SCHMUCK: Stunning NFL weekend looms
It is time to ponder the surprising turn of events that has brought the two sets of pro football fans in this region to this curious point in the NFL season where both are seated where the other was expected to reside.
The Ravens are preparing for a rivalry game against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium that, for the first time in the John Harbaugh era, bears absolutely no playoff implications for his team.
The Washington Redskins are preparing for a Saturday night game that could put a bow on the NFC East title if they can defeat the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field.
If you had sought to place a bet on this shocking juxtaposition of fortune at the opening of training camp this past July, you probably would have considered a handful of PowerBall quick picks to be the better wager.
That was back when the Ravens thought they had a legitimate shot at the Super Bowl. Harbaugh was in love with his team and had reason to believe the Ravens had assembled a solid group of offensive playmakers and a capable defensive secondary.
That was also back when the NFL.com preseason power rankings had the Redskins as low as No. 30 and described the organization as being "in disarray" because of what Fox Sports called the team's "quarterback misery matrix."
Banged-up Ravens: We all know what happened to the Ravens. Just about every one of those playmakers ended up on injured reserve — including durable quarterback Joe Flacco, who had not missed a regular or postseason start since he and Harbaugh arrived in Baltimore in 2008.
The same team that shook off the Ray Rice scandal to make a solid playoff run in 2014 was undone by the string of injuries that dated back to the very beginning of training camp. The loss of top NFL draft choice Breshad Perriman to a slow-healing knee injury would portend a constant drumbeat of bad medical reports that eventually brought the Ravens to the point where the only consolation is the lofty place they will have in the next draft.
Maybe there were flaws in the original roster that weren't fully recognized, but no team could have survived the loss of a franchise quarterback, a former NFL Defensive Player of the Year (Terrell Suggs), a likely Hall of Fame receiver (Steve Smith Sr.) and many others.
Redskins take advantage of soft NFC East: Meanwhile, the Redskins have taken advantage of the fact that the NFC East has taken the league's desire for parity a bit too far.
Both conferences feature a soft division, but the NFC East stands out because it is a collection of cornerstone NFL franchises with proud histories that all have stumbled through the 2015 season. None have won more games than they have lost.
If that changes for the Redskins on Saturday night, however, they will have nothing to be ashamed of. They weathered that crazy quarterback situation and made themselves at home at Fedex Field, winning six of their eight home games to get to the point where they can win the NFC East this weekend.
There is a scenario in which the Redskins lose Saturday and still win the division, but they would need to beat the Dallas Cowboys in Week 17 and the Philadelphia Eagles would have to lose to the New York Giants.
Cousins emerging: Time will tell, but it seems that Kirk Cousins is growing into a legit starting quarterback, though he is definitely a work in progress. He threw eight interceptions in the seven games before the Redskins' bye week, but has thrown just three in the seven games since and only one in the recent 3-1 run that propelled his team into Saturday's win-and-in situation.
The big question now is whether his first road win two weeks ago in Chicago is a sign he can deliver in front of the hostile and always-animated crowd in Philadelphia.
If so, the Redskins will host a playoff game at FedEx two weeks later and Ravens fans can start planning for their draft parties in late April.
Who could have imagined that?