This season, will the football team that used to have everything find nothing under its tree?

With a victory over a tired old friend and a lot of help from some enemies, the Washington Redskins (9-6) won't end their season Saturday at St. Louis (5-10).

With neither, they certainly will.

Their Saturday afternoon itinerary for St. Louis is simple: Turn on the New York Giants-Pittsburgh Steelers game. Cheer like mad for the Steelers. Don't get depressed if the Giants win, there's always Dallas-San Francisco Sunday.

Oh yes, and beat the Cardinals, the team that allowed the Redskins to save their season with a 27-10 victory back in October.

"Sometimes, all that other stuff with other teams dominates your thinking," special teams coach Wayne Sevier said today amid the winter wonderland of Redskin Park, before the team flight found even more snow and colder temperatures in the heartland.

"The worst thing for us would be to get the help we needed and then not be able to use it."

If the Redskins win and either the Giants or 49ers lose at home this weekend, the Redskins will make the playoffs as a wild card.

If they win, but neither the Giants nor the 49ers lose, they will become only the second NFC team in history to win 10 games and not qualify for the playoffs. (The 1979 Redskins were the first.)

It is not a familiar position for the Redskins, being in limbo. Are they playing their final game, or aren't they? Is this the final game of John Riggins' career, or isn't it?

Odds are the Giants and 49ers will win, and the season will be over, but who among the Redskins will think those thoughts today?

"We've never been in this situation before," said quarterback Jay Schroeder, whose ribs and back seem fine and who is 4-1 in relief of Joe Theismann. "Before, the Redskins always controlled their own destiny. In a way, I still think that way. All that other stuff is fine, but if we don't win, it means nothing."

The Redskins have happened upon a frustrated, hurting football team here in Week 16. When they last met, the Cardinals were 3-1, the Redskins, 1-3. It was a watershed for both; counting that Monday night of Week 5, the Cardinals have gone 2-9, the Redskins, 8-3.

When the Redskins look back on this season, one of the moments they certainly will remember most will be rookie Dean Hamel's crushing hit on Stump Mitchell at the 16-yard line on the opening kickoff that night at RFK Stadium.

The crowd went wild, quarterback Neil Lomax threw three straight incompletions, and the Redskins had a 7-0 lead in less than five minutes.

If there's anything that worries the Redskins now, it's just such an emotional ice-breaker working in the Cardinals' favor, especially on a cold, hard day in Busch Memorial Stadium.

The Cardinals, who have been ravaged by injuries at practically every key offensive position this season, are playing the role of the underdog perfectly leading up to Saturday's 4 p.m. game.

"They knocked us out of the playoffs (last year)," Lomax said this week. "This is our opportunity to knock them out."

Coach Jim Hanifan, fighting for his job, told a conference call of Washington writers earlier in the week he would not use the Redskins' come-from-behind, 29-27 victory a year ago in any pregame pep talks this week.

Coach Joe Gibbs, a sideline crony of Hanifan's in St. Louis and San Diego, wandered by the writers in the Redskins' press room at just that moment.

Gibbs, who is 7-2 against the Cardinals, motioned for the phone.

"You still lie a lot, don't you?" Gibbs said, laughing, never identifying himself, and not needing to.

There is a very serious side to this game, too. For many of the Redskins, it's a test of recent hard work overcoming a bad past, i.e., September 1985.

If the Redskins beat St. Louis, they will have won nine of their last 12, and will have continued an amazing streak of not losing in their last three regular-season games since 1979.

Each of their four post-Theismann victories has been exhausting -- but with purpose, they think.

"Hopefully, these last few weeks and these close games haven't been in vain," said strong safety Tony Peters. "This is not the best of situations to be in, but it's better than none at all."

The Redskins say they are not taking the Cardinals lightly, figuring this still is a promising young team that just wasn't quite as far along as everyone thought last summer.

What's more, the Redskins lost here, 26-24, last season.

"The coaches have been a little scared, I think, that we will take this as our last game," said linebacker Rich Milot. "I don't think we will."

The mood certainly seemed right for a last practice today at Redskin Park. Snow was falling; Riggins was whistling a happy tune; Dexter Manley was lying on the ground, making snow angels on the artificial turf.

A final gag play, with guard Russ Grimm, wearing shorts, at quarterback, erupted into an all-pro snowball fight. No injuries were reported.

Theismann even added to the merriment by arriving on crutches to shouts and smiles.

Theismann hobbled over to Schroeder along the sidelines and asked for the football.

Moments later, when Schroeder was called away for a drill, Theismann put his crutches aside, took the ball and fired a tight, slicing spiral to George Rogers 15 yards away.

Theismann, Rogers and third-string quarterback Steve Bartkowski played catch for several minutes before Theismann reclaimed his crutches and hobbled off, his comeback apparently already under way.