- With Alex Smith now at quarterback and promising groups along the offensive and defensive lines, can the Redskins make some noise in the NFC East?
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Redskins 2018 win total: 7 (+120 over, -140 under)
Redskins 2017 record: 7-9
Key offseason acquisitions: QB Alex Smith, WR Paul Richardson, DL Pernell McPhee, RB Adrian Peterson
Key offseason losses: QB Kirk Cousins, C Spencer Long, DT Terrell McClain, LB Trent Murphy, CB Bashaud Breeland, CB Kendall Fuller, S Su'a Cravens, WR Ryan Grant, WR Terrelle Pryor, LB Junior Galette
Five things to keep in mind before betting the Redskins’ win total
1. Going from Kirk Cousins to Alex Smith is, in a vacuum, a lateral move. This is the issue for Washington: Cousins was more of a risk-taker, which led to some lows, but also some highs that they can't achieve with the ultra-conservative Smith. Think of the win at Seattle last year, when Cousins’s willingness to take shots while getting destroyed behind a line resembling a practice squad is the only reason Washington scored points, let alone escaped with a win. Smith indeed did more deep throwing last year, but that was more the function of a misdirection-based offense that had Tyreek Hill running 20 yards past every defender a handful of times—anyone in football becomes a deep thrower in that situation. Perhaps Jay Gruden can unlock some kind of tight window-testing confidence in Smith, but more likely it’s too late to teach that old dog new tricks. Smith will be dealing with a downgrade in supporting cast, and a significant downgrade should injury-prone TE Jordan Reed miss any time. On top of that, contested-catch specialist Josh Doctson is a terrible fit with his new QB. From 2014-16, Smith’s Chiefs ranked 28th in passing offense (212.0 net yards). There will be fewer turnovers and less volatility overall, which makes the question: Is there enough talent around Smith for this team to string together wins?
2. The offensive line is the strength of this team, and if the group is healthy (and it can’t be any more banged up than it was a year ago), Washington could alter its identity and become a run-heavy offense. That would require Adrian Peterson squeezing out one more season as an effective runner at age 33 (probably a more likely scenario than younger, plodding backs Rob Kelley or Samaje Perine emerging). However, that would also mean taking Chris Thompson, one of the best pass-catching backs in football, off the field more often than not. There’s also this: Despite all that talent up front, this team has averaged only 3.98 yards per carry over Gruden’s four seasons, 24th in the league during that span.
3. The defense might be even more of a wild card than the run-game situation. The unit has got some dudes up front—most notably Alabama pipeline DLs Jonathan Allen and Da’Ron Payne—Ryan Kerrigan is solid off one edge and Preston Smith is serviceable. Things are weird in the secondary, though. The Redskins moved a quality young slot corner in Kendall Fuller to get Smith, so they’re counting on Quinton Dunbar and the unproven Fabian Moreau to go with Josh Norman. But the middle of the field is likely where more issues will come. Zach Brown and Mason Foster are a respectable tandem at the inside linebacker spots. At safety, D.J. Swearinger and Montae Nicholson seem to be two guys more comfortable playing close to the line of scrimmage and attacking downhill. Defensive coordinator Greg Manusky has emphasized physicality with this defense, but it seems like coverage might be an issue.
4. There’s lots of bad news on the schedule. The NFC East gets the NFC South—football’s strongest division—and AFC South, which has some volatility but boasts two teams who are considered top challengers to the Patriots in that conference (Jacksonville and Houston), returns a potential MVP candidate in Andrew Luck and includes a Tennessee team that just added a coveted McVay/Shanahan disciple in Matt LaFleur to work with Marcus Mariota and boasts one of the top secondaries and best pass-rush designers in football (oh, and made the playoffs last year). Washington doesn’t get Dallas for the first time until Week 7, when stud center Travis Frederick could easily be back in the lineup. It doesn’t get Tampa until November, well after the Jameis Winston suspension (and that one’s on the road). The Redskins don’t get the Eagles for the first time until December, when Carson Wentz should be at full strength. And, despite the third-place finish last season, they draw the Packers out of the NFC North, who obviously wouldn’t have been a third-place team if Aaron Rodgers wasn’t hurt last year. Not to mention, the Giants are much improved this year, and Washington went 1-5 in the division last year.
5. Despite the ever-present contract squabbling the past couple years, there’s something to be said for the continuity of having Kirk Cousins under center in each of the past three seasons. Gruden now gets a quarterback in Smith who seemed to be pretty much maxed out in the Andy Reid system in Kansas City, where he was surrounded by elite talent. Gruden has done a nice job since taking the reins in Washington, but it might take a drastic change in identity for this team to win games with Smith’s conservative style. Cousins could, on occasion, lift this team to a win. Smith needs to be propped up by the system and, more importantly, the supporting cast, which Washington might not have right now.
PICK: UNDER 7 Wins
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