WILL THE NOISE be back this Sunday? Will the roof-raising racket of RFK Stadium finally be reborn in the Washington Redskins' roofless new home on the Beltway, now that the home team has its first opportunity in seven years to welcome home a champion? It's customary to say of a team in the Redskins' position that they have nothing much to play for in a final regular season game like this one (against the Miami Dolphins); they've clinched their division championship with a week to spare and now can look ahead to the playoffs. But for the Washington area's fans, this is the time to return to their demanding old ways and make enough noise that nobody on the field can even think about taking it easy.

The Redskins' title-clinching game Sunday night against the San Francisco 49ers was characteristic of their season so far: a mix of bad and good play leading to an artless but still uplifting win. They were helped over the long weekend by the collapse of just about every opponent in the National Football Conference who might have challenged them for playoff position.

In fact, that's been pretty much the story of this National Football League season, in which the leading teams--if any can be called that--have looked more like they were engaging in a demolition derby than in a triumphant drive for the title. This may well be the future of the NFL, with its salary caps and relentless pursuit of "parity": an exciting and unpredictable spectacle, but not always particularly pretty.

For the Redskins, however, the disorderly scene is full of hope. With no team truly dominant this year, everyone who gets into the postseason action can harbor dreams of pulling off an upset or two and showing up in the Super Bowl. The Redskins' notoriously demanding rookie owner, Daniel Snyder, doesn't appear prone to that kind of short-term thinking; he's looking to recreate the Redskins dynasty of his childhood, and he talks of this as only a beginning. For most fans, however, there's a time for looking over the horizon and a time for cranking it up right now.