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The Reducer: Week 3, This Is the North, We Do What We Want

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Grantland’s Mega NFL Preview: Part I

The first installment of Grantland's four-part preview of the 2011 NFL season.

We, at Grantland, are pleased to offer the first installment of our four-part preview of the 2011 NFL season.

For those of you who just eyed up the scroll bar and planned to kill a few trees, that’s right: It’s a four-parter. Today we’ll cover the eight teams we think have no shot of competing this season. When Grantland returns on Tuesday after commemorating Labor Day, we’ll get to the eight teams we expect will decline in 2011. On Wednesday, we’ll cover the eight teams we expect will improve. On Thursday, we will look at the eight teams that have the best shot at winning Super Bowl XLVI.

So get started now and come back for more next week.

Buffalo Bills

Odds to win the AFC East: +2726

The last time the Bills played a meaningful game was on January 2, 2005, when they were denied a playoff spot in Week 17 at home by the Steelers’ second-stringers. Since that game, the Bills have gone 36-60. And barring a miracle, things aren’t about to change. There are a few paths to rebuilding your football team, and over the past six years the Bills haven’t followed any of them.

The get-rich-quick way to rebuild is to come up with a franchise quarterback. Unless a Drew Brees somehow falls into your lap in free agency, this usually means that you end up spending a top-five pick on a quarterback in the draft and hope for the best. Buffalo hasn’t even tried to do that. During this most recent era of futility, the Bills have tried pretty much everything: mixing low-end draft busts (J.P. Losman, Trent Edwards) with going-nowhere retreads (Brian Brohm, Ryan Fitzpatrick). They have yet to produce anything resembling stability.

As the Jets have shown, it’s possible to win a bunch of games with an average-or-worse quarterback. You just need to surround him with a great organization that drafts well and uses its money intelligently. That’s where the Bills have truly failed. While the recent struggles of the team often get chalked up to the aversion free agents might feel toward the city of Buffalo, it’s not like the Packers or Steelers have trouble attracting players to locations with similarly poor weather and Applebee’s-per-capita.

The difference between the Packers and Steelers and the Bills is all in drafting and developing talent. The Bills occasionally turn up a nugget here and there — Kyle Williams is a fine defensive tackle, and Stevie Johnson deserves to be known for more than his infamous drop against Pittsburgh in overtime last season. But Buffalo’s first-round picks over the past 10 seasons have been remarkably dismal. Although running backs selected in the first round consistently return less value than virtually any other position, the Bills have taken three of them with their past 10 first-round picks and have gotten below-average production from each. When the Bills do develop a player like Jason Peters or Paul Posluszny, they don’t leave Buffalo because of the crappy weather and the disappointing nightlife; they leave because the organization surrounds them with terrible players, overmatched head coaches, and schemes that change from year to year. Until that changes, the Bills aren’t going anywhere.

Strangely, we celebrate teams when we can directly link their style of play to a broader narrative about the city and its fans. A team like the Steelers is “blue-collar” because they build teams that grind in the trenches for small gains on offense and don’t take any lip on defense. The Chargers are wizards from the future who toss the ball around in the world’s most perfect climate. The Raiders are a lawless rogue’s gallery. It’s sad that the Bills are the most accurate distillation of their city in pro football, an irrelevant team with a bleak present and a future somewhere out West. Or in Canada.

Best-case scenario: The Fitzchise finally scores one for the long-suffering graduates of Harvard and breaks out at age 28 as the Bills win a bunch of shootouts, stay healthy, and go 9-7.

Worst-case scenario: Los Angeles OK’s a stadium plan as the Bills win a meaningless Week 17 game against the Patriots to go 4-12, pushing them out of the first overall slot and giving Andrew Luck to somebody else.

Devin Hester

Chicago Bears

Odds to win the NFC North: +836

The Bears rode an awesome, unsustainable, life-affirming year of luck to the NFC Championship Game last season. Nobody can take that away from them. But let’s pick away at that record to reveal why they will be terrible in 2011.

Let’s start with the numbers. The Bears were 7-3 in games decided by a touchdown or less, and that includes a mostly meaningless loss to the Packers in Week 17. Winning close games at that rate is not a product of talent. In 2009, with virtually the same roster, the Bears were 3-5 in games decided by a touchdown or less. Since the strike season of 1982, there have been five other teams that were 7-3 in touchdown-or-less decisions in a given season. Those teams were 13-20 in those games the following year. That’s not a small-sample fluke, either. If you take the 135 teams since 1982 that won at least four games by a touchdown-or-less and put up a winning percentage in those games of .700 or better, those teams were 496-478 in close games the following year, a winning percentage of .509. In 2009, the four teams who fit that criteria were the Colts, Vikings, Raiders, and Chargers. They were a combined 22-4 in close games. They went 12-16 in 2010. There’s no real reason to think that the Bears will be bad in close games in 2011 (that’s the Gambler’s Fallacy1), but there’s also no reason to think they will be particularly good in them, either.

