A story in yesterday's edition of The Washington Post concerning the race for playoff berths in the National Football Conference contained two errors. For Washington to win the Eastern Division title in the event the Redskins and Dallas Cowboys finished with 10-4 records, two things would have to happen: the Cowboys must lose to Philadelphia, giving Dallas and Washington equal records in division competition; and the Redskins would have to beat Dallas by at least 19 points Sunday to win the division title on the basis of point totals in head-to-head competition. If the Minnesota Vikings and Chicago Bears finish with identical 9-5 season records, 8-4 conference marks and 6-1 Central Division records, the Vikings would win the division on the basis of a three-point edge in total points in their two games, which they split.
So the St. Louis Cardinals lost to the Miami Dolphins Yesterday. What effect does that have on the Redskins' playoff chances? The answer: it helps, but Chicago's win over Detroit may be more significant.
Nevertheless the Redskin situation is still the same: they must win their final four games, starting Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys at RFK Stadium, to finish 10-4 and to be assured of not being home for Chrismas.
Winning the final four games, as they did under similar circumstances last season, at the very least, would give the Redskins the best won-lost record among the NFC divisional runners-up, thus qualifying them as the wild-card team.
And why the Cardinal loss did not help the Redskins all that much: the season-long Redskin nemesis, offense, or the lack thereof.
These circumstance arise.
If the Redskins lose to Dallas, but won the final three games, they would tie the Cardinals at 9-5 St. Louis would be eliminated as a wild-card possibility because of two head-to-head defeats by Washington. So would Atlanta, another possible 9-5 finisher, but a head-to-head loser to Washington. But . . .
A fifth Redskin defeat could bring either Minnesota or Chicago into the NFC wild-card picture. Minnesuta, 6-4, must face powerful Oakland, plus three mediocre NFC teams: 2-8 Green Bay, 4-6 San Francisco and 5-6 Detroit. So . . .
It is very conceivable that would drop the Vikings into a 9-5 tie with Chicago, which impressively beat Detroit yesterday. The Bears' remaining opponents are 0-10 Tampa Bay, 2-8 Green Bay and 4-6 New York Giants. Thus . . .
A Central Division deadlock with Minnesota under these circumstances would make the Bears the division champion under the tie breaker system. The teams split their two regular-season games, the first criterion in breaking a divisional tie. But Chicago's division record would be 6-1, against Minnesota's 5-2. Which means . . .
Minnesota would be the wild-card contender against Washington.Since . . .
The teams did not face each other this season, so the head-to-head record conference wild-care tie-breaker criterion No. 1. is not applicable. They would both have posted 8-4 records within the NFC, so criterion No. 2 is a standoff. Since they did not play each other, there is no need for criterion No. 3. best point differential in head-to-head meeting. Which . . .
Brings us to criterion No. 4. best average point different applied to conference games only. It favors Washington against Minnesota. So. . .
The Redskins likely would have to depend on Oakland beating the Vikings. The Redskins currently have a 133-131 point edge against nine NFC opponents, compared with the Vikings' 105-128 deficit. With quarterback Fran Tarkenton sidelined with a broken leg, the Viking offense is sputtering and, besides that, each team has surpassed 20 points only twice this season. But, the biggest but . . .
If the Vikings managed to beat Oakland and finish 10-4 for the out-right division title. Washintion's wild-card contender would be Chicago. And the Bears (164-160) lead the Redskins (133-131) by twenty-two hundreths of a point per game after nine conference games and the schedule and Washington's past offensive performances favor the Bears, featuring Walter Payton and a revitalized defense.
And the Redskins know that their playoff chances as a 9-5 finisher are on shaky ground.
"So what makes it different from last year?" defensive tackle Bill Brundige asked yesterday after a two-hour closed practice at Redskin Park. "We're 6-4, just like last year. We have to win all four. It's just that Los Angeles is tougher than the Jets."
The Redskins have two common opponents in both stretches, Dallas and St. Louis. In 1976, they also faced Philadelphia and the New York Jets. This year they will meet Buffalo and the Rams.
"The great part about it, again, is that we have to depend on nobody but us," said defensive and Dennis Johnson "You know that song by the Temptations that goes. 'Think for yourself and depend on no one else.'"
There also is the outside - very outside - possibility that the Redskins could win the NFC Eastern Division title and host at least the first-round playoff game by winning their last four regular-season games for a 10-4 finish.
For that to materialize Dallas after losing to the Redskins, would have to lose two of its final three games - against Philadelphia. San Francisco and Denvor - to finish 9-5, or lose to one of the three, plus losing to the Redskins by 19 points or more, thereby becoming the wild-card team a 10-4.
And then - ready? - the Redskins would guarantee themselves the home-field advantage for the NFC championship game by beating Los Angeles, the probable Western Division winner.
And what if Washington should beat Dallas and then lost to the Cardinals. Easy: it would eliminate the Redskins, even if St. Louis were to be upset by one of its other two remaining opponents, the New York Giants or Tampa Bay. Reason: St. Louis would split with the Redskins and have a better intradivision record by one game, 5-3 against 4-4.
Coach George Allen, who Wednesday called Dalls' 18-man injury list "as long as the New York telephone directory," could not resist another dig yesterday. "But they don't put on the ones who art really injured, like Roger Staubach." Allen said . . . David Dupree. The Washington Post's man-on-the-scene at Dallas' open practice, reported that the the cow boy quarterback was throwing better yesterday than he had in the past two games both Dallas losses . . . Redskin guard Ron Saul again missed practice recovering from the flue and bronchitis. But, he said, "I'll play. I played with a 102-degree fever last week, didn't I?" ... Center Len Hauss, suffering from what Allen said was a leg "hurting a bit," did not participate fully in practice. Or, was the reported ailment really hiding the fact that Bob Kuziel or Ted Fritsch was sttapping from the shotgun formation? . . Brudige was still on crutches yesterday with a sprained left foot. Dave Butz is the likely starter at left tackle . . .
Backup quarterback Billy Kilmer worked less in the offensive drill than noted. "It's not important who starts he did the previous day. But, Hauss but who finishes.". . Meanwhile a WTOP-TV-9 spokesman denied starter Joe Theimann's charge that a statement he made, appearing to second-guess the Redskin's game plan against Green Bay was edited or taken out of context. The clip used by the station Tuesday was part of a longer-interview with Theismann following the 10-9 Redskin victory.