In the past couple days, I have been reaching out to guys I know across the nation, looking for fans of various NFL teams to get their opinions of what’s in store for their team this year.

I’ve always been a Washington Redskins fan – even during the mid-1990’s when the Skins weren’t very good.  Will my bias be skewed?  Sure, but I’m going to do my best to keep calm and try to be fair in my assessment.  Hopefully this will be informative to people who aren’t in the DC area and don’t have the same television / radio / press coverage that I do.

The Roster

Quarterbacks

Jason Campbell will probably be the starter all year long unless he gets hurt, and if he can play almost flawlessly during the majority of this season like he did the first half of last year – back when people were predicting a Pro Bowl selection for him and a possible MVP award.  I don’t know why the Redskins were trying to replace him in the off-season.  Jay Cutler has a strong arm but his stats aren’t as good as people tend to think.  His long-term pricetag is bigger than Jason Campbell’s is, and I’ve heard plenty of praise from people who know what they’re talking about regarding Campbell making some throws that a lot of QBs couldn’t make.

I’m not as excited about Todd Collins as the backup as I might’ve been about Chase Daniel or Colt Brennan, but it’s mostly an age thing.  I will admit that I was in attendance on the freezing cold evening during the 2007-2008 season when Jason Cambell went down to injury during the game against the Bears, and when Collins went into the game, I had a few minutes where I thought the season was lost.  He did a great job filling in, and I hope that if called on, Todd can do just as well this year as he did back in 2007.

Antwan Randle El as the third quarterback scares me a little, but if it comes down to a situation where he would need to fill in, I think he could do an okay job, and his versatility might put the other team’s defense on its heels for the rest of that game.  There’s no doubt in my mind that if the Skins have more than just a couple days to prepare, they’ll have a different option than Randle El to put under center.

Running Backs

Clinton Portis is one of the top 6 runningbacks in the NFL, even if some people think he’s getting a little old.  His blocking during passing plays remains a great aspect of Portis’ game.

Ladell Betts is a quality backup, though I don’t see him challenging Portis for the starting job.  He did a good job a couple years ago when Portis went down with an injury, but I’m of the belief that a runningback needs carries to keep up their skills, and so I wouldn’t expect Betts to be as good as before, but he doesn’t worry me when he enters the game.

Rock Cartwright has always been a personal favorite of mine, having some great plays on special teams (both receiving the kick AND as part of the kick-and-tackle part of the team).  When he has to go into the game, he does seem to find ways to make plays – including that fake punt during this year’s pre-season.  If Betts goes down, I have no problems with Rock taking the #2 spot.

Marcus Mason is a big fan favorite around the DC area given what he has done in the pre-season this year and last year (leading the NFL in rushing before the 2008-2009 season).  I’m glad he made the team, and he’s been getting high praise from guys who have played in the NFL, particularly mentioning that Marcus Mason has GREAT vision to find holes.

Mike Sellars – the man-beast caveman fullback – should continue to be a huge asset to the Redskins roster.  A second consecutive Pro Bowl selection should be well within grasp unless he gets injured.

Wide Receivers / Tight Ends

Santana Moss is a well-known name around the league.  I haven’t heard about any injuries this off-season, so I have no reason to believe that his production will go down significantly for any other reason than possibly other wide receivers stepping up, but I’m hoping that will just lead to better stats for Jason Campbell and a better record for the Redskins.

Malcolm Kelly was just named the #2 Wide Receiver, hopping up above Antwan Randle El and setting himself apart from fellow second-year receiver Devin Thomas.  There’s been plenty of praise about Kelly’s skills in addition to his size, and big things are expected of him this year.  In the interviews I’ve seen with him, Malcolm seems mature, focused, and driven to make a big impact this year after a disappointing season last year.

If Antwan Randle El or Devin Thomas have to play, I’ll be okay with it.  Randle El has good hands and quick feet, but that doesn’t always equate to big plays.  There has been some praise about Thomas’ development, though I think he’d have to work hard to get above Randle El or Kelly at this point, not to mention Marko Mitchell.

For those of you who haven’t heard the name Marko Mitchell, I think you will in the next year or so.  He worked his ass off to get a roster spot with the Redskins this year, and although he seems to be the #5 wide receiver, lots of people are big on his potential.  Vinny Cerrato has said that he gets the same feeling about Marko Mitchell that he got last year about 7th round pick Chris Horton – who not only played his way into a roster spot last season, but he earned himself a starting position at Safety before the year was done.

Chris Cooley should’ve been mentioned up with Santana Moss, because Captain Chaos really is the Redskins’ #2 option when looking to pass the ball.  His lack of touchdowns early last year should be an anomaly, and this year should be another Pro Bowl selection for him – despite Tony Gonzalez coming to the NFC (signed with the Falcocns in the off-season, possibly through a trade).  Fred Davis doesn’t do much for me.  Due to his lack of playing time, which isn’t due to his physical skills, I’d have to think that he’s having trouble adjusting to the Redskins’ playbook, though if something happens to Chris Cooley, I’m sure they’ll find a way to use Davis.  Todd Yoder has some skills, too.

