Kirk Cousins better strap on his big boy pants. The Washington Redskins have a brutal schedule ahead of them.
The NFL schedule makers are clearly intrigued with Washington looking to build on last year’s unexpected NFC East crown, because the Skins are slated to play in three primetime slots. That starts with a home opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday Night Football.
Washington will also be in the national spotlight on Thanksgiving Day at Dallas and on Oct. 30 against the Bengals in London.
Looking at the opener, the Steelers and Redskins are similar on paper. Both snuck into the playoffs last year with impressive passing offenses. Neither squad has developed a defensive identity, so it could easily be a shootout. Pittsburgh has owned Washington as of late, winning all five meetings since 1997.
Week 2 makes things interesting in a hurry. The Dallas Cowboys, with former Redskins running back Alfred Morris taking handoffs from Tony Romo, will be in FedEx Field for a rare early-season rivalry game. Unfortunately for Redskins fans, the Cowboys’ signal-caller will probably be healthy and effective, as he always seems to be early in the year.
The Skins play the Giants on the road in Week 3 then host the Browns in a game that will surely garner a ton of hype as the return of Robert Griffin III to Washington. Knowing Griffin, there will be a major social media campaign in the week leading up to the game and probably a ridiculous entrance from the visitor’s tunnel.
The next three weeks are highlighted by a road contest at Baltimore, a home matchup against Philadelphia and a trip to Detroit. If Washington loses early to either Pittsburgh, Dallas, or both, this is the stretch of the schedule where they can make up some ground.
But then things get ugly. The Bengals are already an AFC favorite, and it doesn’t help that they will be playing in London. Maybe the cross-continent trip will slow Andy Dalton and company, but it’s doubtful. Redskins coach Jay Gruden has a measure of revenge here and, more importantly, insight into his old team.
After the London trip comes the bye week, standard for overseas travel in the NFL. Washington hosts Minnesota and Green Bay next, travels to Dallas (for the aforementioned Thanksgiving game), Arizona and Philly, before returning home to host Carolina on Dec. 19. The Cardinals, Packers and Panthers are all likely favorites to beat Washington, so the importance of winning the other three games increases during this six-game stretch after the London trip.
Washington closes the season with a Dec. 24 game at Chicago and the home finale against the New York Giants on Jan. 1 at FedEx Field.
If Cousins continues to develop and the Skins find some help on defense, they will be competitive most of the year. But with this schedule, 9-7 looks like a reasonable ceiling, the price to pay for winning the division last year. It’s the NFC East, though, so nine wins could be enough to clinch a division title for the second-straight year.