Although tonight's Dallas at Minnesota game will have no bearing on the Redskins' opponent in the first round of the NFL playoffs, a Minnesota victory would almost certainly put the Washington-Detroit Lions game on Saturday, much to the consternation of Coach Joe Gibbs.
The Redskins won the NFC regular-season championship with their 28-0 victory over St. Louis yesterday, getting the home field advantage as far as they advance in the divisional playoffs. Dallas (6-2) will finish second regardless of the outcome of tonight's game.
Because of the strike and unique playoff format this season, the NFL decided that if either Dallas or Minnesota qualified for the playoffs, their first playoff game should be on Sunday, according to Don Weiss, the NFL's executive director. "For competitive reasons, we think that is only fair," Weiss said.
In the past, only the wild-card teams competed the first week of the playoffs.
If Dallas wins, the Vikings would finish as the No. 7 seed in the NFC and would play Sunday at Dallas. The other Sunday game would depend on stadium availability and weather, according to Dick Maxwell, NFC director of information.
If the Vikings win, they would be seeded fourth and would play at home against Atlanta Sunday, and the Cowboys would play host to Tampa Bay that same day.
Two games in each conference will be played both Saturday and Sunday. Game times will be 12:30 and 4 o'clock each day. Maxwell said the NFL is not expected to announce the schedule of first-round games until final positions in the standings are determined.
"We ought to be able to play on Sunday, both the first and second seeds should be able to," said Gibbs yesterday.
"That's only fair . . . You finish No. 1 to get a reward. You finish No. 1 to get the home field advantage and have a regular practice week. This way, we could have one less day to prepare. It shouldn't be that way."
Gibbs said he called the NFL office in New York last week and talked to Weiss after "it dawned on me this could happen to us.
"There was no response (from the league). They talked about television, but that's not what they should be talking about. It should be predetermined that the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds play on Sunday. This is a joke."
Contacted last night, Weiss said it is impossible to guarantee the No. 1 and 2 seeds a Sunday game because of weather and site availability.
He said that he had explained this situation to both Gibbs and General Manager Bobby Beathard.
Weiss said that even when the three division champions and a wild-card team in each conference qualified for the playoffs "we wouldn't necessarily play the No. 1 and 2 division winners at home on Sunday . . .
"With additional teams in the playoffs (16 this season because of the players union strike), we need more flexibility.
"The team that has the home field advantage and wins will continue to have it. Under this format, that's all we can guarantee him."