The schedule. Generally speaking, many fans make or break a team's season based on who they are playing. Whether a weak schedule or or strong schedule will determine if that team has a chance to win enough games to make the playoffs or to knock them out of contention. Yes, the schedule is rather important. It's important to know when the BYE week is to determine if the team gets a decent break around mid-season or if they have to run a marathon to get to the postseason. It's also important to see how many weeks the team has to play back to back road or home games. It's most important to us, the fans, who have to make arrangements to try to get days off from work or make travel plans to get to the desired venue. I know I try to get in my schedule to my bosses no longer than June to guarantee that I can get as much of these games (and the day after) off as possible.
Speaking of the schedule and how it relates to fans, I absolutely hate home games when they are Monday Night Football and Thursday Night Football games. First, I have to take two days off in order to get to said game(s). There's practically little to no way I could get off work, drive up to FedEx and be ready for some football. By the time I get home it's usually between 2-3 AM, so it's kind of hard to get right to sleep and then get up around 6 AM to start my day. Second, the drunks come out. When you have a good 3-4 hours to tailgate in the afternoon/evening, then you are bound to have people who decide not to drink responsibly and become the world's biggest douchebags. SHD and I encountered that a great deal last year with Cowboy fans. But I'm not going to trash the Cowboys fans alone (I'll save that for game days). I've seen equal douchebaggery from fans of my own team and other opposing teams. While I love watching divisional games on MNF and TNF, being there is usually a pain in the ass, just because of the fans. And let me get this clear, I love tailgating. Nor do I have a problem with drinking while tailgating or during the games. It's just that a few people ( a few in a crowd of 90,000 is about 1,000 or so people) always ruin the fun for everybody else.
I personally like the 1PM games. You get up. Stop and get some coffee and some breakfast on the way up. If you're tailgating, you have an early lunch. If you're not tailgating, you get into FedEx just in time to grab an Italian sausage (if they've been cooked) and it's game time. The nice thing of it all is that postgame you can catch the 4PM game on the ride home and (for me) be home in time to watch Football Night in America and get ready for Sunday Night Football. Anyway, enough of my ranting.....let's get to the Redskins schedule.
If you're going by last year's results and strength of schedule, then you pretty much have to assume that the Skins are screwed for the 2010 season. It's a tough schedule. NFCE teams aside, the Skins have to play some pretty tough teams including the AFC Champion Colts. We've got the 8th most difficult schedule in the league. Pretty crappy for being a 4-12 team and the 4th worst team in the league last year. Yet, the Skins play 7/16 games against playoff teams. Of the other teams only the Rams, Bucs, Lions, Jaguars and Bears had losing records. That means that the Skins will be playing 11 teams with a .500 or better record this year.
But there are a few silver linings in this schedule. First, is that the Redskins have very little travel mileage (8,932 total miles). It looks like Dallas may be the farthest the Skins would have to go this season. That's good for game preparation and physical recovery. Second, the BYE is during week nine. I like later byes personally. So, if a player gets dinged throughout the first eight weeks or so, they have a week to recover from the bumps and bruises. Earlier byes also mean an marathon type of stretch (ex. getting a week 3 bye means that you have 14 straight weeks of games, which is rough) of games and usually leads to teams being worn down towards the end of the season (unless you're like the Colts who take the final two weeks off). Also there doesn't seem to be that many away game stretches. At most, the Skins are away for back to back weeks- but they also have a few back to back home game weeks as well.
Ok, here's a brief summary of each week with some key match ups to look for.
Week 1: Dallas @ Skins- This could be the most difficult game of the entire season. Seriously. The Skins are at home in a prime time game opening up against a Dallas team that expects to win a Super Bowl this year b/c their stadium is hosting the Super Bowl. Expect this game to be full of emotion.....it should be a good one to watch.
Key Match Up: Trent Williams vs. DeMarcus Ware- If he can handle Ware, he can handle anybody. Hopefully the Skins will help Williams with some chip blocking by Portis, Sellers or one of the TEs.
Fantasy Watch: Chris Cooley or Santana Moss- they have some of the best games vs. the 'Pokes.
Week 2: Houston @ Skins- It will be interesting to see Texan fans in 2010. The last time the Texans came to FedEx, it was their inaugural season and the fans were just glad they had a team to root for (Side Note: I had the best tasting beer ever that day). Now, with the Texans trying to make the playoffs for the first time ever, I'll be curious to see how the Texan fans have changed.
Key Match Up: Mike/Kyle Shanahan vs. Gary Kubiak- Both know each other and their schemes well. The big question will be who can adapt well enough to catch the other off guard. Also, keep an eye on Matt Schaub/Andre Johnson vs. the Skins secondary. Schaub will be looking to burn a secondary that bit on way too many double moves last year.
Fantasy Watch: I like McNabb here. He may not have a great deep game early, but I think McNabb will find a way to dink and dunk his way to some decent fantasy stats.
Week 3: Skins @ St. Louis- The Skins have played the Rams the last two years and both games have been ugly. In 2008 we lost the game b/c of fluke plays. In 2009 we won thanks to Suisham's 3 FGs but it felt like a loss and it was an early sign of what was to come. I'm hoping the Skins will be able to take a young and struggling Rams squad and beat them silly.
