RG3 and Brandon Weeden impress onlookers with big arms

With OTAs, everyone can look good playing in shorts without real pressure. But coaches and journalists can now see these guys in person and on the practice field, and the early reports are enthusiastic when it comes to Robert Griffin III.

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Shanahan names RGIII the Redskins’ starter and hey, why not?

Mike Shanahan apparently only needed one rookie minicamp to name Robert Griffin III his starting quarterback.

My question is, what took him so long? I’m shocked Shanahan didn’t walk to the podium at Radio City Music Hall and made the announcement while Griffin was busy hugging Roger Goodell.

If anyone is surprised that Shanahan has already made this decision, don’t be. He gave up first-round picks in 2012, 2013 and 2014, as well as the team’s second-round pick this year so why not start Griffin right away? There’s no reason to wait.

“Any time you pick a player with the second pick of the draft and you give up another two No. 1’s and No. 2 and you move up four spots, you’ve got a game plan in mind,” Shanahan told Mike Jones of the Washington Post. “We’re going to adjust our system to what he feels comfortable with, and we’ll watch him grow, and we’ll do what we feel like he does the best.”

You never want to rush a quarterback when he’s not ready but what is Shanahan to do, hold an open competition at quarterback when everyone knows Griffin is his guy? Shanahan has seen enough out of Rex Grossman to know that he can’t win with him under center for 16 games. Why delay getting Griffin much needed experience in his first season?

Given the success that Matt Ryan, Sam Bradford, Cam Newton and Joe Flacco had as rookies over the past four seasons, there’s no reason to think that Griffin can’t turn the Redskins into an immediate winner. But his success will depend on how well Washington’s shaky offensive line protects him next season.

Left tackle Trent Williams tested positive for banned substances ten times in September and October according to a report by Pro Football Talk.com last December. Thus, he’s one more screw up away from potentially serving a long-term suspension.

On the other side, Jammal Brown continues to battle lingering left hip and groin issues while left guard Kory Lichtensteiger is coming off November ACL surgery. Granted, the Redskins did draft three offensive linemen last month but who knows whether or not any of those players will be able to make an impact from Day 1.

But even if the Redskins decided to use a banner made of papier-mâché as their offensive line, Griffin will be their starter. He was destined for that role the second Shanahan swung that trade with the Rams.

Fade Material: NFL Week 15 Predictions

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady scrambles for two yards on a keeper in the first quarter against the Indianapolis Colts at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts on December 4, 2011. The Patriots defeated the Colts UPI/Matthew Healey

A personal thank you goes out to the Bengals and Panthers for blowing decent leads at home versus the Texans and Falcons last week, and to the Bucs and Raiders as well, who never bothered to get off their respective planes in Jacksonville and Green Bay. With their powers combined, the Bengals, Panthers, Bucs and Raiders contributed to my 0-4 Sunday in Week 15. That hideousness dropped my season record to 24-29-2 with just three weeks to go to try and get over .500. The true season starts now, folks. It’s time for me to make my own version of a playoff run…

Redskins @ Giants, 1:00PM ET
September 11, 2011, the Giants walk into FedEx Field and walk out with a 28-14 loss to the Rex Grossman-led Redskins. October 9, 2011, the Giants host the Seahawks after nearly losing to the Cardinals in Arizona the week before and are crushed by Seattle, 36-25. October 30, 2011, the Giants barely squeak by the then-winless Dolphins, 20-17. November 20, 2011, the Giants lose 17-10 as a 6-point favorite to the Vince Young-lead Eagles. Whenever you think the Giants should win, run the other way. They’ve played down to their competition all year and while I realize the NFC East is on the line for NY, the Skins have already proven that they can beat the Giants and have nothing to lose. They’ve also been more competitive with Grossman at the controls than John Beck so while I don’t think Washington will win, I like the Skins to keep things close.

Saints @ Vikings, 1:00PM ET
The Vikings nearly knocked off the Lions last Sunday thanks to Joe Webb and they’ll have Adrian Peterson back this week against a New Orleans team that hasn’t looked sharp on the road this year. But unless Peterson transformed into the second coming of Deion Sanders over these past couple of weeks, then Minnesota will have a hard time keeping up with Drew Brees today. The Saints’ passing game versus the Vikings’ pass defense is one of the biggest mismatches of Week 15. I’m hesitant to lay 7.5 points on the Saints when they’ve been pretty average on the road this year but they should open up things today at the Metrodome.