The advanced numbers aren’t kind to the Bears, either. The Pythagorean method of using points scored and allowed to predict team performance pegged the Bears to be a 9.5-win team. Football Outsiders estimated that the Bears would have won just 8.2 games against an average schedule with average luck. Brian Burke’s Generic Win Probability stat said that the Bears would win an average of just 51 percent of their games against league-average teams at a neutral site.

Now, let’s throw in the common sense. Those wins included three victories over teams that were forced to play their third-string quarterback for part or all of the contest. Their Week 1 victory over the Lions needed the referees to wipe a perfectly good Calvin Johnson touchdown catch off the slate. Their 11 defensive starters missed a total of only eight games all season — three from Zack Bowman (who was promptly benched), one from Lance Briggs, and four from Pisa Tinoisamoa. Brian Urlacher missed more time in 2009 than the entire defense combined in 2010. That’s not going to happen again, especially with a team on which at least six of the defensive starters will be 30 or older in 2011.

Finally, there’s the harsh reality of the league’s taking away the one thing the Bears did best. The one consistent significant advantage Chicago has had over its competition over the past few seasons has been on special teams. The Bears averaged 25.4 yards per kick return last season, the second-highest rate in football. They were third in 2009 and fifth in 2008. That advantage is gone, and while there’s no doubt that Devin Hester will make a few scurries out of the end zone, chances are that he won’t contribute three touchdowns on kickoffs again. On the other hand, chances are that it won’t really matter. With an average amount of injuries and luck, the Bears would have been a mediocre football team in 2010. With a tougher schedule and the league’s new special teams rules coming their way in 2011, mediocre might be a stretch this season.

Best-case scenario: They stay relatively healthy on defense, the offensive line percolates and produces a league-average attack, and they sneak into the playoffs as a 10-6 wild card.

Worst-case scenario: Oh, boy. Remember the 2010 Cowboys? Follow that blueprint to a T.

Andy Dalton

Cincinnati Bengals

Odds to win the AFC North: +2687

Did you know that the 2009 Bengals made the playoffs? I didn’t believe the Internet when it told me, either, but a look at the record books shows that the Bengals were actually 10-5 before punting away a meaningless season-ender against the Jets and then losing to the same Jets team at home in the wild-card round. The 2009 Bengals weren’t an especially good team, but they made the playoffs because they went 6-3 in games decided by a touchdown or less, highlighted by a 4-0 record in those games within the division. In 2010, the same team went 2-7 in those close games. That’s how you go from 10-6 to 4-12, which is where the Bengals ended up last season.

Most 4-12 teams don’t let their best players on offense and defense walk away, but the Bengals just about did that over the summer. Carson Palmer demanded a trade all the way back in January and threatened to otherwise retire, but crack general manager Mike Brown decided it would be better to spite Palmer than acquire a draft pick or two for his ailing offense. Palmer appears set to sit out for the 2011 season, at which point the Bengals will get to trade or cut him without any leverage whatsoever. Seriously, fellow Southern Californian Timothy Hutton is going to be pissed.

Instead, the team appears set to start rookie quarterback Andy Dalton, a second-round pick who spent his career in a spread offense at TCU. Regardless of how Dalton ends up performing as a pro quarterback, there’s a reason that this franchise didn’t start Palmer, a much better prospect, as a rookie after they took him with the first overall pick in 2003: Rookie quarterbacks tend to suck. Only five second-rounders have thrown 300 passes or more as a rookie, and the only one of those five to put up a passer rating better than league average was Charlie Batch.

While the team’s inability to re-sign cornerback Johnathan Joseph is less egregious, it’s more depressing. The combination of Joseph and fellow corner Leon Hall was quietly the league’s best one-two punch at the position, a pair of elite young players that the organization actually drafted and developed into stars. Even with that great pair of cornerbacks shutting down receivers last year, the Bengals had a hell of a time getting to the quarterback. They sacked opposing passers on just 5 percent of dropbacks, which was the sixth-lowest rate in the league. Rookie end Carlos Dunlap, a situational player, had 9.5 of the team’s 27 sacks. His sack total was as many as the entire starting front seven had combined last year. Unsurprisingly, the Bengals aren’t planning on using him as a starter in order to keep Robert Geathers in the lineup. Geathers had 10.5 sacks as a situational end in 2006, much like Dunlap … and has just 10.5 sacks in four years as a starter since.

