At last, pro football is back.
After a long, tumultuous offseason during which there was uncertainty about whether the season would start on time, the 2011 NFL season is set to begin tonight as the New Orleans Saints take on the Green Bay Packers on national television.
Three days later, the Washington Redskins will be among several other teams as their 2011 campaign commences. In his second year as head man in DC, Mike Shanahan and his team have their work cut out for them after a disappointing 6-10 season.
While the Redskins got off to a 4-3 start during which they beat three eventual playoff teams, the wheels had quickly fallen off amidst open questioning of Donovan McNabb‘s conditioning (as well as a quarterback controversy in general) and the re-emergence of the $100 million malcontent on the defensive line known as Albert Haynesworth. Coming into this season, both McNabb and Haynesworth have been traded, and Shanahan finally has the pieces he wants in place to develop. Rex Grossman, despite his flaws as a quarterback, has a grasp on the Shanahans’ offense. John Beck, while already 30 years of age, is still relatively young in football years, as he has not taken a meaningful snap since 2007. Barry Cofield is actually willing to play the ever-important nose tackle position in the 3-4 defense. Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan have the potential to be a formidable pair of bookend outside linebackers. With Tim Hightower, Roy Helu and Ryan Torain, the Redskins have a stable of tough running backs not afraid of contact.
But despite all these positives, the Redskins are still expected to finish last in the NFC East, a division among the toughest in football. While the Giants have been bitten by the injury bug this preseason, they still pose a threat. The Cowboys are expected to bounce back from a disappointing season during which Tony Romo went down with an injury. And of course, little needs to be said about what the Eagles have done this offseason. While their schedule has each team from the paltry NFC West, as well as last-place teams Minnesota and Carolina from last year, they also have to face two of the toughest teams in the AFC in New England and the New York Jets.
The prediction? The Redskins have another 6-10 or a 7-9 season and finish last in the NFC East. Despite where they are expected to finish, every team they play better take them seriously, because they have the potential to sneak up on a few teams. The pieces the Redskins have in place may be raw, but there is definitely room for growth, and Shanahan and his staff will do everything in their power to help this team fulfill its potential.