MINNEAPOLIS, DEC. 25 -- For Christmas, the Washington Redskins get the Metrodome, where there's something new called "The Playoff Hanky."

The Redskins arrived here tonight starved for victory, but apparently not any hungrier than the Minnesota Vikings, who are facing the football version of life or death. If the Vikings win Saturday (kickoff at 4 p.m.), they will clinch the final wild-card spot in the NFC and will play in New Orleans next Sunday. But if they lose, the St. Louis Cardinals can win the wild card with a victory Sunday in Dallas.

Consequently, many have an interest in this game, the Redskins included. With a victory, Washington gains momentum and a shot at home sweet home. For instance, if the Redskins win and the Chicago Bears lose Sunday at the Los Angeles Raiders, the Redskins would host a first-round playoff game, Jan. 9 or 10, at RFK Stadium.

"I think the main thing is we're trying to get momentum," said guard Raleigh McKenzie. "We're trying to win as much {as Minnesota}. It's not like we're coming in less motivated. We're the Washington Redskins, and we're trying to show we're Eastern Division champions."

Equally significant, a divisional playoff game at home would ensure that the Redskins do not have to start the postseason in San Francisco, which cannot play a division opponent (New Orleans) in the first round, according to NFL rules.

Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs' present to his troops today wasn't earplugs, but a new soundproof audible system. The Metrodome got pretty loud for its baseball team, and odds are these fans like football, too. In pro football, the rule often is: "It's not who you play, but when you play them." Well, the Redskins couldn't have come here at a worse time.

"Yeah, but the other way to look at it, too, is we'll be really tested," Gibbs said. "That's never bad. These are the kind of teams we're going to play. From here on, it's desperate. It started last week {in a 23-21 loss to Miami}, and it's going to be desperate all the way."

Vikings Coach Jerry Burns, he of the grumpy face, figured his guys would be psyched up for their last two games against Green Bay and Detroit, but the Vikings lost to the Packers and narrowly escaped the Lions.

"Our players obviously know what's at stake {against the Redskins}," Burns said, "But, our players knew what was at stake two weeks ago at Green Bay."

The Vikings regulars have a better record this season than the Redskins regulars (8-3 to 7-4), but Minnesota is struggling to make the playoffs because its replacement team was winless.

The Redskins and Vikings are similar -- both use four down linemen on defense; both have Pro Bowl-bound defensive ends (Charles Mann and Chris Doleman); both have Pro Bowl-bound receivers (Gary Clark and Anthony Carter); both have played musical chairs with their quarterbacks and kickers.

They met a year ago at RFK and took 61 minutes 46 seconds to determine the outcome. The Redskins trailed, 38-26, with 6:53 to play in regulation, but rallied to tie -- no thanks to Max Zendejas. Zendejas, now a Green Bay Packer, missed two extra points, and, thus, Washington needed a 38-yard touchdown pass to Clark in overtime to win it, 44-38.

"Yeah, but that has no bearing on this year's game," said quarterback Jay Schroeder, who passed for 378 yards that day.

Vikings quarterback Tommy Kramer passed for 490 yards and four touchdowns that afternoon, but he'll be in a relief role today. Kramer has been healthy for only one of the Vikings' last 18 games. His latest aches are in his neck and right arm. Burns said Kramer often gets numbness in his arm and hand and has lost velocity on his fastball.

So, Wade Wilson -- the NFC's eighth-ranked passer (Schroeder is ninth) -- will start, although Burns said Kramer can play if necessary.

As for the kicking game, the Vikings' Chuck Nelson rivals Zendejas in that he's missed 10 of his 22 field goal tries this season and he's missed his first kick -- field goal or extra point -- in his last six games. Burns offers no explanation and merely closes his eyes when Nelson trots on.

Also, Bucky Scribner -- who was selling concrete in Kansas City earlier this year -- has replaced Greg Coleman as the starting punter.

For the Redskins, Clark (strained thigh) talked Gibbs into letting him play, though he may not start. As insurance, the Redskins have activated Anthony Allen, the former replacement receiver who last saw action against Dallas, Oct. 19. To make room for Allen, the Redskins deactivated tight end Clint Didier, who has a nagging groin injury. Gibbs said Didier still isn't comfortable running deep patterns, so Terry Orr and Anthony Jones will fill in against the Vikings.

On the offensive line, center/guard Russ Grimm also has been activated, seven weeks after spraining his knee against Philadelphia. Assistant coach Joe Bugel said Grimm won't start and will only play a series or two to get warmed up for the playoffs. Grimm took rookie Ray Hitchcock's place on the active roster.

In other news, cornerback Darrell Green could return some punts, since Gibbs says it's the playoff time of year and time to hold nothing back. Defensive back Vernon Dean might also fill in as a nickel back, after Dan Marino made that defense look inexpensive last Sunday night.

Under Gibbs, the Redskins are undefeated in domes (5-0 in games against the Vikings, Saints, Colts and Seahawks), and Gibbs said he likes football under the roof, as long as it's not too loud.

"We have to start out fast and take the fans out of the game," defensive end Dexter Manley said. "Hopefully, we can use reverse psychology and get their fans against them."

As always, the ideal scenario would be to score first and pound the football with George Rogers (and, now, Timmy Smith). The Vikings rank eighth in the NFC against the rush.

"There's really three parts to our running game," assistant Don Breaux said. "It's somebody pounding it; it's Kelvin {Bryant} contributing his part; and it's our reverses and our quarterback keepers. When we're effective in the running game, it's when we have all those things going."

In St. Louis, the Cardinals' fingers are collectively crossed. "Our fate is in their hands," quarterback Neil Lomax said, "and if I were a betting man, I'd bet on the Redskins. Detroit was really bad, and they almost beat Minnesota. I've always admired the Redskins' character."

Somehow, it always seems the Redskins' and Cardinals' playoff fates are entangled. In 1979, for instance, the Redskins and Bears were battling for a wild card berth on the season's final Sunday, and the Redskins held an edge in the tie-breaking system; they were 32 points ahead of the Bears in point differential. But the Bears went into St. Louis and mauled the Cardinals, 42-6, and the Redskins lost to Dallas, 35-34, after leading by 13 points with 2:31 to play. The Bears had a better point differential, and the Redskins missed out.

Three years earlier, in 1976, the Cardinals defeated the Giants in New York on the final Sunday and needed the Redskins to lose in Dallas to make the playoffs. While their flight was en route home, the Cardinals found out in the air that the Redskins won. Former Cardinal Dan Dierdorf remembers there was a great effort made by the Cardinals to wash away the disappointment.

Funny, but the Cardinals' team flight leaves for Dallas while the Redskins are playing the Vikings here. Again, 30,000 feet in the air, they'll learn their playoff fate.