There are all sorts of reasons for the Seattle Seahawks to be optimistic entering Saturday afternoon's second-round NFC playoff game against the Redskins.
The Seahawks will be playing at home, where they were 8-0 this year, and they finished with the best record in the NFC at 13-3.
The Seahawks are due to win a postseason game, something they haven't done since 1984.
The Seahawks are rested and they have Shaun Alexander.
The Seahawks know that historically Wild Card teams go on the road and win back to back about as often as cicadas descend on Washington, D.C., in the summer.
Despite all of the aforementioned, the Redskins have one very essential reason to be optimistic themselves. Joe Gibbs put it this way on Monday afternoon: "Our guys? They just keep on swinging."
To be more specific, take a look at the Redskins' defense. The Redskins have played four teams--Dallas, the Giants, Philly and Tampa Bay--twice this season. Seattle will be the fifth.
In general, the Redskins have improved on the defensive side of the ball. Familiarity, for the Washington defense, breeds contempt.
In other words, when Gregg Williams and his defensive staff have faced a second shot at an opponent, they've been able to come up with improved strategies. And the players executing those strategies have, on balance, been able to be more effective.
They gave up 13 points to Dallas on Week 2, just seven points on Week 15. They were taken apart by the Giants 36-0 on Oct. 30 but were much improved in the 35-20 win at FedExField on Christmas Eve. They basically caved in, in the 36-35 mid-season loss at Tampa Bay but outpunched the Buccaneers in last Satuday's 17-10 wild card-round win.
Surprisingly, only Philadelphia produced more scoring the second time around versus the Washington defense, going from 10 points on Nov. 6 at FedExField to 20 points on New Year's Day in South Philly. That was a bit of a shock, given that the Eagles played on Week 17 without Donovan McNabb and Brian Westbrook. (They didn't have T.O. either time.)
Another way to look at it is to consider an individual player, such as Tiki Barber. He sliced and diced the Redskins for a career-high 206 yards on Week 8. But in the rematch, the Redskins did a much better job on Barber, limiting him to 80 yards on 16 tries.
The question now becomes: Can the Redskins' defense do a better job on Alexander, Matt Hasselbeck, Bobby Engram and company on Saturday than they did back on Week 3.
That was the game in which Nick Novak's 39-yard field goal rescued the Redskins 20-17 in overtime. Not lost on the Seahawks (or anyone else in the Pacific Northwest) is the fact that kicker Josh Brown had a chance to win it for Seattle with one second left in regulation but saw his 47-yard effort skim off the left upright.
Certainly, it will take a superlative effort for the Redskins' defense to stick with the idea of showing improvement in a second meeting with a given opponent. Seattle has the league's MVP at running back, a smart quarterback, an underrated tight end, capable wide receivers and perhaps the best offensive line in football.
Gibbs spoke at length on Monday of the Seahawks' impressive level of talent. Then, asked to account for what gives him reason to be positive, Gibbs said with a smile: "I'm proud of our guys. I like the way they fight."
In terms of the Redskins' defense, it's a fact that they've shown the ability to be better fighters the second go-around.