Putting 47 points on the board and sitting a half-game out of first place in the NFC East puts all sorts of scenarios in one’s head.
Even though we know the future is uncertain, even though we’re aware of week-to-week reality checks, even though our visions typically morph into eyesores, we can’t resist playing “what-if” in the afterglow of euphoria. And nothing makes the heart race like a 47-14 rout against a franchise that recently was near-elite.
Two painful seasons have passed since Washington harbored such bright hopes and much has changed since then – notably the coach, the quarterback, the architect and 60 percent of the roster. Questions still remain but new general manager Scot McCloughan has found answers before with teams that made playoff runs.
Reaching the postseason this year would be an incredible feat, no matter what might happen there. Though a ludicrous thought prior to this season, with Washington a combined 7-25 the previous two years, the playoffs are not out of the picture.
Saying that with a straight face, and not being asked what you’re smoking, is a victory in itself.
Granted, the prospect is due to the division’s putridness as much as the team’s progress. A 4-5 record normally isn’t grounds to beat your chest. While Gruden’s squad has shown resiliency in losing consecutive games only once this year, it has yet to win back-to-back games, something good teams do frequently. Washington also has yet to win on the road in four tries.
Both of those boxes can checked off Sunday when they visit the undefeated Panthers. A victory at Carolina would be a mark of legitimacy in this crazy season where few teams stand out. Two-thirds of the league is at or below .500, including the entire NFC East and AFC South.
“When you have a team that is 9-0 like Carolina, obviously people might get a little bit more excited to really get to start preparing and getting ready for the game, Gruden told reporters Monday. “(QB) Cam Newton obviously should get your juices flowing a little bit more, maybe. … When you see what we’re capable of doing at times throughout the season, I think guys are ready to get it strapped up again and go out and play and try to prove themselves again.
“We’re still in that process of trying to prove ourselves to everybody and to ourselves on a consistent basis,” he said. “Carolina will be a great, great, great test for us and we’re excited about it.”
Either way, there’s potential for excitement in the final games afterward.
Stretch runs in baseball give us the great sport of scoreboard watching, where day after day you keep one eye on your team and the other eye on contending foes. Football doesn’t allow those blood rushes every 24 hours. Instead, fans must be content with schedule watching, dissecting the upcoming opponents and weighing the possible outcomes.
That exercise, after adding the victory against New Orleans to every division mate’s defeat the same day, gives us a stunning net positive: Washington actually could make the playoffs!
Following the Carolina game, Buffalo is the only remaining team that currently has a winning record and the Bills must travel to FedEx Field. Cousins is playing like a franchise QB at that stadium. In four home games since a season-opening loss against the Dolphins, he has completed 78 percent of his passes for 1,134 yards with 10 touchdowns and …. drum roll, please … ZERO interceptions.
You like that?
Regardless of the outcome against Carolina, Washington will have four opportunities to cement itself atop the division. They get the New York Giants, currently in first with a 5-5 record, at FedEx in Week 12, followed by a visit from Dallas in Week 13. The season ends with road games at Philadelphia and Dallas. There’s also a trip to Chicago in Week 14.
Nothing about the remaining schedule seems overly daunting. Yes, the Giants are 5-0 against Washington since the start of 2013 and own a psychological edge. Yes, the Cowboys will have Tony Romo back and believe the division remains within reach. Yes, Washington must prove it can pack a suitcase and return home with a win.
And, yes, every opponent will still view Washington as a team it should beat. Fans of 4-5 teams everywhere are all thinking the same thing.
But we’re only concerned with the view from here, which now includes a shot at the playoffs. Crazy as that sounds, the notion isn’t as far-fetched as when the season began. Imagine that.