Jets @ Eagles, 4:15PM ET
The Jets would be the sixth and final seed in the AFC if the playoffs were to start today but the problem is that the playoffs don’t start today. And with Tennessee, Cincinnati and San Diego still nipping at New York’s heels, Rex Ryan and Co. need to play their best football today in Philly. While I don’t trust Mark Sanchez as far as I can heave him, the Jets’ running game looks like it’s finally starting to take shape and Ryan’s defense should give Michael Vick fits. Given how inconsistent the Eagles have been this season, three points seems like a gift.

Patriots @ Broncos, 4:15PM ET
I fully expect Denver’s defense to play well again this week but eventually the Patriots will figure things out and score their 20-plus points. The question is whether or not Tim Tebow and the Broncos will be able to keep pace. At this point it’s probably foolish to doubt Denver’s ability to pull off the upset but I think the Pats will serve the Broncos a very rude awakening today.

2011 NFL Week 15 Primer

New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan works on the sideline during the first half of their NFL football game against the Washington Redskins in Landover, Maryland, December 4, 2011. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

MARQUE MATCHUP: Patriots vs. Broncos, 4:15PM ET, Sunday
For the Broncos, this matchup with the Patriots is more than just about this game. It’s about seeing how well they stack up against one of the best in the AFC. Granted, during the Broncos’ current six-game winning streak they’ve beaten the Raiders, Jets, and Chargers, who are three teams still vying for a playoff berth in the conference. But Tom Brady and Co. is obviously a different animal. If Denver’s defense can’t keep guys like Brady and Rob Gronkowski in check, will Tim Tebow and the Bronco offense step up? Will Tebow be able to make plays through the air? Will his receivers win their individual matchups and actually catch the ball? Even though Denver now has the inside track to a playoff berth, doubts still remain about Tebow’s ability to win when he usually doesn’t even warm up until the fourth quarter. This will be a great test for a Denver team that still has plenty to prove.

THE POTENITAL (NOTEWORTHY) UPSET: Redskins over Giants, 1:00PM ET, Sunday
While the victory did come at home, Washington has already beaten New York once this season. Eli Manning threw one interception and no touchdowns while Rex Grossman completed 21-of-34 passes for 305 yards and two scores in the Redskins’ 28-14 victory in Week 1. The Skins have lost two in a row and eight of their last nine but they’re clearly a more competitive team with Grossman under center than John Beck. The Giants are currently the owners of first place in the NFC East by virtue of their win over the Cowboys last Sunday night. But the Giants have made a habit out of playing down to their competition all season. Even with a playoff berth on the line, Tom Coughlin’s squad always seems primed for an upset.

The Cowboys have a chance to beat the Bucs on Saturday night and then sit back on Sunday and hope the Redskins can upset the Giants to give them a one-game lead again in the NFC East. There’s simply no excuse for Dallas to lose to Tampa Bay. The Bucs have lost seven in a row and are coming off a defeat in which they allowed 41 points to a horrendous Jacksonville offense. Raheem Morris is now on the hot seat and the Bucs don’t have the weapons to slow the Cowboys down on either side of the ball. True, Tampa will have home field advantage but how many Bucs fans will show up to Raymond James on Saturday night to root on a 4-9 team? The Bucs have a hard enough time filling their stadium when the team is good, nevertheless spiraling out of control. If Dallas can win, it puts all the pressure on New York to produce a victory at home the following day against a Washington team that’s slightly better than its record would indicate.

Some were ready to write the Jets off when they lost 17-13 to the Broncos back on that Thursday night in mid-November. But they’ve quietly rattled off three straight wins against inferior opponents in Buffalo, Washington and Kansas City, respectively. Their latest victory (a 37-10 shellacking of the Chiefs) has allowed them to take control of their own destiny in the AFC. If the playoffs were to start today, the Jets would own the sixth and final seed in the conference. But with Tennessee (7-6), Cincinnati (7-6), Oakland (7-6) and even San Diego (6-7) still very much alive, New York can ill-afford to suffer any losses. They’ll travel to Philadelphia this Sunday to take on an Eagles team that has been a mixed bag all season. You don’t know whether or not they’ll come out completely flat and disinterested or focused and inspired. That’s why if Rex Ryan wants people to start believing in “Gang Green” again, the Jets better come out this Sunday and beat a Philadelphia squad that for all intents and purposes is just riding out the rest of its schedule. Given how poorly the Eagles have defended the run this year, this is a great opportunity for Shonn Greene and the Jets to establish the run, play great defense and walk out of Philly with a victory.

Five Questions for Week 15 in the NFL

Every Tuesday I’ll take a look at the five biggest questions surrounding NFL teams for that week. This week I take a look at the Broncos-Patriots showdown, the Giants’ important divisional game against the Redskins plus Big Ben’s injury situation.