Offensive Line

I don’t pretend to understand the intricacies of what it takes to be a good offensive lineman, despite my 2 weeks playing offensive guard back in high school before succumbing to the summer heat and deciding my Friday nights would be best served in a combination of watching from the stands and earning some money at a local pizza joint.  I can say that I think Chris Samuels should probably have a decent year this year, as will Randy Thomas if he stays healthy.  They’re both perennial potential Pro Bowl selections.  I’m glad to see Derrick Dockery return to the Redskins, because the last time he was here, he learned a lot from Joe Bugel – earning him a big contract from Buffalo.  I didn’t like to see Jon Jansen leave town because he had been pretty good here for a long time (and he’s a Michigan Wolverine alumn, even more reason for me to be a fan of his).  I know Stephon Heyer did a good job in pre-season last year and did an okay job this year, but that would be a big worry for me this year.  I can’t remember the name of the Redskins’ center or their backups, and while it doesn’t worry me, it’s not probably a strongpoint either.

Defensive Line

Oh yes, very excited about the Redskins’ defensive line this year.  I’m wary of Albert Haynesworth, hearing about some of his off-field issues.  He tended to be injury prone with some anger management issues, but I’m hoping he can keep that under wraps and have a good season.  When he’s in the game, he’s a game changer.  When he’s not in the game, I believe the Redskins will do fine with Cornelius Griffin – who has been the starter for the Skins for the past couple years when he’s not injured.

I don’t know where rookie stud Brian Orakpo is going to play – defensive end or linebacker, but call him what you will, he’s going to be a big part of the pass rush this year.  If he adjusts to wherever the ‘Skins put him, he’s going to make an already great defense even better.

Andre Carter and Phillip Daniels are good defensive ends in their own right.  Not Pro Bowl caliber, but they are good enough to get the job done while in the game.  Renaldo Wynn should be a fine veteran backup.

Linebackers

London Fletcher should’ve been a Pro Bowl selection last year, and given the new weapons the Skins have on defense this year, Fletcher is going to be increasingly more productive, which should put him in Hawaii this year (unless it’s in Miami, I can’t keep track).

Rocky McIntosh continues to improve, and I think he will do fine in his role.  I won’t overhype him, though I think he has potential.  Some people around town are high on H.B. Blades, though I haven’t seen enough of him in games to make any real assessment.

Defensive Backs

DeAngelo Hall could easily find himself with a Pro Bowl selection if he plays as well as he’s capable of doing.  He seems to really be happy playing for the Redskins after some years in Atlanta and Oakland.  He’s easily the best cornerback in Washington since Champ Bailey (though some would point to Shawn Springs, I’d still pick Hall – who is younger than Springs and better at creating turnovers).

LaRon Landry continues to be one of the better Safeties in the league.  With Fletcher and Haynesworth plugging up the middle and stopping runningbacks before they reach Landry, LaRon should have plenty of opportunity to use his physical gifts and football acumen to the best of his ability, which should lead to lots of plays being made.

Chris Horton – last year’s 7th round draft pick who worked his way into a starting role particularly due to his ability to create turnovers – should only get better this season.  He’s going to be a really good compliment to LaRon Landry and DeAngelo Hall, which should effectively shut down most opponents’ #1 Wide Receiver options.

Carlos Rogers needs to find a way to stay healthy so he can make a significant impact.  I think some people speak too highly about him, but if he has increased his ability to catch the ball instead of just batting it down, he will do okay on the opposite side of the field from Hall.  Fred Smoot could work himself into that spot if Rogers gets injured (or faulters, I suppose), and that would be okay.  Smoot has always been a hard player who likes to tackle, and I think his time in Minnesota humbled him just a little bit, and probably matured him quite a bit.  Justin Tryon and Kevin Barnes both need some time to develop, but they could do well in time (though I don’t believe either will ever be a top cornerback for the team).

Kickers

Shaun Suisham won the battle at kicker in the pre-season, but the fact that there was even a battle should say something.  I’m less than confident any time Suisham lines up for anything from 30+ yards.  Hopefully his accuracy improves this year.

Hunter Smith is a name I’ve known for a while, given the fact that my second NFL team of choice (my AFC option) – the Indianapolis Colts – are the punter’s former employer.  I hope he does as well this year as he has performed back in Indy… not that I hope the Skins have to punt too much this year.

The Schedule

I’m not going to discuss the entire 16 game schedule, but I will point out a few things that strike me.

The following games should be very winnable if they play up to their potential

Home against the St Louis Rams
Away against the Detroit Lions
Home against the Kansas City Chiefs

(read: these are must-win games because teams who lose to inferior opponents shouldn’t make the playoffs… and typically don’t)

The mid-December game in Oakland against the Raiders is a game I’d like to see the Redskins win despite having to travel to the west coast.  The last game of the year is going to be returning to the West Coast to play the Chargers, which should be a very tough game, so I’d hate to see them slip up against the Raiders just because they have to travel across a few time zones.

In addition to the always tough NFC East opponents, the Skins have to go to Carolina to play the Panthers, who I believe are a playoff caliber team this year.  They also have to travel to Atlanta to face another probable playoff team in the Falcons.

Typically a game against the Broncos is a tough one, but this year it should be easier to play them, since the game is at home and the Broncos have had some tough off-season off-field issues with some key players.

The Saints could be a scary opponent depending on how they play this year.  They aren’t far removed from a NFC Championship game, so it’s good that the game is in DC.

I’m predicting 10-6 or 11-5 with a playoff appearance.  They should’ve gone to the playoffs last year, if it weren’t for a terrible second half of the year and VERY questionable loss to St Louis, and a loss to the Bengals in Cincinnati.  They went 2-6 after starting out 6-2, though two of the second-half losses were to the teams in the AFC Championship Game – Pittsburgh and Baltimore.