The issue is more than semantics. We're not engaging in rhetorical gabble or bar-room blather with this.
It goes to the heart of the perception of the Redskins, the heights anticipated and the realities observed.
What is the difference between a playoff team and a team that goes to the playoffs?
One and the same? No. They may periodically occupy the same strata at the same time but they are not the same.
The Indianapolis Colts are a playoff team. They've gone seven consecutive years, during which they won six division titles, played in two AFC championship games and won a Super Bowl. They're 5-0 this year.
The New York Giants are a playoff team. Four straight berths, two division titles in that time, a Super Bowl upset win for the ages. They're 5-0 this year.
The New England Patriots are a playoff team. Oh, they missed last season with an 11-5 record, which was better than three other clubs in the 12-team field and the same as one other. They had won five consecutive division titles and three Super Bowls since the 2001 season. They're 3-2, tied for first in the AFC East. Please don't doubt their credentials. In the playoffs six of the last eight years, missing twice with winning records.
The San Diego Chargers? Struggling a bit this season but they've won the AFC West three years in a row and four of five and competed once for the AFC championship. Playoff team.
The Philadelphia Eagles? In the playoffs seven of the last nine years. NFC championship game last season. Five division titles since 1999, when they drafted quarterback Donovan McNabb. Lost in their only Super Bowl appearance but they've been in the final four on four other occasions.
Throw the Pittsburgh Steelers in the mix. Consecutive division titles and AFC North rulers three of the last five years. Two Super Bowl victories in four years under different coaches.
Playoff teams. Soundly built, able to endure the rigors of a season. Capable of pruning and restocking their rosters to remain in the league's upper echelon. Legitimate playoff and Super Bowl threats over and over and over.
Then there are the teams that go to the playoffs. In the same way that the rest of us go to the cinema. Which is occasionally. Now and then.
Toss the Dallas Cowboys into the movie-goer category. Three visits over the last six years, no wins. No playoff victory, in fact, since the 1996 season. How 'bout them Cowboys!
The New York Jets. Twice in five years. The Tennessee Titans. Two in a row after a three-year hiatus, now 0-5 and unlikely to rebound significantly enough. The Jacksonville Jaguars. Twice in four years.
The Washington Redskins. Twice in the last four years, both times as a Wild Card.
Clinton Portis clinches the Redskins' 2005
playoff run, scoring a TD against
the Eagles. (AP Photo)
Considering the Redskins a playoff team can only lead fans to disillusionment and outrage when the team underperforms. At 2-3 after games against the New York Giants and four of the worst aggregations wearing NFL uniforms, the Redskins wasted an opportunity to grab an edge in a treacherous division and still must face the heavy portion of the schedule.
Think of the Redskins as a team that goes to the playoffs and the pain eases a little. Like the mystical town of Brigadoon, they appear from nowhere and stage a run, then vanish into the mist.
In 2005, they ripped off five consecutive victories to earn a 10-6 record. Those wins followed a three-game losing streak that seemed to foreshadow a fifth consecutive postseason absence. They won one, they lost one and they were done with the January festivities.
In 2007, almost the same script. Sadly but intensely fueled by the killing of All Pro safety Sean Taylor in a botched burglary attempt at his Miami home, the Redskins won four consecutive games to post a 9-7 record and claim the NFC's sixth seed. One and done.
Five games into this season and they are 0-1 in division play while the Giants are 2-0. They've scored less than half as many points as the Giants in the same number of games. They're 0-3 away from home, the only winless road team in the division, and the only one to have given up more points than it has scored. Ten teams in the conference have better records; six get into the tournament.
Playoff teams win division titles, earn first-round byes and position themselves to move on. Teams that make the playoffs catch fire at the right time but wind up playing on the road and trying to defy the odds. The Redskins' most recent home playoff game? The 1999 season, when they last won the NFC East. That was the first and only postseason game at FedExField.
The idea is not to construct a team periodically capable of getting either hot or so emotionally charged that the playoffs become a possibility. Build for the long run and the playoffs become almost a right, with the team learning from each experience and establishing credentials as a potential champion.
Playoff teams. Teams that make the playoffs. Not the same.
Know the difference. Understand it. Let it cool your fevered brow. What you see is what you see.
Larry Weisman covered professional football for USA TODAY for 25 years and now joins the Redskins Broadcast Network and Redskins.com to bring his unique viewpoint and experience to Redskins fans. Go to Redskins.com for the Redskins Blitz column and NFL Blitz on Friday. Larry also appears on The Jim Zorn Show on WRC-TV on Saturday night, on Redskins Nation, airing twice nightly on Comcast SportsNet, and on ESPN 980 AM radio, all in the Washington, D.C. area. Read his blog at redskinsrule.com and follow him on Twitter.com/LarryWeisman.