A couple of you have pointed this out, and it's interesting to ponder. On the premise that each of the past nine NFL seasons has featured at least one division champion that finished in last place the year before, NFL.com debates which NFC team has the best chance to turn that trick this year. There was a fan poll on this, but I can't find it. Somebody told me the Washington Redskins were the fan poll winners. In this analysis, the Redskins are given the second-best chance, behind the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
There are a couple of ways to look at this. The easiest is simple math, which favors the Redskins in such a competition. They were 5-11 last year, but that record only put them four games behind the division-champion New York Giants, who were 9-7 (and lost both of their head-to-head matchups against the Redskins, incidentally). Looking at it that way, the Redskins have the shortest distance to travel from worst to first. The Bucs were nine games out of first place, the Rams 11 and the Vikings 12. By comparison, four games doesn't seem like a lot to make up. Especially if the Redskins have upgraded as dramatically at quarterback as the popular conception would have you believe.
But there are obviously more factors to consider. The first-place team isn't the only team the last-place team must overcome, and the Eagles and Cowboys both have reason to believe they'll be better in 2012 than they were in 2011. Robert Griffin III could exceed every reasonable expectation in his rookie year and still be the fourth-best quarterback in this stacked division. Each of the other three teams has better starting wideouts and more experienced and dynamic starting running backs than the Redskins do. Their defense compares favorably in spots with the other defenses in the division, but there are questions in the secondary and even their good young pass-rushers still take a back seat to the fearsome likes of DeMarcus Ware, Jason Pierre-Paul, Osi Umenyiora, Justin Tuck, Trent Cole and Jason Babin.
Could they do it? Of course. This is the NFL, where predictions -- especially June predictions -- are as useful as three-dollar bills. We don't know how good they're going to be or how good anyone else in the division is going to be until we see the games. And I mean all of the games. The NFC East went down to the final game of the regular season last year and was won with only nine victories for the first time ever in a full season. Anything's possible.
But I have a hunch it's going to take more than nine wins to win this division in 2012, and that the four-game gap between first and worst is going to be a little more difficult for the Redskins to traverse than the final 2011 standings make it look. I think they can contend if everything falls into place and Griffin and the pieces around him develop more quickly than one might expect them to. But I also think a lot is going to have to go wrong in New York, Philadelphia and Dallas in order for the Redskins to be the team that turns the worst-to-first trick this year.