This is the difference between the Redskins and the Patriots: the Redskins' realistic goal this season is the playoffs; the Patriots' realistic goal is the Super Bowl, allowing New England fans to dream of that rare double - World Series and NFL championships in the same season.

The Pats have been among the most talented NFL teams for three years. This season, they seem to have their minds properly set, and literally have been getting the breaks even before the season begins here Sunday against the Redskins.

Last season, a contractual dispute with two of their best blockers, Leon Gray and John Hannah, was the public excuse for not making the playoffs, after coming within a Sam Cunningham step of the AFC championship game the year before.

Privately, there were other reasons given for a record that included losses to three last-place teams, the Jets, Bills and Browns. Now the Pats have three new assistant coaches, for the offensive and defensive lines and the receivers.

Still, the Pats are not invincible. They have a few suspicious areas, if no obvious weaknesses, and because the health of their most talented player, tight end Russ Francis, and their regular runners, Cunningham and Andy Johnson, is in doubt, this might well be the most advantageous times for the Redskins.

New England has as much speed as anyone in the NFL and an offensive line that reminds scouts of the near-peerless St. Louis blockers of two years ago. But the punting is weak and the always-questionable quarterback, Steve Grogan, is coming off a troublesome preseason.

"Grogan's a fine quarterback," said one scout, "but he's not up there with the great ones yet. And I'm not sure he's ever going to be. He runs well and he has a good arm. But he simply throws some balls he shouldn't."

Once there were doubts in Grogan's mind about even playing major-college football. But he chose Kansas State instead of the smaller school near his Ottawa, Kan., hometown and, although his right arm did make an immediate impression, it was not with a pass.

The impression it made was on Charlie Clarington's face.

"The freshmen were going against the varsity defense and Steve was the quarterback," said Maryland assistant Gib Romaine, who was a State aide at the time. "What happened was Clarington hit him late.

"And Steve got up and slugged him. Charlie was a tough kid, the nose guard, and you don't usually see that sort of thing, anyway, from a quarterback, especially a freshman.

"That's when we knew he'd be a good one."

The best that can be said of Grogan's preseason year is that he stayed healthy, which immediately places him ahead of Bert Jones, Bob Griese and Ken Anderson. Ironically, he is more vulnerable to injury, because he runs once for every five passes he throws.

Two of the most significant NFL rules changes this season work at Pats' advantage. The already superior offensive line will be helped by the liberalized blocking rule and the defensive backs are swift enough not to be greatly hampered by the no-bumps-after-five-yards rule.

In Stanley Morgan, Raymond Clayborn and Mike Haynes, the Patriots have the best return men in the NFL. As a rookie last year, Clayborn averaged 31 yards with 28 kickoff returns.

Haynes has averaged more than 13 yards with 61 punt returns the last two years and Morgan averaged nearly 14 yards with 16 punt returns last year. But the Pats have been searching for a decent punter for weeks, releasing ex-Viking Neal Clabo just this week.

If there can be such a thing as a letdown before the season opener, the Redskins are hoping it strikes the Pats this week. That would be a combination of their two chief division rivals - the Colts and the Dolphins - having problems and the memory of whipping the Redskins by 38 points here last preseason.

But the Pats have ability to mistreat the Redskins again. Their offensive with everyone playing, is enough to beat the Redskin's strength - the defense. And the relatively young Pat defense keeps getting better each game.

"They've had all those problems in the past, that (playoff) game against Oakland two years ago and losing the left side of the offensive line early last year," said Don Klosterman, whose Rams were beaten by the Pats in the first preseason game. "This year, I think all that'll work to their benefit. I liked them to win their division before Jones and Griese got hurt."