Unless Dunlap turns into the second coming of Lawrence Taylor and young players like Keith Rivers and Rey Maualuga take a huge leap forward, this is only going to be an average defense, at best. And with the offense likely to struggle under Dalton as a rookie, this is a rebuilding year for the Bengals.

Best-case scenario: Dalton’s the rare rookie quarterback who’s ready to go from Day 1, with an effective running game putting him in easy-to-manage situations. The front seven suddenly become sack-happy, and when Troy Polamalu slips while filming a Cabeza y Hombros commercial in midseason and breaks his leg, the Bengals worm their way to the AFC North crown.

Worst-case scenario: The NFL actually tries to shift the Bengals-Cardinals game on Christmas Eve to a day of the week that doesn’t actually exist in the hopes that the two confused 3-11 teams just stop showing up.


Jacksonville Jaguars

Odds to win the AFC South: N/A (thanks, murky Peyton Manning injury)

Speaking of anemic pass rushes … over the past three seasons, the Jaguars have taken down opposing quarterbacks on just 4.5 percent of their dropbacks. That’s worse than the Bengals — who came in at 4.7 percent — as well as every other team in football other than the Chiefs. And while the Chiefs unearthed an elite pass rusher last season in Tamba Hali, the Jaguars remain in search of somebody who can actually sack the quarterback.

To their credit, the Jags have been trying to solve the problem since before it was actually a problem. After the 11-5 season in 2007 that saw Jacksonville rank a respectable 12th in sack rate, the team insisted on more production from its pass rush. The Jags dealt away two third-rounders and a fourth-rounder to move up 18 spots in the first round of the 2008 draft to add Florida end Derrick Harvey. They followed that acquisition by adding Auburn end Quentin Groves in the second round. Three years later, we should expect those two high draft picks to be the cornerstones of a much-improved pass rush. Instead, Harvey picked up just eight sacks in three years before being released this past offseason. Groves lasted two years before getting traded to the Raiders for a fifth-round pick. He’s now a linebacker. Having failed with Harvey and Groves, the team shelled out for former Packers star Aaron Kampman before last season, but Kampman put up just four sacks in eight games before tearing his ACL for the second year in a row. Kampman starts again this year across from Austin Lane, who had no sacks despite starting nine games as a rookie. Perhaps you have more faith in 32-year-olds coming off of torn ACLs in both knees than I do, but it’s hard to see how the Jaguars’ pass rush will actually get better in 2011.

It would have made sense for the Jaguars to at least try to upgrade their 27th-ranked defense through the draft, but they instead dealt their first- and second-round picks to the Redskins to move up six spots and grab quarterback Blaine Gabbert. Incumbent David Garrard isn’t exactly a legend, but he still completed nearly 65 percent of his passes last season. And even if they fell in love with Gabbert, it’s inexcusable to also use your next two draft picks on the offensive side of the ball. Even if third-round lineman Will Rackley wins the left guard job, there’s no way anybody named Cecil Shorts will be able to play wide receiver in the NFL. The name alone just doesn’t fit.

Jacksonville was a bad team that went 8-8 last year because it went 5-2 in games decided by a touchdown or less, notably winning with that Hail Mary against the Texans as regulation expired. The Jaguars’ schedule will be tougher this year, as the Texans get better and they swap out eight games against the AFC West and NFC East for eight against the AFC North and NFC South. There is disaster ahead for this team.

Best-case scenario: They go 6-0 in the division and capitalize on Manning’s injury and the Texans’ defense to win the AFC South.

Worst-case scenario: Maurice Jones-Drew gets hurt, the team hands the keys over to Gabbert after a slow start, and the offense sputters to a crawl while the defense lets everyone through. They go 4-12, and everyone gets fired.


Miami Dolphins

Odds to win the AFC East: +989

Of the eight teams in this first section of our NFL preview, Miami has the best shot of making the playoffs. None of the other teams in the bottom eight have a top three to match what the Dolphins have at the top of their lineup: Wide receiver Brandon Marshall, left tackle Jake Long, and outside linebacker Cameron Wake are among the five best players at their respective positions. Long might be the best lineman in the game.

