A victory by Washington Sunday in Dallas could mean much, much more to the Redskins than a division championship. It could mean the inside track to the Super Bowl.
"Whoever wins this game will be in good shape for the Super Bowl race," Redskin Coach Jack Pardee said yesterday. s
"With the way this conference is so even this season and the way no one is playing that much better than anyone else, the home field advantage could make the difference in the playoffs. At least, it will probably decide who will be favored in most games."
The Redskins could grab the home-field advantage for every playoff game leading up to the Super Bowl, if they win Sunday.
A victory would give the Redskins an 11-5 record, which no one in the conference could top, and the NFC East title. They also could be able to take a week off while the conference's two wild-card teams play before starting the playoffs.
"That week off is important too," Pardee said."It gives you a chance to regroup, to rest the people with bruises, to let everyone get refreshed.
"The coaches would be preparing for two teams (either of the wild-card teams) anyway, but you always welcome the extra time. It can't hurt you.
"Anyway, you always want to play in front of your home fans. It cuts out travel. It helps your routine during the week. And any team is harder to beat at home."
If the Redskins beat Dallas, they would play Los Angeles in RFK Stadium Dec. 29 or 30. If they won that game, they would play on jan. 6 in RFK the winner of the other NFC playoff.
If they lose Sunday but make the playoffs, they would travel to Philadelphia to play the Eagles Dec 23. Both clubs would be wild-card entries.
"I'd much rather win one game this week than have to keep playing on the road (in the playoffs) after this," Pardee said.
"This team is capable of winning Sunday and it's capable of continuing to win. I think we are good enough to beat them. As long as we play well and do our best, I can accept anything that happens.
"But those players in that locker room believe in themselves. The old players, the young players, they are playing with confidence."
Pardee said two things give him confidence about the Cowboy showdown, the biggest game the Redskins probably have faced since early 1970s.
"Everybody has found out Dallas no longer is on a pedestial," he said. They no longer can just show up and win games. This year you kept expecting them to pull away but it never happened. They aren't much better than anyone else, and we know that first hand.
"And we are having a lot of players playing their best right now. People like John Riggins, John McDaniel, Danny Buggs, Joe Theismann.
"As far as I'm concerned, Joe is playing better than any quarterback in the league right now. To go very far, you have to have someone come through and Joe has done that so far for us.
"But so have a lot of others. Our wide receivers are catching passes they couldn't even get to in training camp. We cut Johnny McDaniel and look at him now, he is on a tear. Johnny Riggins is really running."
Pardee said he expects a much different Dallas team to show up for this game.
They are better," they have won two in a row and that means something to them," he said. They just aren't going to show up and fall down.
"I'm sure we will see more enthusiasm and excitement from a Cowboy team than we've faced in a long, long time. But I don't care if they are emotional. If they are that way too, we'll be okay."
Pardee feels the Cowboy players have "taken it upon themselves to be more emotional. They've changed. This is a new kind of Cowboy team, one that has some fire."
To combat the Cowboys, Pardee said his club "has to keep our offensive consistency that we have had the last few weeks. The way Joe is playing, he is a quarterback who can make the plays. He has a great touch on the ball right now and great timing with his deliveries."
Regarding the injury situation on both teams, Pardee said:
He expects Tony Dorsett to see at least spot duty, but indicated that replacement Ron Springs is playing well enough "not have much of a drop-off there."
The absence of safety Randy Hughes "probably will alter their nickel alignment. I'll have to study that. I'm sure they will have to make some changes and we will have to change with them.
He hasn't decided whether to activate kick returner Buddy Hardemann for the game, "but when we do, we sure aren't going to give Dallas any early warning. We will wait until the last possible moment." Indications are Hardeman could suit up for the contest if he fares well during workouts this week. He has been out with a broken jaw since Nov. 4.
He is confident that guard Jeff Williams, who hurt a knee against Cincinnati Sunday, will be ready. "It was encouraging this morning," Pardee said. He had good movement in it.That's the key, if you can't bend it to work with it, it's more serious."
"To be in this position, to have any reason to have the 16th week determine the division title was beyond anyone's dreams before the season." he said. "I thought we'd have a good shot at the playoffs, but with Dallas coming off the Super Bowl, I thought they'd have the division wrapped up by now.
"Now everything is ours if we are good enough."
Pardee said the loss of linebacker Thomas Henderson doesn't hurt Dallas "because he wasn't playing very well anyway. His replacement, Mike Hegman, gives you a good day's effort . . . The Redskins' 10 wins are their most since 1976 and the most in Pardee's NFL career . . . Mark Moseley is only four points shy of Charley Taylor's club record 540 . . . Buggs, who seemed in danger of being cut during training camp, has caught a career-best 44 passes . . . Dallas holds the series edge over Washington, 21-16-2, but the teams have split the last 18 games. Washington last won in Dallas in 1976 to earn a wild-card berth . . . It's a tough place to play, but no tougher than most home fields," Pardee said, "I'd rather play them here."