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger surpasses former Steelers Terry Bradshaw mark of 2026 pass completions today during the 35-7 win over the Cincinnati Bengals at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on December 4, 2011. UPI/Archie Carpenter

1. Can the Broncos really do the unthinkable?
At this point it might be foolish to doubt what the Broncos can do. They’ve won six in a row and seven of their last eight, which includes comeback victories in either the fourth quarter or overtime of five games. Tim Tebow has received most of the attention but if not for Denver’s stingy defense or kicker Matt Prater it’s safe to say that Tebow wouldn’t have had the chance to turn in so many clutch performances. But can the Broncos really do the unthinkable? Can they knock off Tom Brady and the Patriots? If they can, they might as well punch their ticket as AFC West champions because they face beatable Buffalo and Kansas City in the final two weeks. But first things first: they must beat New England. That’s obviously easier said than done but if the Broncos come up victorious this weekend they’ll send a message to the rest of the league that they should be taken seriously. (Of course, one could say that they’ve already sent that message over the past six weeks.)

2. Can the scrappy Redskins halt the Giants momentum?
With the Giants’ wild 34-31 win over the Cowboys on Sunday night, things are all tied up again in the NFC East. New York is technically in first place by virtue of its head-to-head tiebreaker, but Dallas will have its shot at revenge in Week 17. In the meantime, there’s no more room for letdowns. The Cowboys travel to Tampa Bay on Saturday night to take on a Bucs team that is coming off a 41-14 spanking at the hands of the lousy Jaguars while the Giants host the 4-9 Redskins. For all intents and purposes, Dallas and New York should emerge from Week 15 with identical 8-6 records. That said, let’s not forget that Rex Grossman and Co. knocked off the Giants all the way back in Week 1. Granted, that game was also played in Washington but the Skins have nothing to lose at this point and they’re playing decent football of late. They’ve dropped three of their last four games but outside of their 34-19 loss to the Jets in Week 13 (a game that didn’t get out of hand until the fourth quarter), they’ve been competitive over the past month. The Giants have a habit of playing down to their competition and if they do it again this week the Mike Shanahan’s could nip them again.

3. How will Big Ben’s ankle injury affect his play?
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported the high ankle sprain that Ben Roethlisberger suffered last Thursday against the Browns was the least damaging type of sprain. That’s obviously good news for the Steelers and considering Big Ben was able to return to the Cleveland game, he shouldn’t miss Monday’s game versus San Francisco. That said, how effective will he be is the question. Roethlisberger has played through various injuries all season and has played quite well. But he said this latest injury was “one of the most painful things I ever felt.” With the Steelers still battling with the Ravens for first place in the AFC North, they can ill-afford to have Roethlisberger sit if he says he’s able to go. But considering they all but have a playoff spot locked up, at what point does Pittsburgh decide that the risk isn’t worth the reward? This will be an interesting storyline to follow the next three weeks.

4. Can the Falcons find some consistency?
The Falcons have seemingly been on a roller coaster all season and you don’t know whether they’re going to finish the ride with their hands raised in jubilation or if the damn thing is going to go spiraling off the tracks. On paper they should be dominating but one moment they’re scoring 20-plus points in a half and the next they look completely hopeless offensively. One moment Roddy White and Julio Jones are catching everything in site and the next the ball might as well be a greased pig. One moment the offensive line is allowing Matt Ryan to pick defenses apart and the next they’re constantly helping him off the turf. This team is maddening to watch but maybe their impressive comeback against the Panthers last Sunday was just the thing they needed to wake them up. Yes, they were expected to beat Carolina. But anyone who watched their mistake-filled loss to the Texans the week before realized that the Panthers had a very realistic shot of beating the Falcons at home. And for one half of football, it looked like Carolina would beat Atlanta. But the Falcons finally found their groove in the second half and completely dominated the Panthers in the final two quarters. The question now becomes whether or not the Falcons found whatever has been missing this season. If they have, they’ll be a dangerous team from here on out. If not, well, strap in tight.

5. Will the Jets rise to the challenge?
The sixth seed in the AFC now belongs to the 8-5 Jets, who have won three in a row after losing back-to-back games to the Patriots and Broncos in Weeks 10 and 11. But the Jets don’t have the luxury of enjoying the moment because the Titans, Bengals and Raiders are still hot on their heels at 7-6. With upcoming games against the Eagles, Giants and Dolphins, the Jets could easily find themselves on the outside looking in if they slip up over these final three weeks. Their running game finally got going last week against the Chiefs, which is a good sign seeing as how poorly Philadelphia’s run defense has been this season. But can Mark Sanchez continue to stay out of the way and allow Shonn Greene and the defense to win games? Better yet, can he raise the level of his play so that the Jets soar into the postseason instead of limp to the finish line?

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