Wake spearheaded a defense that allowed just more than 18 points per game last year when they weren’t playing the Patriots (to whom they admittedly allowed 79 points in two games), and that was with three starters in the secondary who were each in their second year as a pro. They got a quietly superb season from Pro Bowl defensive end Randy Starks and should get a full season from 2010 first-rounder Jared Odrick, who suffered a broken leg and missed the final 15 games of his rookie season. If second-year linebacker Koa Misi can emerge as a viable second pass-rusher opposite Wake, this could be a very good defense.

Then there’s Chad Henne. By most statistical measures, Henne actually improved during his second season as a starter. His completion percentage rose. His touchdown pass percentage went up. His yards per attempt traveled north. The only notable measure in which he declined was on interceptions. Henne threw 19 interceptions on 490 attempts, meaning he threw picks on 3.9 percent of his passes. That’s too high, but it’s likely to come down. Since 1990, there have been 36 times when a quarterback threw 400 passes or more in consecutive seasons and had an interception rate between 3.6 percent and 4.2 percent in the first year, which is the range in which Henne’s percentage falls. In the second season, those quarterbacks threw interceptions on 2.9 percent of their passes. At that 2.9 percent rate, Henne would throw just 14 interceptions on those 490 attempts if he took them again in 2011.

Furthermore, there’s another reason to believe that Henne was unlucky in 2010. The Football Outsiders Almanac 2011 notes that Henne had just one dropped interception last season. That was the lowest total in the league amongst quarterbacks with 400 attempts. For reference, his fellow starting quarterbacks in the AFC East averaged more than eight dropped picks each. Defenders will drop a few of Henne’s would-be interceptions this year, which should help cut down on his pick rate.

If there’s any obvious comparison to be made for Henne’s early career path, it’s Drew Brees. I know. Hear me out on this one. They’re both undersized2 second-round picks from the Big Ten. They both sat out for most of their rookie season and then came in to play for most of their second year. Brees completed 60.8 percent of his passes. Henne completed 60.8 percent of his passes. Brees threw an interception on 3.0 percent of his passes and averaged 6.2 yards per attempt. Henne threw an interception on 3.1 percent of his passes and averaged 6.4 yards per attempt. In his third season, Brees tanked; in fact, to a much worse extent than Henne did. All of his numbers fell off, but what was particularly noticeable was his interception rate, which hit 4.2 percent. And unlike the Dolphins, the Chargers actually went through and pulled the trigger on replacing Brees by drafting Eli Manning and then trading him for Philip Rivers. There’s no guarantee that Henne will follow that career path, but it’s something to think about amidst wave after wave of hysterics about how Henne isn’t an NFL starter.

So if I have all these nice things to say about the Dolphins, why are they still in the Pretenders section of these rankings? Well, because I don’t have the guts to put them any higher. They’re still stuck in a division with the Jets and the Patriots, and while both those teams might be worse in 2011, they’re not going to be terrible unless something extraordinary happens. The Dolphins actually went and conducted interviews to replace Tony Sparano as coach during the offseason before giving him a two-year extension, which can’t give their players much faith in their system’s stability. Sparano benched Henne last year only for Chad Pennington to get hurt in the first quarter of his first game as the starter, which gave Henne the job back without any reason to have confidence. The Dolphins start with a ridiculously difficult schedule that sees them play the Patriots, Texans, Browns, Chargers, and Jets. Even if they’re a good team, they could start 0-5 or 1-4, fall out of love with Henne and Sparano, and be in the middle of a season that’s DOA. On the other hand, the same team that beat the Packers and the Jets last season could show up and ride a rejuvenated Henne to a 10-win season and the playoffs. There’s a lot of swing here.

Best-case scenario: Henne actually is Drew Brees reincarnated, the defense takes over, and they ride a downswing from the Patriots and Jets into the AFC East title. They make it all the way to the Super Bowl and win, and Henne finds his own adorable, young child to put enormous headphones on as the confetti rains down.

Worst-case scenario: See that concluding paragraph? That happens.

Tarvaris Jackson

Seattle Seahawks

Odds to win the NFC West: +848

There’s a case to be made that the 2010 Seahawks were the worst playoff team in modern NFL history. They were a 7-9 team that played a remarkably easy schedule. They played only two games decided by a touchdown or less all season and won them both. Those wins came against the Chargers and the Bears and were the Seahawks’ only wins against teams with winning records all season. Over the course of their season, they were outscored by 97 points. Since 1993, 25 other teams were outscored by a margin of 90 to 100 points by their opponents over the course of the season. They won an average of five games, none more than seven, and since none of them got to play in the NFC West in 2010, they all didn’t make the playoffs.

