Sometimes an NFL season can turn on a dime.  In the span of four days last week, the Redskins lost their starting quarterback for the season and fell out of sole possession of first place of the NFC East.  Instead of 8-3 with a three game lead in the division, the Burgundy and Gold are fighting for their playoff lives with a backup quarterback that hasn’t seen regular action in four years.  The 23-21 loss to Houston and 31-23 defeat at Dallas don’t have this team on the ropes, but they’re not in great shape for 2018–or beyond.

Broken Leg, Busted Dreams- the season-ending injury of Alex Smith came on the 33rd anniversary of Joe Theismann’s career-ending compound fracture against the New York Giants.  Before the injury, Smith had thrown interceptions on back to back first half possessions.  He also had his lowest completion percentage and yards per attempt of the season and was sacked three times for the third straight week.  Now the veteran stares into the face of an 8 to 10 month rehabilitation.  Will he be able to come back after this?  And if not, how does this team handle the salary cap albatross?

Colt at the Controls- while McCoy threw a touchdown pass on his first drive off the bench, he tossed three interceptions against the Cowboys.  The new starter has a 73.9 passer rating, but now has a full week of practice reps with the first string for the first time since 2014.  So there’s that.  And didn’t he have his best moment in a Monday night on the road that year?

Third and New- under McCoy, the Skins converted 5 of 15 third downs.  The lone running play saw Adrian Peterson gain four yards on third and one.  Colt completed 3 of 9 passes with each of his completions resulting in a conversion while getting sacked twice and scrambling twice (moving the chains once).  His top target:  Jordan Reed (two catches/conversions in four passes thrown to).

Flying Flags- six penalties for 43 yards against Houston and four infractions for 25 yards at Dallas, giving the team 64 penalties (14th most in the league) for 692 yards (5th highest).  Four on offense (three false starts and a hold), five on defense (three holds, an illegal use of the hands, and a roughing the passer) and a hold on special teams.  For the season, offensive holding (23) and false starts (17) are the biggest offenders.  Morgan Moses has the most accepted penalties (8) while Fabian Moreau (6) is gaining ground; the safety’s hold in the fourth quarter against Dallas allowed the Cowboys to hold the ball for three more minutes and help kill the clock.

Dissecting the Division- the loss drops the Skins to second place in the NFC East, as Dallas owns the division record tiebreaker.  While the Cowboys own the fourth seed in the NFC, the Redskins are sixth-taking the second wildcard thanks to a conference  record tiebreaker against Seattle and a head-to-head tiebreaker against Carolina.  Philadelphia’s rally past the New York Giants keeps the Eagles’ season from hitting the skids…the third place team is ninth overall in the conference.  The New York Giants had a chance to escape the cellar but instead stay in the basement and are 14th in the NFC.

If the playoffs began today- the NFC matchups would have the Redskins visiting Chicago and Dallas hosting Minnesota; with top seed New Orleans playing the Cowboys, Vikings or Skins and the Los Angeles Rams meeting the Bears, Dallas or the Vikes.  The AFC would have Pittsburgh hosting the Los Angeles Chargers and Baltimore at Houston, with top seed Kansas City drawing the Steelers, Chargers or Ravens and New England preparing for the Texans, Pittsburgh or LA.

Competing Quartets, and the Conference Contest- the NFC East is 20-24…tied for sixth best (or worst, depending on your perspective) with the AFC East and NFC West.  The NFC South and AFC West are the tied for first at 24-20.  The AFC currently owns a 24-23 edge over the NFC.