NFL Preview 2014: Washington Redskins

Robert Griffin III. (Evan Vucci/AP)

Sportsnet is breaking down everything you need to know about each of the 32 teams—including why you should or shouldn’t be rooting for them this season—in the month leading up to NFL kickoff on Sept. 4. Today, the Washington Redskins.

Last year’s record: 3-13

Coach: Jay Gruden

2014 is about… Getting Robert Griffin III back on track. With the soap opera that was Mike Shanahan and RGIII cancelled after a disastrous 2013 season, the former rookie of the year can focus on returning to the form that got his team to the playoffs in 2012. In his first year as Washington’s head coach, Gruden’s top priority must be formulating an offensive game plan that works best for Griffin; the QB has to be comfortable. Do that and this team could be back in the post-season.

Core players: Robert Griffin III (QB), DeSean Jackson (WR), Trent Williams (OT), Brian Orakpo (LB).

But they lost… Fortunately for the Redskins, not much. Washington’s biggest loss was that of veteran London Fletcher (LB), who retired after 16 NFL seasons and 256 consecutive games. Fletcher was Washington’s leader on defence, which will leave a glaring hole in the middle of the field.

Yeah, but they got… DeSean Jackson (WR), who is joining a former division rival after six seasons in Philadelphia. RGIII has yet to take the field with such a dynamic playmaker and will surely benefit from the addition of the long-time Eagle. Jackson will stretch the field and has a knack for turning a lot of nothing into a whole lot of something. He’s also a game-changing return man—just ask the Giants. Jason Hatcher (DT), despite being grossly overpaid, should help a defensive line that lacked interior pressure and will give Orakpo and linebacker Ryan Kerrigan a better opportunity to make plays.

Growing from within: A successful future in D.C. depends on the success of the 2012 and 2013 draft classes; the front office is banking on it. The maturity of RGIII—meaning less interceptions and hits, more touchdowns and sliding—is crucial to the Redskins rebounding from a 3-13 season that ended in an eight-game skid. With that, the rest will come. Emerging from a packed backfield two years ago, Alfred Morris (RB) has already established himself as a quality back and would benefit from a more consistent quarterback in front of him. Jordan Reed (TE), a third-round pick out of Florida last season, showed flashes late in the season and could be on the verge of a breakout. Finally, keep an eye on David Amerson (CB), who is expected to start opposite of DeAngelo Hall.

Why this team? Because of the potential that a player like Griffin brings to the field every game. With a lot less attention on him heading into this season, he will be looking to prove that 2013 was an anomaly. Or better yet, that 2012 wasn’t. Because, beyond the quarterback, the future looks bright for Washington. With an up-and-coming rookie head coach that made the most out of an underwhelming cast as offensive coordinator in Cincinnati, plenty of offensive weapons and the beginnings of a solid defence, the Redskins could be the only team with a chance to rival the Eagles in the NFC East.

Why not? Because with an owner like Dan Snyder, the fate of the team is anything but predictable. Not only has Snyder made stupid mistake after stupid mistake in every aspect of managing a franchise, but his hard-headed determination to not consider changing the name of team in the face of immense pressure—an issue bigger than football—has been a distraction to his franchise and a black eye on the league.

Perfect for fans of… The New York Knicks. Both teams have lumped enormous pressure on face-of-the-franchise players to break them out of the clutches of mediocrity. But what really makes these teams similar is the unstoppable forces which breed that mediocrity: the owners. Snyder and Knicks owner James Dolan have often overruled general managers and coaches in personnel decisions, and the results haven’t been pretty.

How much hope? 5/10. If RGIII and Co. can put a wretched 2013 behind them and get back to what made them successful in 2012—a ground-first attack and keeping turnovers to a minimum—Washington could have a chance to sneak into a wild card spot. The prospects on defence don’t look promising, however, and that could be their downfall.

Will you be mocked for front-running? Not likely. Since drafting Griffin, fans with no NFL loyalty have flocked to Washington to kneel to the burgundy and gold. Join the party.

A Meme To Remember: Dan Snyder’s impact on the Redskins summed up in one act of Photoshop genius.

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