You wanna talk about tangled?
Both the Dallas Cowboys and the New York Giants won yesterday and rejoined the Washington Redskins in a first-place tie in the NFC Eastern Division. All three teams are 9-5.
And, yes, that's the St. Louis Cardinals knocking at the division's front door with only two games remaining in the regular season. The Cardinals defeated New England, 33-10, yesterday in their most impressive victory of the season. The Cardinals are 8-6, one game behind the tri-leaders.
"If you're a nervous person," Redskins kick returner Mike Nelms said, "this could make you tense."
"I think it's real exciting," linebacker Rich Milot said. "I just wish it was going on in some other division."
Coach Joe Gibbs said late yesterday, "No, I'm not disappointed that all three won. I wouldn't have expected any of those teams to lose, anyway." Gibbs said he watched Dallas' 26-10 victory over Philadelphia on television only until the Cowboys were assured of winning.
"After that, I went outside and played basketball with my kids," he confessed.
Sunday will be more nerve-racking and laborious for Gibbs: his Redskins will play the Cowboys at 4 p.m. EST in Texas Stadium.
"For the Redskins, I think it's cut and dried now," he said. "It's simply a matter of the Redskins versus Dallas. The winner will be in the playoffs and the loser will probably be out of it. I think that's the way it was supposed to be."
Even as the fog machine covers the playoff possibilities in the NFC East, this much is certain:
* Each of these four teams -- Cowboys, Cardinals, Giants and Redskins -- can assure itself of making the playoffs by winning both of its last two games. It's the classic case of Destiny in Our Own Hands, this time heard in quadrophonic.
* The Giants can assure themselves of winning the division title and the subsequent spoils (first-round bye and home field advantage in the postseason) by winning their last two games, against St. Louis and New Orleans.
Even if the Redskins or Cowboys tie the Giants with 11-5 records at season's end, New York would win the division by virtue of having a superior record in games against division teams.
* It is possible that three of these four teams could reach the playoffs. Besides the three division winners, each conference awards wild-card playoff berths to the two teams with the next-best records. Chicago and San Francisco have clinched NFC division titles, but the only non-Eastern Division team that might get an NFC wild-card berth is the Los Angeles Rams (9-5). The Rams next play Houston, then finish the season against San Francisco (13-1).
* Finally, it is possible the Redskins could beat Dallas, then lose to St. Louis in RFK Stadium Dec. 16 -- and still not reach the playoffs.
Here's how: even if an unprecedented four-way, first-place tie (at 10-6) arose in the NFC East, the Cardinals and Giants can edge the Redskins, and Cowboys, for both first place and a wild-card berth by possessing better records in conference games.
Furthermore, the Rams could win their final two games to finish 11-5 and claim the other wild-card berth. The Redskins and Cowboys then would be left empty handed.
So it is important for the Redskins to win their final two games. And Gibbs knows this.
He said fullback John Riggins is expected to be released from Sibley Memorial Hospital this afternoon. Riggins, 35, has been in traction at the hospital since Friday afternoon.
The Redskins have not practiced the last three days. This morning, Gibbs said, the team will watch game films of its 31-17 victory last Thursday in Minnesota, then will have a light workout this afternoon.
Gibbs said Riggins likely won't come to Redskin Park today and instead will rest further.
"We know John will be there if he can go," Nelms said. "You always feel better when your guns are completely loaded. Of course, we've had to operate before with only five bullets in the gun."
"This is all pretty wild," punter Jeff Hayes said of the standings. "It says a lot for our division. Everybody's record is the way it is because there are a lot of good teams there."
And what about confronting Dallas quarterback Danny White, who completed just eight of 25 passes in Philadelphia yesterday and threw four interceptions?
"He probably had an off-day," cornerback Vernon Dean said, "but he could easily turn it around against us."
In recent years, the embers of the Redskins-Cowboys rivalry have burned only on the field. Nobody seems to want to start the verbal fires before kickoff any more.
"I think both teams will be conservative and maybe even concerned this week," Dean said. "We know that both teams have been a little inconsistent this year. But both are playing well now."
"I hope (pregame hype) is fairly quiet this week," Milot said. "I think the reason it used to be so loud before Dallas games is because I don't think the Redskins used to have the confidence that they could beat Dallas. They needed the emotional lift. I think we have the confidence now and all of that other talk just distracts us."