Washington fans deserve this brand of punishment. If George Allen didn't invent the nobody-respects-us, our-guys-against- a-hostile-world school of psychology, he certainly perfected it. This week his specter returns to RFK Stadium in all its neurotic manifestations. In the purple robes of the Minnesota Vikings.

"People are saying we don't desrve to be in the playoffs," the Vikings' redoubtable defensive lineman Keith Millard snarls on cue. "They give us no respect."

"I'm glad we're wiping out some of the things that were said about us," Minnesota Coach Jerry Burns said pointedly to ESPN. "Your in-house guru has been criticizing me for weeks for not going for that field goal against the Bears."

We pause for a word from the in-house guru. Me. First, thanks for watching, Jerry. Second, the fact is you did blow a call and a game against the Bears. That does not mean that you or your troops are not respected, in-house or wherever else gurus gather.

But let's get back to Keith Millard. Who was that who said that the Vikings don't deserve to be in the playoffs? Let's go to the videotape. Moments after blowing the final game of the season, a Viking is saying: "We don't deserve to make the playoffs. If we do, Merry Christmas. Ho ho ho." It was uttered without mirth. But the next day the joke was on the Cardinals, the team that scribbles game plans on road maps to Baltimore and Phoenix. They blew it and the Vikings backed in. But in a lonely search for a guru who feels that the Vikings are less qualified than the Cardinals, I found only one. Keith Millard.

One suspects that the course of history might have been altered if the no-respect psychological ploy had been developed before George Allen, Rodney Dangerfield and Millard.

"All Gaul is divided into three parts," said Julius Caesar. "That makes us 3-to-1 underdogs while I try to conquer it."

"Normandy Beach is known for its stiff defense," said Dwight D. Eisenhower on the eve of D-Day. "We'll have to take what the defense gives us and be very wary of those German special teams. They give us no respect."

"I shall return," said Douglas MacArthur. "As a visiting underdog."

I also conjure the vision of the Keith Millard of the Japanese kamikaze force, claiming that they had to resort to a sneak attack because nobody thought they belonged in the South Pacific playoffs. This cannot be documented, unfortunately. There were no winning locker rooms for kamikaze pilots.

The lesson, if any, of this history is that it is much more satisfying to declare oneself the unloved underdog rather than the imposing favorite. Consider the Chicago Bears, picked by many, including at least one shamefaced in-house guru, to beat the Redskins. Reading the postmortems in Chicago, one would hardly notice that the Redskins showed up.

"The Bears are frauds," wrote Chicago Tribune columnist Bernie Lincicome. As for Jim McMahon, who had not lost a home game in five years before last week, he is now "Jim McMyth." Fellow Tribune columnist Bob Verdi added that "the Bears don't have enough fingers to think about pointing them." They could point them at Doug Williams, who was merely brilliant in the best cold-weather performance of his life. But maybe they should leave that ceremony to Jimmy the Greek, who said on CBS-TV that Doug might be a choker.

Well, let's talk about respect. Williams has earned it, and so have all the Redskins. Even Dexter Manley proved that you can stick a grapefruit, er, head into a heater and emerge unscathed. Especially when playing with Charles Mann.

But the Vikings also are respected now. They are getting only 3 1/2 points from a Redskins club that might have been favored by 6 a month ago. We all know that only one wild-card team, the Raiders, ever won a Super Bowl. A few also know that wild-card teams are only 2-5 in conference title games. But it is clear that Jerry Burns is rapidly becoming a genius, with considerable help from Millard and Chris Doleman. And if Darrell Green can't go, who will harness Anthony Carter? I like the Vikings. Ho ho ho.

The salient stats: The underdog is 6-2 in Vikings games at the home fields of NFC East opponents since 1980. The Vikings are plus 17 in poststrike turnover ratio, while the Redskins are minus 2. And the Vikings have covered seven straight as road underdogs on grass since 1985. Vikings plus 3 1/2.

If a man with a 1-5 playoff record can say that any game looks easy, it is the AFC title tilt. Denver is minus 3 over Cleveland. This is a match of one great individual against a good all-around team. And while John Elway is wondrous, Bernie Kosar has plodded clumsily, but effectively into his realm.

Don't you hate those after-the-fact statistics that tell you if a team runs for 100 yards, but punts only a few times it wins the game? Here is a before-the-fact stat: Cleveland punted once last week. The last four times that the Browns punted twice or less, they won the next week. Then there is a geopolitical trend. Only once since the merger has a favorite from west of the Mississippi covered in an AFC championship game. The Browns will win this game. Take the 3 with confidence.

Last week: the Colts, getting 7 1/2, lost to Cleveland, 38-21, in a game closer than the score. The Vikings, getting 11, beat the 49ers, 36-24. The Bears, giving 4 1/2, lost to the Redskins, 21-17. The Cinderella Oilers, getting 10, became baby blue pumpkins in Denver, 34-10.

Record for week: 1-3.

Record for season: 37-29-1. After showing early speed throughout the season's race, this guru is gasping and looking for the finish line.