The Redskins are winless on the road and facing their toughest challenge yet in New England
The undefeated New England Patriots welcome the Washington Redskins (3-4) Sunday hoping to cap off the first half of their season with a perfect 8-0 record. The Patriots had an extended break following last Thursday's win over divisional rival Miami Dolphins and should be well rested and prepared for Kirk Cousins and the Redskins.
The Redskins are coming off a thrilling 31-30 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers that saw them put up 24 second-half points, including a touchdown in the closing seconds to pull out the win. Cousins threw for over 300 yards and should get even more help with the anticipated return of DeSean Jackson. He'll need all the help he can get against a Patriot defense that had their best performance of the season against Ryan Tannehill and the Miami Dolphins.
While the Patriots are rolling once again and are heavily favored in this game, the Redskins have put up a better fight on the road than their winless record away from Washington indicates. If a few early bounces go their way, this one could be a lot closer than many think.
Washington at New England
Kickoff: 1 p.m. ET (Sunday)
Spread: Patriots -14
Three Things to Watch
1. Can Garcon, Reed and Jackson challenge New England's secondary?
The Patriots' turnover at cornerback is well documented and while their starting trio of corners have been up and down this season, they've generally been solid. But the Pats' struggles with the deep ball in recent years is often their fatal flaw and goes against everything Bill Belichick's defensive philosophy stands for. Once again the Patriots are in the bottom 10 when it comes to 20-plus passing plays. What the Redskins need most is a quick strike, long touchdown pass to put the Patriots' offense in an early hole. That could help dictate how the game is played. If Jackson is back and his usual explosive self, there's no reason not to take multiple deep shots to him and hope Cousins can deliver some big plays without turnovers.
2. Patriots' pass rush progression
The Patriots' pass rush was on fire against the Dolphins, led by Chandler Jones, who currently is tied for the NFL lead in sacks. But don't let that fool you, their pass rush has been inconsistent in the early stages of the season. Now that they found some life they must continue to build upon it. Nothing makes a defense better than an unrelenting pass rush and it's been years since the Patriots consistently had one. They have the pieces in place now to do it, even with Jabaal Sheard still nursing an ankle injury. Regardless of how well Tom Brady plays, this team will go only as far as their front seven takes them. Stringing a second game of great pass rush would be a nice sign of progress for the defense and kill any Redskin upset attempt.
3. Redskins empty the playbook
There's no need for the Redskins to hold anything back in this one. Trick plays, onside kicks, fake punts, you name it, they should try it. Most of all they must play fearless in Foxborough and not hesitate to take chances on fourth down or send all-out blitzes at just the right time. Nothing gets you beat faster by the Patriots than playing timid and making mistakes due to indecision. They're big underdogs to one of the best teams in the league. No one really expects them to win, but it's always the teams that play with nothing to lose that give the Patriots a tough time when you'd expect it least. The Redskins should throw the kitchen sink at the Pats and hope it does some damage.
The Redskins are coming off their biggest win of the season and nothing would build momentum better than handing the Patriots their first loss of the season, including their first meaningful home loss since 2012. But the Patriots are clicking in all aspects right now and it takes a special game to knock them off. Do the Redskins have the kind of mistake-free, fearless game in them that they'll need? Probably not.
Prediction: Patriots 35, Redskins 13