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Nine Wins and In?

Dec 5, 2005, 7:56 AM EST

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Nine Wins and In?

You can reach Rich Tandler by email at WarpathInsiders@comcast.net
There is a belief floating around out there that the Redskins will have to win out in order to achieve their goal of making the playoffs in 2005. This began to be uttered following the Redskins’ overtime loss to the Chargers and it persists even after the Redskins gained their sixth win of the season in St. Louis.

It’s not true. It’s possible, perhaps even likely, that a nine-win team will make the NFC playoffs. If the Redskins can get to that level it’s very likely that they would win the tiebreaker against any other nine-win NFC team and snag the final wild card slot.

First, let’s take a quick look at the Redskins chances of winning the NFC East. It’s pretty simple. The Redskins would have to win out, beating Arizona, Dallas, the Giants, and Philadelphia and the Giants would have to lose one of their other three remaining games. That would put Washington, New York and possibly Dallas at 10-6. The Redskins would take that 3-way tie because of a better division record, would beat the Giants head to head because of the 5-1 division record and would have the head to head sweep over Dallas.

A sweep of their remaining games is unlikely, however, if only because winning four in a row is tough to do for even a very good team in the NFL and the Redskins don’t meet anyone’s definition of “very good”. Even three of four is a tall order, but certainly not impossible so the nine-win scenarios are worth exploring even though they’re somewhat complex.

What’s not complex is why the Redskins are likely to win a tiebreaker with any other nine-win team. The reason is their 0-4 record against AFC teams this year. Huh? How do losses help you make the playoffs?

Of course, they don’t but since all of the other teams who would be in that nine-win mix have at least one of their wins vs. an AFC team it means that the Redskins will have accomplished all nine of their wins vs. the NFC. As no other team in the Wild Card hunt can gain more than eight NFC wins, that will give Washington the better conference record, the second tiebreaker (the first is head to head) over every other nine-win team.

With four games to go and about a half a dozen other teams involved there are countless scenarios, so we’re going to make a couple of assumptions to clarify things. Let’s award the NFC South crown to 9-3 Carolina Panthers and the first Wild Card to the 8-4 Tampa Bay Bucs. That leaves the Redskins chasing three 7-5 teams, Dallas, Atlanta, and Minnesota, for the final playoff spot.

Let’s also assume that one of the Redskins’ three wins to get to nine is over Dallas. It’s possible for Washington to make it if their one loss is to the Cowboys, but that makes the picture a whole lot cleaner because it pulls the Redskins into a tie with Dallas with a head to head sweep in hand. And we’ll also figure that the Eagles, 5-6 entering Monday night’s game against Seattle, won’t be able to ride Mike McMahon to the nine wins necessary to be in this mix.

The math is simple, really. Washington needs three wins to get to nine. The other three teams have to win three in order to stay ahead of a Washington team that would beat them in the tiebreakers. A 2-2 finish will not do for Atlanta, Minnesota and Dallas. Here is who they play:

Atlanta:
Mon 12/12 New Orleans 9:00 pm Sun 12/18 at Chicago 8:30 pm Sat 12/24 at Tampa Bay 1:00 pm Sun 1/1 Carolina 1:00 pm

Minnesota:
Sun 12/11 St. Louis 1:00 pm Sun 12/18 Pittsburgh 1:00 pm Sun 12/25 at Baltimore 8:30 pm Sun 1/1 Chicago 1:00 pm

Dallas:
Sun 12/11 Kansas City 4:15 pm Sun 12/18 at Washington 4:15 pm Sat 12/24 at Carolina 1:00 pm Sun 1/1 St. Louis 8:30 pm

It’s not hard to see the Falcons lose to Chicago and Carolina, Minnesota losing to Pittsburgh and Chicago and the Cowboys falling in Carolina after losing to the Redskins.

By the same token, seeing how things have gone this year, it’s not hard to see the Redskins losing two of their last four either, making this whole discussion moot. But that’s why they play the games and why it is a virtual certainty that there will be games with playoff implications at FedEx Field in December.

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