Thanks to a big assist from Dallas, the Redskins enter today's 1 p.m. game against Cincinnati at RFK stadium with revived hopes for an NFC East championship.
If the redskins can beat the Bengals and then win at Dallas next Sunday, and if the Eagles lose at Houston, then Washington would capture the East title and the early home-field advantage in the playoffs.
The East situation tightened up considerably when Dallas beat Philadelphia, 24-17, yesterday. Both clubs now have 10-5 records and are tied for the East lead. Washington takes a 9-5 mark into its game with the 3-11 Bengals (WRC-TV-4), and is favored by six points.
The Cowboy victory actually did nothing to alter Washington's immediate playoff hopes. The Redskins still are not guaranteed a berth, but would gain one today if Chicago loses at Green Bay and they beat the Bengals.
Here is how Washington currently figures in various playoff situations:
If the redskins win their last two games and Philadelphia beats Houston, the two teams would finish with 11-5 records and the NFL tie-breaker system would be used. The Redskins right now would win the title on the basis of more net points (the differential between points scored and given up) in division games. They have a net of 44 with one division opponent left; Philadelphia has a net of 21 with no division opponents remaining.
If the Redskins, Philadelphia and Dallas all finish in a tie for first, washington would win the title on the basis of a better won-lost percentage among the three teams, 3-1 to 2-2 for the Eagles and 1-3 for the Cowboys.
If Chicago, Washington and Dallas finish in a tie for the two NFC wild-card spots, the Cowboys would gain one by virtue of a better conference record than the Bears (9-3 to 8-4). The other position would be decided by best net points in all games. The Redskins currently have a net 40 and the Bears a net 20.
If the Redskins lose there last two games, they still can make the playoffs. But it would require Chicago losing one of its last two games, givingthe Bears a 9-7 record. The Redskins then would get the spot because of a better conference record. New Orleans also could finish 9-7 by winning its last two (against San Diego and Los Angeles). If that happens, the Saints would get the nod in a tie with Washington on the basic of having beaten the Redskins. If all three teams finish 9-7, Chicago would be eliminated because of the worst conference record. The tie between Washington and New Orleans would be broken on the basis of the Saints' victory.
Philadelphia and Dallas already are assured of at least wild-card spots. If the Eagles and Cowboys finish in a tie for first, the Cowboys would win the title because of a better conference record than the Eagles.
After flubbing games to both the Saints and the Giants, the Redskins never expected to be so close to a division title at this point in the season.
But as Coach Jack Pardee said: "It's all well and good that the Cowboys helped us, but we still have to do things for ourselves. None of this will do any good unless we can take advantage of it.
"That means we have to win our last two games. By doing that, we are in the playoffs no matter what anyone else does and it also could mean we are the division champs."
For now, however, Washington has to concentrate on the dangerous Bengals, a club with an explosive offense and the NFL's worst defense.
Cincinnati has a way of getting teams involved in high-scoring games, something Pardee does not want to see happen.
"I don't know if you are ever ready for a high-scoring game," he said. "We came out all right last week against Green Bay, but if you get into that situation, it can go either way. You don't have control of what you want to dictate."
And the Redskins want to dictate the game's tempo. They want to control the ball, eat up the clock, wear down Cincinnati's defense and keep Bengal quarterback Ken Anderson on the bench as long as possible.
The Bengals have cornerback problems, a weakness Washington hopes to exploit, although quarterback Joe Theismann was very cautious in his appraisal of the Bengals.
"Everyone tells me we should be able to pass on them," he said, "but I don't thing we ever go into any game saying we are definitely going to do one thing more than another.
"We always want to set up our running game and try to make that work. We know that if we can keep their offense off the field, we should be in good shape.
"Can we win in a high-scoring game? I think so, we showed that against Green Bay. But I hope it doesn't come down to that."
Cincinnati's record is somewhat misleading. The Bengals have lost to New England by six, to Houston by three in overtime, to Cleveland by one, to San Diego by two and to St. Louis by six. They walloped Philadelphia, 37-13, and Pittsburgh, 34-10.
"You've got to recognize that they can beat you," Pardee said. "We have respect for them, our team has respect for them. They aren't going to come out and lay down for us."
If Cincinnati can get a decent performance from its defense, that may be enough for Anderson and Co., who feature the kind of explosive offense weapons that make Pardee nervous.
Anderson is an accurate passer with a soft touch and the ability to dissect defenses with short passes before burning them with bombs to sprinter Isaac Curtis, who comes into this game with 21 catches in his last seven contests.
Curtis, who will be matched for the most part against former teammate Lemar Parrish, is complimented by Don Bass, who has caught 50 passes, and rookie tight end Dan Ross, who has pulled in 32.
Running back Archie Griffin, who has 38 receptions and 575 running yards, hurt his hip against Pittsburgh and may not play. If he doesn't, he'll be replaced by rookie Charles Alexander. Leading rusher Pete Johnson (759 yards) is a massive, 260-pound fullback.
"They'll try to run at you, but if they don't have early success, they'll start putting it up," said strong safety Tony Peters, who played against Anderson frequently as a Cleveland Brown. "They don't have much patience with the running game. We've got to get ahead of them and make them pass."
Cincinnati is sure to test the Redskin defensive right side with Johnson. Former Bengal end Coy Bacon and tackle Diron Talbert frequently have been ineffective against the run this season.
This game has special meaning for Bacon, the 36-year-old former Bengal. He leads the redskins in sacks with 10 and will be going against an offensive line that has surrendered a whopping 55 quarterback tackles.
In games Washington has won this season, Bacon and his linemates have put heavy pressure on the quarterback. In the Redskins' five losses, they've recorded just five sacks.
"We can't have any mental lapses," Pardee said. "We have to start playing playoff football right now. We can play as long as we keep winning now."
Pardee believes the Redskins are ready for a good game, but he thought the same thing last week, when they stumbled so horribly in the first half against Green Bay.
Center Bob Kuziel doesn't think his team will have a repeat first-half performance this week.
"That shouldn't have happened, but it did," he said. "Luckily, we are coming off maybe our best half of the season and not our worst. That should give us some momentum.
"I think we realize that we are in a position that we may not be in the rest of our careers. We've got to just go out and play good, solid football and not worry about Dallas or Philly or anyone else.
"I feel good about this. I just hope it turns out right.
Washington remains in good physical condition. The Redskins again will be missing Ken Houston, but everyone else is healthy . . . Bengal field goal kicker Chris Bahr is only seven of 13 inside the 40 . . . Johnson is averaging just 3.6 yards a carry but has rushed for 12 touchdowns.