Rightly, Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider have spent most of their offseason rebuilding. Offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates was fired after one year and replaced by former Vikings OC Darrell Bevell, which led to the Seahawks’ signing Tarvaris Jackson to play quarterback. With essentially one full season (603 pass attempts) under his belt after five years in Minnesota, the possibility always exists that Jackson still has some growing left to do. On the other hand, he was considered a huge overdraft by the Vikings coming out of Alabama State, and the numbers for that full season aren’t pretty: a 58.7 percent completion percentage and nearly as many interceptions (22) as touchdown passes (24). Jackson’s been sacked 7.2 percent of the time, which is too frequent and a sign of how he breaks down and looks to run for his life when the pocket collapses. It’s also led to his fragility issues. Jackson will probably lose his job to Charlie Whitehurst during the season, but there’s no guarantee that Whitehurst will be any better.

This is where we would normally mention that they get to play in the NFC West and have the schedule wipe their foibles away, but the NFC West has to play the AFC North and NFC East in their out-of-division travels this year. And because the Seahawks won their division, their two other out-of-division games are also against division winners in Atlanta and Chicago. For a team that gets six games against the Cardinals, 49ers, and Rams, their schedule is actually going to be pretty hard this year.

It’s also difficult to see how the defense will be much better. The secondary featured subpar play from three out of the four starters, as only rookie safety Earl Thomas showed as much as flashes of brilliance. The team forced veteran corner Marcus Trufant into a pay cut and then traded starter Kelly Jennings to Cincinnati last week, moving the inexperienced Walter Thurmond into the starting lineup while pushing 27-year-old CFL All-Star (three times, even!) Brandon Browner into the slot. Their pass rush consisted almost entirely of an out-of-character 11-sack season from 29-year-old Chris Clemons and nine sacks from 32-year-old reserve end Raheem Brock. Neither player had come anywhere near those totals before, and they’re not likely to head back to those lofty heights again.

Yes, the Seahawks have one of the league’s best home-field advantages, and yes, they play in the NFC West. That should be three wins right there. On the other hand, it’s really difficult to see this team winning more than one or two more of their other 13 contests; there’s no indication that they’re going to be able to throw the ball or stop anyone from catching it. Their moves this offseason have actually taken a bad team and made it worse. If any team has hatched an elaborate plan to “Suck for [Andrew] Luck” during the 2011 season, it’s the Seahawks.

Best-case scenario: Charlie Whitehurst is secretly the best quarterback in the NFC West, and after taking over in Week 3, he leads the Seahawks to a six-game winning streak that virtually guarantees them the division title.

Worst-case scenario: The Seahawks start the season 0-5 before hitting the bye hard. Someone mentions the word “sanctions” at the wrong time at the Seahawks practice facility and Pete Carroll suddenly resigns. The Sounders take over as the most popular team in Seattle for the next decade.

Matt Hasselbeck

Tennessee Titans

Odds of winning the AFC South: N/A

In some ways, the Titans are the inverse of the Bears: a team that was actually better than its 6-10 record. In fact, DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average, the Football Outsiders efficiency statistic) suggests that the Titans were actually the better team last year. Tennessee outscored its opposition by 17 points, which would usually produce a record with 8.5 wins, not six. Its 5-5 start with a combination of Vince Young and Kerry Collins at the helm yielded to a 1-5 finish after Young was placed on IR with a finger injury and gave way to Rusty Smith, who produced a three-interception start against the Texans, the worst pass defense in recent memory. Collins mopped up to finish the year, but hope was lost. With better health at quarterback and a bit of luck, they could contend in a weak division, right?

Not with the offseason they had. After seemingly awarding Jeff Fisher the victory in his battle with Vince Young, the team fired Fisher at the end of January and quickly hired offensive line coach Mike Munchak to take on the head-coaching duties. Munchak has no experience as a coordinator at any level, and his primary skill, beyond having been a great player, appears to be discipline. The last time a team made this sort of hire was when the 49ers hired Mike Singletary in 2008, and Singletary was the worst coach I’ve ever seen. The offensive coordinator is Chris Palmer, who hasn’t run a successful NFL offense in 13 years. They lost legendary defensive line coach Jim Washburn to the Eagles. Does this sound like a situation waiting to blossom?

