unit is there any other kind of path?
Rick Snider has covered Washington sports since 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @Snide_Remarks