NFL Season Preview: Washington Redskins

Believe it or not, folks, the NFL season is much closer than you can possibly imagine. So close, in fact, that, if we're going to fit in every NFL team preview by the start of the season, we have to go this early. So there you have it.

Last year, we asked some of our favorite writers to opine why Their Favorite Team Was Better Than Yours. Ultimately, we found this constrictive, and it also might have killed James Frey. So this time, we've just asked them to just run free, talk about their team, their experience as a fan, their hopes, their dreams, their desires for oral sex. All our teams are now assigned; if you sent us an email and we didn't get back to you, we're sorry, and we accept your scorn. But today: Pittsburgh Steelers.

Your author is Matt Pitzer, fantasy football expert for USA Today Sports Weekly. His words are after the jump.

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I've had better decades. I grew up as a fan of the Washington Redskins, Baltimore Orioles and Washington Wizards (formerly the Bullets).

The Wizards used to be the perennial laughingstock, but they're the only ones with half a clue now. The Orioles have not had a winning season since 1997 (no rush, Peter Angelos).

But the one that hurts is the Redskins. I don't really care that Daniel Snyder loves to run through, and run off, his coaches or that he gives $30 million contracts to players such as Adam Archuleta and then cuts them a year later. What hurts is watching coach Joe Gibbs look like Steve Spurrier.

It is difficult to fathom that the Redskins are now four seasons into Gibbs' reprisal as Washington's coach. The notion that Joe Gibbs would not always be the smartest guy on the field . . . well, that was never supposed to happen. But here we are: 21-27 in his first three seasons, 1-1 in the playoffs after going 124-60 in his first 12 seasons — and 16-5 in the postseason.

Of course, a new season means new hope for the Redskins — and every other team in the league. Another year similar to three of the last four in which the Redskins had six or fewer wins could get Gibbs run out of town, most likely into another retirement. This one might be a little more forced than his first one, but the result would be the same.

Now, I might sound like the proverbial clueless fan, but I really do have hope. The NFC East basically has been ceded already as a two-team race between Dallas and Philadelphia. The Redskins are playing without expectations, which is sometimes the easiest way for a team to play.

One reason for optimism is QB Jason Campbell, a nice upgrade over Mark Brunell in that he can throw more than 15 yards downfield. All of the crossing routes and misdirection plays that coordinator Al Saunders loves need a little space to work. A deep passing threat is crucial to opening up the field and letting smallish receivers such as Santana Moss and Antwaan Randle El run free.

Now, don't get me wrong. Campbell will look like a second-year starter at times. He throws to the wrong place at the wrong time and has too much confidence in his arm strength in trying to fit the ball in tight spots. But as he learns what he can and can't do, he should become more dangerous as the year goes on.

Campbell already had one injury scare in the preseason and if he goes down, the season could be lost. As it could if Clinton Portis gets hurt again. Portis has had only one good and injury-free season in his three years in Washington (1,516 yards, 11 rushing TDs in 2005).

What Ladell Betts did last year in place of Portis might have been a fantasy miracle, but if you want a main guy for a full season and into the playoffs, Portis is the one. He is a more regular, bigger-play threat than Betts and Portis is the one who puts fear into defenses. But he already has knee problems; his health will go a long way toward determining how good the Redskins' offense is.

The other factor is the schizophrenic defense that slumped to 31st last year. LB London Fletcher, CB Fred Smoot and first-round pick S LaRon Landry were the key additions in an unusual approach to improving their pass rush, which generated only 19 sacks — last in the league. The point of adding Smoot and Landry was to improve coverage enough to let the returning rushers reach the passer.

It might not work completely, but it ought to help at least a little. There are too many competent veterans for this defense to be this bad again. And there is too much brainpower in the coaching staff for this team to keep losing this much.