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Shanahan’s calculated QB move helps himself, Redskins

On and off the field, the Washington Redskins are a mess. Full responsibility for that falls on the narrow shoulders of coach Mike Shanahan, a manipulator not to be taken at face value.

Shanahan’s decision this week to bench and deactivate quarterback Robert Griffin III created what the coach called a “circus atmosphere” around the team. So, fittingly, there was an elephant in the room.

Griffin probably needed to be shut down near the end of a season with no hope and purpose, but Shanahan flipped the switch almost a year too late. When the franchise’s fragile quarterback was limping around and accomplishing nothing in an NFC wild-card playoff loss to Seattle in January, Shanahan left him on the field until his right knee collapsed.

That was the beginning of the drama and dysfunction in D.C., where Shanahan fits right in with the phony politicians.

Shanahan has benched the battered Griffin only partly to preserve the health of the Redskins’ most valued asset. His main motive was to protect his own reputation, set himself up for his next job and assert what power he has left on his way out. Those are the issues Shanahan obviously ignored during his red-faced 28-minute news conference this week, but it’s all part of his exit strategy.

His final act was to humble Griffin and wait to be fired by owner Daniel Snyder, who surely will oblige sometime soon.

Griffin’s quick return from knee surgery set up the Redskins to fail this season, and the result is a 3-10 record, a quarterback circus and an coach-owner relationship with irreconcilable differences.

Circus show aside, Shanahan’s calculated move to promote Kirk Cousins to starting quarterback could pay off Sunday at Atlanta, and Shanahan is desperately hoping it pays off because he needs this plan to look smart.

Cousins is a confident leader, respected by teammates, and he fits the pocket-passer role that Griffin was unfit for in Shanahan’s offense. But it’s not all on Cousins, because Washington also has Alfred Morris and the NFL’s No. 2 rushing offense.

The Falcons, also poorly coached and 3-10, are favored for the first time since Oct. 20. I’ll take the points with the Redskins as 7-point underdogs.

Four more ugly ’dog plays for Week 15 (home team in CAPS):

■ RAMS (+6) over Saints: It’s a typical season for Drew Brees, who has piled up more fat passing stats (68 percent completions, 4,107 yards, 33 touchdowns, eight interceptions). But his road numbers (10 TDs, five interceptions) tell a less impressive tale. He’s not as awesome away from New Orleans, and neither are the Saints. When these teams met in St. Louis in 2011, Brees and the Saints got rocked.

■ JAGUARS (+2½) over Bills: In a stunning turnaround, Jacksonville has won three in a row and four of five. Running back Maurice Jones-Drew has energized the offense, and coach Gus Bradley has his defense playing with impressive intensity. Buffalo is 1-5 against the spread in its past six games. The bumbling Bills were outscored 50-16 in their past two road games.

■ DOLPHINS (+1) over Patriots: Tight end Rob Gronkowski was New England’s second-most important player, next to quarterback Tom Brady, obviously. The Patriots’ offense ranked 22nd in the league without Gronkowski this season, and it ranked second with him. He’s done for the season with a knee injury, a major hit to the slow-starting Patriots.

■ Ravens (+6) over LIONS: Detroit ranks 18th in scoring defense, allowing 24.7 points per game. Joe Flacco is frustratingly inconsistent, but he has the capability to match scores with Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford. The bottom line is Baltimore is hanging tough, not losing a game by more than six points since the season opener at Denver.

Last week: 4-1 against the spread

Season: 35-31-4

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports betting columnist Matt Youmans can be reached at myoumans@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2907. He co-hosts “The Las Vegas Sportsline” weekdays at 2 p.m. on ESPN Radio (1100 AM). Follow him on Twitter: @mattyoumans247.

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