TV: Chs. 11, 4
Line: Redskins by 3
The Washington Redskins should know by the time they take the field Sunday night at FedEx Field to face the Dallas Cowboys whether the game will be a playoffs-or-bust deal for them.
The Redskins and Cowboys will be playing with the NFC East title at stake. The NFL announced Sunday night that the game was being moved to 8:20 p.m. under the sport's flexible-scheduling arrangement with NBC. So while there is a scenario in which the Redskins could reach the NFC playoffs as a wild-card team even if they lose to the Cowboys, it already will have played out before the prime-time game in Landover.
Coach Mike Shanahan said Monday that the Redskins are focused on the Cowboys game and the division title that is up for grabs in it.
"I don't worry about things I can't control," Shanahan said in a conference call with reporters. "We're going to give them our best shot either way. Your goals are always to win the division. You want that home playoff game."
The Redskins' wild-card scenario requires both the Minnesota Vikings and Chicago Bears to lose Sunday. The Bears play at Detroit in a 1 p.m. game. The Vikings host the Green Bay Packers at 4:25 p.m. If both the Bears and Vikings lose, the Redskins would clinch a playoff berth before they play the Cowboys, and their night game would decide only whether they would go into the postseason as a division champion with a victory or as a wild-card team with a defeat.
If the Bears or Vikings win, the Redskins would be eliminated from wild-card contention and their game against the Cowboys would be all or nothing. The winner would reach the playoffs as the NFC East champion and would be the fourth seed in the NFC, while the loser would miss the playoffs entirely and go home for the season.
"That's what you work all summer for, all spring for, to be in those types of games in the winter, whether it comes in the last game of the season or the first game of the playoffs," defensive tackle Barry Cofield said after the Redskins' 27-20 win Sunday at Philadelphia.
The potential first-round playoff matchups for the Redskins, if they qualify for the postseason, already are relatively clear.
If the Redskins beat the Cowboys to win the division and secure the NFC's fourth seed, they likely would host the Seattle Seahawks. The Seahawks have clinched a playoff spot and likely will be the fifth seed.
If the Redskins lose to the Cowboys but reach the playoffs as a wild card, they likely would play at San Francisco as the NFC's sixth seed. The Redskins' wild-card scenario requires the Vikings losing to the Packers, and that outcome would keep Green Bay ahead of San Francisco in the chase for the second seed; the 49ers would be the third seed.
The Seahawks and 49ers still could flip-flop spots if Seattle wins and San Francisco loses next weekend. That would allow the Seahawks to win the NFC West and the 49ers would be reduced to wild-card status. But that seems unlikely, with the 49ers hosting the Arizona Cardinals late Sunday afternoon.
The Redskins say they know they just have to keep winning. It's all they've done since a Nov. 4 loss to the Carolina Panthers dropped their record to 3-6. They've won six straight games since then to improve their record to 9-6, and they say they now expect to prevail whenever they're in a tight, tense game.
"That's definitely the case," Cofield said. "It's a different type of pressure. It's the way you want to be. It's the way good teams operate. You play to win. You expect to win. And losing is extremely disappointing. When you can have that kind of mindset, have that kind of collective mindset, the sky is the limit for your team. We gained that mindset at the right time of the year. And we're playing well enough to back it up."
The Redskins won in Dallas on Thanksgiving Day and lead the Cowboys, who are 8-7, by a game. But the Cowboys would win the division title on tiebreakers if they beat the Redskins.
It is the second straight season in which the Cowboys will be playing for the NFC East title in the Sunday night regular-season finale. They lost to the New York Giants, 31-14, in such a game last season to miss the playoffs. The Giants went on to a Super Bowl triumph. The Redskins can only hope to do the same.
"I'm glad we could keep this thing going," cornerback Josh Wilson (Maryland) said after the victory in Philadelphia. "We've got to be undefeated for the rest of the year."
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The Redskins had plenty about which to be festive Monday. Shanahan said he would send his coaches home around 6 p.m. for Christmas Eve and they would come in a little later than usual, around 10 a.m. or noon, for today's game-planning meetings.
Shanahan said after the game Sunday that he wanted his players to savor the win over the Eagles for a bit and would give them Monday and the usual Tuesday off to enjoy Christmas with their families. But most Redskins players said that as soon as the game ended in Philadelphia, their thoughts turned to Dallas.
"We're already on to the next one," quarterback Robert Griffin III said. "You don't have to celebrate wins at this point in the season. You just know what's ahead of you. And all that is right now is the Cowboys."
Players said their goal is to beat Dallas so they can win the division and host a first-round playoff game. Leaders of the team said the responsibility would fall on them throughout the week to ensure that the sense of urgency doesn't wane, or that others don't start looking ahead to the playoffs prematurely.
"We haven't accomplished anything yet," Cofield said. "It's going to come down to the leadership and the coach, and those aspects of our team have been great on this run. It's going to be an intense week of practice. I mentioned it last week that Coach Shanahan has had us redoing plays in practice over and over again. He's got us practicing like it's training camp again. He expects perfection, and I think guys are feeding off that. Personally, I think our [defensive] line, we didn't play our best game, and I'm going to remind guys of that. … We've got to keep playing with our foot on the gas, playing like our backs are against the wall, and keep playing like we're the underdog every week. And if we keep that mindset, we'll be rolling."
If the Redskins make the playoffs, it would be for the first time since 2007 and only the third time since 2005. A division title would be their first since 1999. That's something that wide receiver Santana Moss, one of the few remaining members of the 2005 and 2007 wild-card playoff teams, said would be special to experience. But he, too, said he intends to guard against looking too far ahead.
"It'd mean a lot, man," Moss said. "That's the whole goal, to be in the playoffs and have a chance to go for the main goal. But until we get there, then I won't have a lot to say about it. Right now we're trying to tackle what we have to tackle next week, and that's getting another 'W.'"