Key Match Ups: Brian Orakpo/Andre Carter vs. Jason Smith/Roger Saffold- This could get ugly really quick. Smith is coming off a 2009 concussion, a broken toe and is starting at LT this season (played RT in 2009). Saffold is a rookie (who I think would have done well in the Skins zone scheme) who impressed many at the combine but is raw and is moving from LT to RT. Orakpo has already shown that he is dominant at the NFL level and Carter is a player who can dominate with speed and power (also don't forget Alexander and Wilson in the mix). I expect a few sacks on either Sam Bradford or AJ Feeley in this one.
Fantasy Watch: Redskins Defense. The sacks and pressure should lead to a INT or fumble at some point (if the Skins D can hold onto the ball). Even with Steven Jackson in the backfield, the Skins will stack the box an force the Rams to throw the ball. If the Skins get some push from the inside, Orakpo and company should get to the QB. Also, keep an eye on kicker Graham Gano. The Rams will probably be more willing to play more "bend, don't break" style to keep this one close. This will give Gano many opportunities to kick FGs and add points to your fantasy squad that week.
Week 4: Skins @ Philadelphia- This is one of the most anticipated match ups of the season as Donovan McNabb (and Brian Westbrook?) returns to face his former team: the Eagles. I know McNabb has said this is just another game and that he and Andy Reid are on good terms, but Donovan McNabb has always been a player that when he has a little extra motivation, he makes the opposing team pay for it.
Key Match Ups: Donovan McNabb vs. Eagles D, Kevin Kolb vs. Redskins D- who knows whom better and can Kevin Kolb fill Donovan's shoes so quickly?
Fantasy Watch: Donovan McNabb- This is the type of game that we'll see McNabb throw 3-4 TDs and accumulate 300+ passing yards.
Week 5: Green Bay @ Skins- The Skins haven't had much success against the Packers over the last few years. Key fumbles or ticky-tack penalties have cost the Skins on the last few games. Plus, they've never played well against some guy named Favre. Well, Favre is gone but Aaron Rodgers has filled in quite well. The Packers D is pretty good (if not the best in 2009) and the Skins will have difficulty generating offense.
Key Match Ups: Aaron Rodgers vs. Skins Secondary- The Packers like to throw early and often. The Redskins secondary will have to work hard to keep completions to a minimum and to take advantage of any mistakes.
Fantasy Watch: Fred Davis- The Packers secondary is pretty tough, the Skins will need to rely on Davis' ability to stretch the field to make some big plays and put the Skins in position to score. Cooley could also be a factor here as well.
Week 6: Colts @ Skins- Did you know that the last time the Colts played the Skins at FedEx they lost? It's true, I was there. It was also the 70th greatest Redskins night also. The rumor is that this year the Skins are having some sort of alumni homecoming event during halftime. Can history repeat itself?
Key Match Up: Dwight Freeney vs. Trent Williams- Freeney has made elite veteran tackles look pathetic in their attempts to block him. Hopefully, Williams athleticism can counter Freeney's speed and spin moves. Freeney has already said he's looking forward to the match up, we shall see.
Fantasy Watch: Clinton Portis/Larry Johnson- When Bob Sanders is playing, the Colts run defense is much better. Problem is that Sanders is injury prone and by week 6 he could already be out. No Sanders, expect Portis and Johnson to run all over the Colts.
Week 7: Skins @ Chicago- But we could have had Jay Cutler.....eh, I'd rather have gotten McNabb. Mike Martz comes in to help the Bears offense. Expect a lot of passing. I expect either Cutler or Martz to have a meltdown before week 8.
Key Match Ups: Jay Cutler vs. Redskins Secondary, Redskins D-line vs. Bears Oline. The Bears have questions on the O-line, in particular the tackle positions. Hopefully they can take advantage of the situation. Cutler led the league in INTs last year. While it's doubtful that he'll struggle that much in 2010, Cutler still is known to throw INT's. Mike Shanahan knows Cutler well and one would hope the secondary can take advantage of Cutler's mistakes.
Fantasy Watch: Redskins Defense (see above). Also, I'm expecting a big game from either Thomas, Kelly, Cooley or Davis. I think one of these guys will have a breakout game. I like the TEs here because Lance Briggs and Brian Urlacher aren't getting any younger and may have some issues covering Cooley or Davis. Thomas usually has a big game at some point in the season and this could be the game.
Week 8: Skins @ Detroit- The Lions are trying to get better and so are the Skins. Long term, the Lions may be the better team. They are slowly building their team with young draft picks and it's clearly working. That said, I think the Skins are probably the better team now based on their improvements in the off season.
Key Match Up: Matthew Stafford/Calvin Johnson vs. Redskins Defense- last year Stafford picked apart the Redskins D signaling the end of the Zorn era in only week 3. The Skins will have to take Stafford much more seriously in this game and try to rotate coverage to shut down Megatron.
Fantasy Watch: Santana Moss- Check these numbers out: 2009 (10 catches, 178 yards 1 TD) and 2008 (9 catches, 140 yards, 1 TD; 80 yard punt return of TD). Both of those games were in Detroit by the way. Expect another good performance in 2010 as the Lions overall secondary isn't that great and their cornerbacks are young.
Whew!!! That was lengthy. Expect part two coming up soon with the final 8 games and some minor predictions by yours truly.