Can the Washington Football Team make a playoff run?

LANDOVER, MARYLAND - JANUARY 09: Wide receiver Terry McLaurin #17 of the Washington Football Team makes a catch as cornerback Jamel Dean #35 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defends during the 4th quarter of the game at FedExField on January 09, 2021 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
LANDOVER, MARYLAND - JANUARY 09: Wide receiver Terry McLaurin #17 of the Washington Football Team makes a catch as cornerback Jamel Dean #35 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defends during the 4th quarter of the game at FedExField on January 09, 2021 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images) /

As someone who wrote just last week that the Washington Football Team is not making the playoffs in 2021, the following may come off as just a tad pollyannaish.  But the bye week is a chance to dream. I’ve been watching the Washington Wizards transform from a perennial NBA jobber into an exciting young team that can compete with and beat anyone in the league. I’ve been watching the Washington Capitals inject a little new blood into their veteran core and win a lot of hockey games.

Maybe it’s Washington’s year. Maybe the Washington Football Team will turn things around in the second half of the season and make a playoff run. It happened –when was it? Oh yeah – last year.

Now, last year was different because there was no one any good in the NFC East so the Washington Football Team could stagger early without losing ground in the division race. They could string together some late wins and grab a playoff spot as division champs with a losing record.

That is unlikely this season. Dallas may not be as good as the national media would like them to be, but at 6-2, they clearly are the class of the NFC East this season. It is highly unlikely they will collapse enough for Washington – or any other team – to catch them.

But here’s the good news in 2021. The NFC is very top heavy. Of its 16 teams, one has a .500 record. Six are above .500. That means that nine teams have losing records at this approximate midpoint of the season. With three wild card slots open, that team at .500 is currently in the playoffs, and many sub-.500 teams are close.

The Washington Football Team may be toward the very bottom of that list, but they are still just two games out of the playoffs with nine left to play. More importantly, five of those remaining nine games are against the very teams standing between Washington and that final wild card spot.

Right now, it appears that Dallas and Green Bay will win their respective divisions. In the South, Tampa has a one-game lead on New Orleans, and in the West, Arizona (who has the best record in the conference) also has a one-game lead over the Rams (who have the second-best conference mark.)

Let’s say those six teams will grab six of the seven playoff spots in the NFC. (Though with serious issues at QB, New Orleans is by no means a lock.) Let’s also rule out the winless Detroit Lions because – I don’t really need to explain this, do I?

Nine teams. One spot. And Washington is starting from the back of the pack. That’s the bad news.

Here’s the good news.

The team currently in the final wild card position is the 4-4 Atlanta Falcons, and the Washington Football Team beat Atlanta this season. That means that if it comes down to a two-way tie for the final spot, Washington wins. And Washington is just two games behind Atlanta. They have to be two games better than Atlanta over the final nine to surpass them (again – assuming a two-team tie. If three or more teams are tied, things get complicated and it is way too early to project.)

More good news.

Five of Washington’s nine games are against teams with losing records. One of the teams with a winning record is Las Vegas, who is struggling with one off-the-field body blow after another to keep their season afloat. Two of the games against winning-record teams are with Dallas. Records don’t matter as much in rivalry games. The other is this week’s game against Tampa Bay.

The five games against teams with losing records – Carolina, Seattle, New York (Giants), and two against Philadelphia – are all crucial since those are among the teams Washington must catch for that final wild card spot.

So, how does the Washington Football Team make the playoffs in 2021?

Win all five of those games. Beat Las Vegas. Split with Dallas. That means Washington ends on a 7-2 run to finish at 9-8. Atlanta would need to go 6-3 to finish ahead of Washington.

Washington will not be favored in most of those games, and they could be big underdogs to Dallas and Las Vegas, but I think they have a reasonably good chance of taking two out of those three. The toughest challenge may be defeating a Seattle team that should have Russell Wilson back under center.

Then Washington has to hope that a team like Minnesota, Chicago, or San Francisco doesn’t catch fire. At this point, I don’t think Chicago or San Fran are good enough, and I don’t think the Vikings are consistent enough, to make big runs.

Actually, I think the team that might be best positioned to make a sneaky late run (other than Seattle), is New York. More on that another time.

Look, the Washington Football Team has not played well at all this season. They are more likely to stumble in with a 2-7 second half than sprint home at 7-2. I think we all recognize that fact. But this is a team not too far removed from stunning the undefeated Pittsburgh Steelers on the road in week 13 of 2020, and then following it up with another road win over San Francisco. That 49er game was won entirely by the defense, and it would be very helpful if Jack Del Rio’s unit stepped up again in the second half of 2021.

The Washington Football Team doesn’t necessarily have to shock the world by defeating the defending Super Bowl champs this week. What they have to do is play a very competitive game in which they prove that all the poor play of the first half of 2021 is turning around. If they do that, then the Carolina-Seattle-Las Vegas run won’t appear quite so formidable. It’s almost exactly what they did last season.

Catching that wave again may not be likely.

But as of today, it’s still possible. It’s not too late for this team to make some more magic.

3 plays that defined first half of 2021. dark. Next