Fortunate Redskins still in hunt in 'NFC Least'

David Elfin, The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

ASHBURN, Va. -- Mike Shanahan was a whiz the weeks after byes during his 14 seasons with the Denver Broncos, going 10-4. However, the coach is just 1-2 with the Washington Redskins after byes. Oddly, all three of Shanahan's post-bye weeks in Washington have been home games against NFC East rival Philadelphia.
Not only is this week's opponent different, but as the Redskins began their preparation for Sunday's visit to Texas, both teams are under .500 with Dallas at 2-3 and Washington at 1-3. And yet, the Cowboys are tied with the Eagles for the NFC Least -- err, East -- lead while the Redskins are just a half game back of the co-leaders and a game and a half ahead of the last-place New York Giants.
Washington would be a whopping three and a half games behind in the NFC South or AFC West and two and a half games in arrears in the NFC West, AFC East and AFC South. But in a division which is 2-10 against the rest of the league after Dallas' loss to Denver in Week 5, a 1-3 record is middle of the pack.
That's great news for the Redskins, who -- despite their 24-14 victory at Oakland in Week 4 -- are off to their worst start since 2004 but still have five of their six division games remaining after going 5-1 against the NFC East while finishing on top last season for the first time in 13 years.
Despite the Redskins' 7-0 post-bye record after they headed into Week 10 last season with three straight defeats, Shanahan hasn't exactly been the master of the turnaround during his 17-plus seasons as an NFL head coach.
In a dozen of his 18 full seasons, Shanahan's teams had better first quarters than final three quarters.
Once, in 1995, his first season in Denver, his team was .500 during the first four games and .500 during the final 12 games, too.
In only five seasons did Shanahan's teams improve after the first quarter and two of those were years in which the Broncos rose from a 3-1 record to open the season to a 10-2 mark the rest of the way.
That leaves 2012; 2000 when the Broncos began 2-2 but finished 11-5; and 1999, his only previous train wreck beginning when Denver turned an 0-4 opening into a 6-10 finish. Shanahan didn't get a chance for a similar reclamation project with the Raiders because he was fired after a 1-3 start in 1989.
Before last year, Shanahan was 4-8 (2010) and 2-10 (2011) after bye weeks with the Redskins.
Five of Washington's final 12 games of 2012 were against teams that had made the playoffs in 2011: Atlanta, Baltimore, the Giants (two) and Pittsburgh. The Falcons, Ravens and Minnesota were the only teams that the Redskins faced during the final 12 games of 2012 that went on to postseason.
Four of Washington's final 12 games of 2013 are against teams that made the playoffs in 2012: the Falcons, Broncos, Vikings and San Francisco with another against Chicago, which missed out on postseason despite a 10-6 record. As of now, just four of the Redskins' remaining dozen foes: the Chiefs, Broncos, Eagles and 49ers are on track to reach the playoffs.
--The indoor practice facility that Shanahan convinced Redskins owner Dan Snyder to pay for in 2012 came in very handy Monday as Washington was able to return to work despite the storms that pelted the area.
Running back Alfred Morris, who left the Oakland game on Sept. 29 with bruised ribs was among those practicing.
-- TE Logan Paulsen sprained his left MCL against the Raiders. He hopes that he'll be ready to face the Cowboys.
-- NT Chris Neild left the Oakland game with a right calf injury. He expects to be available on Sunday.
-- K Kai Forbath missed a third straight game with a sore groin suffered in practice on Sept. 12. He should return against the Cowboys after kicking last Thursday and Friday. The Redskins released injury replacement John Potter.
-- TE Jordan Reed was inactive at Oakland after bruising his right quad against Detroit. He expects to play against the Cowboys.
-- OLB Brandon Jenkins was inactive at Oakland after spraining his right ankle against Detroit. He expects to be available on Sunday.

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