What is expected to be a beautiful fall afternoon, perfect for a football game at RFK Stadium, also could be the perfect day for an upset.
The raging Redskins are ripe for a reversal against the New Orleans Saints today. Coming off an emotional triumph over Philadelphia, they are in the unusual position of being a 6-point favorite over a talented opponent that badly needs to win this 1 p.m. contest (WDVM-TV-9).
"It's scary, really scary," said John Hilton, assistant coach.
"It's a dangerous game against a dangerous team," said tight end Jean Fugett.
The Redskins have spent a week basking in their won unexpected success and the praise of fans and media. They no longer consider themselves scratching, clawing underdogs, especially after winning six of their last seven games.
"I don't think we will have a letdown," said Coach Jack Pardee. "If we do, it will be hard to win. The players are aware of it. Through experience, they know what has happened to teams that have won a stretch of games.
"Tampa Bay won five in a row and them lost to the Giants. We know that. The players have practiced well and the preparation has been good. Everyone is trying."
Pardee and his staff have talked all week about a letdown. But, despite the lectures, the players lacked the intensity during workouts they developed before meeting the Eagles.
"There is no way you can get up that high two weeks in a row," Fugett said. "But I'm sure New Orleans won't be as high as they would be for the Rams.
"We've got to forget they're lost four times and remember they've won four. That's what I'll be thinking about."
One thing that could help Washington (6-2) is the knowledge that Dallas (7-1) could lose today at Pittsburgh. The Saints need to keep winning to stay in a first-place tie with Los Angeles in the NFC West.
The Redskin playoff hopes depend greatly on their ability to handle teams like New Orleans, which does not come into the contest with the superior talent of a Philadelphia or Pittsburgh.
"We have to beat the teams we should beat." said safety Ken Houston. "Then you can let the Dallas and Pittsburgh games take care of themselves. We can't be flat."
But past Washington teams have been notorious for flat efforts the week after major victories. As Hilton put it: "You tell them and tell them, but you don't know if they are listening. The younger guys, they may get carried away a little with our success. They have to come down to earth."
A few successful Archie Manning passes probably will be adequate wakeup medicine for the Redskins. Manning is a dangerous quarterback and the Saints are explosive, no matter what defense is trying to stop them.
"We need to control the football and keeep Manning offf the field," said saftey Mark Murphy. "The more our offense plays, the better it will be. You give him too many tries, and he can hurt you."
Pardee is convinced his defense, which has allowed the fewest points in the NFL, is better than that of New Orleans. And his special teams also appear to have an edge.
But for the Washington defense to function at full throttle, it cannot be on the field constantly. The offense has to practice ball control.
"The key may be the first quarter," Murphy said. "If they get off to a fast start they could be hard to handle. We have to come out and establish something right away."
Otherwise, Manning and his offensive mates can take control and make the Redskins play catchup, something Washington's cautious attack is not designed to do.
Washington's defense, which will be without cornerback Joe Lavender (replaced by Tony Peters), won't be able to concentrate on any particular player at it did against Philadelphia and Wilbert Montgomery.
Wes Chandler, who tops the NFL in receiver yardage, is a game-breaking end and his matchup with Lemar Parrish should be a football fan's joy. But both Ike Harris and tight end Henry Childs are also fine players.
Manning also has adopted the Washington approach of dumping off to his backs any time he feels in danger of being sacked. As a result, Tony Galbreath has 27 catches and Chuck Muncie 19, and Manning has been sacked only nine times behind an improved offensive line.
"We've got to stop them on firstdown plays, just like we did Philadelphia," said Doc Urich, defensive coordinator. "We still feel if we can make anyone pass, we are in good shape."
To get New Orleans into passing situations, the Redskins will have to control the twin bulls, Muncie (603 yards) and Galbreath (462). They are strong runners with good size -- and the Saints have a capable replacemett in Mike Strachan (145 yards).
Although the Saints have scored 197 points in eight games, they have surrendered a whopping 185. But Coach Dick Nolan says his team is coming off its best defensive effort, a 17-7 triumph over Detroit in which his flex alignment functioned smoothly.
"We've had good success running on Dallas' flex," and quarterback Joe Theismann. "It's a different look so it's been different for us to prepare.But out philosphy hasn't changed: we want to control the ball, don't make mistakes and score points.
With Ron Saul hobbled by an ankle injury, Fred Dean is expected to start at guard against a New Orleans front four that has registered 15 sacks. Otherwise, the Redskin offensive unit is as healthy as it has been in weeks, especially now that Fugett is rounding into top condition after suffering from a sore knee.
Theismann will be throwing against a talented free safety, Tom Myers, who has four interceptions. Middle linebacker Joe Federspiel is described by Houston as having all-pro capabilities.
Still, the talk around Redskin Park this week centered mostly on Manning and the Saints' offense. Murphy said he throws long as accurately as anyone in the league. Pardee said Chandler reminds him of a Billy (White Shoes) Johnson with better size and speed.
"He'll mix it up and try to keep you off balance," Murphy said of Manning.
"He'll try to hit Chandler long but he loves to dump it off to his backs, too.
"They give you a lot to worry about. They've scored on everybody; we know that. We just can't let them get carried away."
Pardee said the Redskins' various defensive coverages should prevent New Orleans from concentrating on Peters, normally a safety, who covered Harold Carmichael well last week in place of Lavender . . . "Ray Waddy also will play corner some Pardee said . . . New Orleans' Garo Yepremian hasn't tried a field goal outside 40 yards this season. He has an NFL record streak of 20 straight still alive.