The personnel department didn’t do all that well, either. Needing a replacement for Young, they went out and signed Matt Hasselbeck to serve as the bridge to their first-round pick, Jake Locker. You can never write off a first-round pick before he actually plays in the NFL, but you can come awful close with Locker, who fits an archetype that has been doomed at the pro level. Quarterbacks with huge cannons for arms who struggled with accuracy at the college level almost always bust at the pro level, and while Locker can make any throw you want with zip to spare, he completed less than 54 percent of his throws at the college level. There’s no translation yet that tells you what that means at the pro level, but guys just don’t develop accuracy at the professional level that they didn’t show in college. Among modern quarterbacks, Locker’s college numbers are in a class with players such as Matt Stafford, JaMarcus Russell, Kyle Boller, and Ryan Leaf. Even if Locker does develop into a competent pro quarterback, it’s going to take a couple of seasons, and with Hasselbeck’s injury history, we know that Locker’s going to have to suit up at some point in 2010. He’s not going to be ready.

There just seems to be a pall over this organization right now. Kenny Britt got arrested three times during the lockout. Chris Johnson held out for a megacontract and finally got one when the Titans gave in to his demands. Cortland Finnegan tried to hold out and got caught lying about it. These aren’t the sort of things that happen in healthy organizations during the tail end of training camp. Then again, the same sort of pall was hanging over the Giants before the 2007 season, and then Michael Strahan showed up and they played like crap for 2½ games before winning the Super Bowl. And while the coaching staff is questionable, there are a lot of talented players here. Tennessee has one of the league’s best offensive lines, and while everyone knows about Johnson and Britt by now, tight end Jared Cook is about to have a breakout season. They have more to be hopeful about than, say, the Bears. But I’m still very skeptical.

Best-case scenario: An unexpectedly high-octane offense emerges as the best attack in the AFC South.

Worst-case scenario: They echo the 2004 Giants, as a decent start from their veteran quarterback gives way to an overmatched stretch by their rookie.


Washington Redskins

Odds to win the NFC East: +2360

Redskins fans didn’t get much out of the 2010 season, but they got a whole lot of close games. The Redskins were in 12 games decided by a touchdown or less, the first time since 2003 that a team was in so many close games in one year. They went 6-6, which means that Redskins fans can make the case that they were a few lucky bounces away from the playoffs, while people who hate the Redskins can point out that they were a few lucky bounces away from 3-13. In the four games that weren’t close, Washington went 0-4 and was outscored by 81 points. The haters have it.

Of course, the Redskins then went and had a typical Daniel Snyder offseason. After clearing the decks by dumping their old, high-priced veterans and insulting them on the way out, they replaced them by overpaying new free agents. Instead of paying Albert Haynesworth, the Redskins now have the pleasure of giving former Giants tackle Barry Cofield and Cowboys backup end Stephen Bowen more money than they deserve. They devoted too much money to a defensive back, signing O.J. Atogwe away from the Rams as one of the few pre-lockout free agents to leave the market. They spent too much on one of their own, re-signing Santana Moss as he comes off a career year at 32. And then they finally traded Donovan McNabb and replaced him with god knows what.

The Redskins are basically stuck in the same spot where the Orioles were at the beginning of the millennium. They have an owner who is comfortable spending and a fan base that expects to win, but they’re trapped in a division with other teams that are also comfortable doing that and smarter about where and how they spend their gold. The shorter schedule means that there’s more likely to be a random season in which the Redskins get lucky and make the playoffs, in much the same way that there are 16-game stretches where the Orioles have a better record than the Red Sox or Yankees, but they are eons behind the rest of the division and too proud to burn the whole thing down and start over again. Unless the Shanaclan can somehow recycle a franchise quarterback from the energy they used bad-mouthing McNabb on his way out, it’s going to be a long few years in Washington. At least the stadium has Ben’s Chili Bowl now.

Best-case scenario: Whoa, John Beck has secretly been a great NFL quarterback waiting for a chance these past few years! And who would have thought that Michael Vick, Eli Manning, and Tony Romo would have all been in that ATV right before it crashed?

Worst-case scenario: BE THE REDSKINS.

(All odds per

Bill Barnwell is a staff writer for Grantland.

Previously from Bill Barnwell:
Viva Las Vegas: Apartment Hunting in Sin City
Viva Las Vegas: Sabermetrics in the Wasteland
NFL Free Agency: Winners, Losers, and Who’s Left
Flash Over Substance: DeSean Jackson and the Eagles
Day 5 of NFL Free Agency

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Bill Barnwell is a staff writer for Grantland.

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