PHILADELPHIA, JAN. 4 -- The week has been played out predictably, with the Philadelphia Eagles flying to Tampa for a warm week of practice and Coach Buddy Ryan saying the trip was convenient because it allowed his players an early peek at the site of Super Bowl XXV.

"We plan to be back here," Ryan said.

Another reason was more immediate, a first-round wild-card playoff game against the Washington Redskins at 12:35 p.m. Saturday at Veterans Stadium. But if the trip was a chance to escape the icy winds of South Philadelphia, it also was a chance to start the head game -- the one Ryan specializes in -- before the real game.

He has made no secret of the fact that the Eagles already have arranged to practice in Phoenix next week en route to a second-round game in San Francisco. And one of his players said defensive tackle Jerome Brown wouldn't play against the Redskins "but should be ready for the 49ers."

Ryan this week called Redskins running back Earnest Byner a fumbler and last week said there was only one NFC team the 49ers really feared -- the Eagles. Pressed about quarterback Randall Cunningham at midweek, Ryan snapped, "He's certainly done more than {Washington's Mark} Rypien has."

Despite all the talk, the Eagles are 0-2 in the playoffs under Ryan, and a third straight first-round exit could cost him his job.

It has been different around the Redskins, as Coach Joe Gibbs has worn a weeklong grimace and has said nothing the Eagles would even think of tacking to their bulletin board.

However, he almost loosened up a couple of times late Thursday -- after he and his coaches had worked for most of 96 straight hours.

"I looked for someone to kiss at midnight on New Year's Eve," he said, "but there were only coaches in the room. I decided to pass."

Gibbs and Ryan set the tones for their teams, and this week they've set the tone for what should be one of the NFL's most interesting first-round games in recent years.

First, there's the matter of style. Ryan may be among the most disliked men in the NFL and wears that image like a badge of honor. He puts a team on the field that prides itself in playing a tough, blitzing style that includes verbal taunting and an occasional hit after the whistle or outside the white lines.

NFL Films recently taped Eagles defensive coordinator Jeff Fisher pointing toward the Colts' Jack Trudeau and saying: "We've got one quarterback to get out."

The Eagles have knocked out six altogether this season, including Redskins Stan Humphries and Jeff Rutledge eight weeks ago in a 28-14 Philadelphia victory. Nine Washington players were hurt that night, and the Redskins have been reminded more than once this week of the taunting they heard.

At one point, after several of his teammates had been helped off, Redskins wide receiver Gary Clark said a Philadelphia player screamed: "You're next."

That style of play is one reason the Redskins will dress three quarterbacks -- Rypien, Rutledge and Gary Hogeboom -- for only the third time this season. They remember their last trip to the Vet when rookie running back Brian Mitchell played the last series at quarterback.

Teams haven't gotten pressure on Redskins quarterbacks very often. They allowed only 22 sacks this season, and Rypien was sacked just six times in 10 starts.

For that and many other reasons, the Redskins believe the game -- their first playoff game since winning the 1988 Super Bowl -- will be decided by two factors: how well they control the Eagles blitz and how well they contain Cunningham.

The Redskins did both of those things in their sixth game at RFK Stadium and won, 13-7. They controlled Cunningham on Nov. 12 at the Vet, but lost by 14 because they were dominated defensively. The Eagles scored touchdowns on an interception return and a fumble pickup, and their offense had to drive only 33 and nine yards for their two scores.

The Redskins may believe the Philadelphia cornerbacks can be had, but the question is whether Rypien will have enough time to throw the ball.

"They definitely try to intimidate you and cause turnovers," Rypien said. "You've got to make some plays in the passing game and concentrate on pass protection. There were some things there last time, but the Eagles were making the plays. We just have to do a better job sustaining our blocks. If you can hold them off awhile, you'll have a chance to get some things. They just gamble you won't have that chance."

The other key is Cunningham, the most important man in an offense that has a mediocre line -- it allowed 50 sacks -- and several decent, but no outstanding, running backs.

Cunningham can more than make up the difference. He rushed for 942 yards, was the NFC's second-ranked passer and down the stretch did so many things that -- like Magic Johnson -- he seemingly had taken a position and added new dimensions to it.

However, no team has controlled him better than the Redskins. Philadelphia's three worst offensive performances the last two seasons have come against the Redskins, and in the last three games the Eagles have scored only three offensive touchdowns. Two of those were set up by turnovers.

The Redskins also remember the second game of the 1989 season when Cunningham passed for five touchdowns and 447 yards in a 42-37 victory.

"The coaches emphasize he's the best scrambler in the history of the NFL," Redskins defensive tackle Tim Johnson said. "That means you have to be disciplined. Every guy has to play his responsibility and not overdo it or compensate for someone else. You have to stay in your lanes.

"Sometimes if you can beat a guy outside, normally you can take the outside route and be pushed that way, then come back in. With Randall, if you get too far wide and the receivers are covered, he's gone for 40 or 50 yards."

Redskins linebacker Wilber Marshall: "We still have a tough time with him. The thing is to contain him, keep him in the middle. You don't want to see him running in the open field because that's when he'll hit a big one on you. You have to be careful. He's quick and you can't really take a shot at him. He's got the knack of avoiding you. We've done well in the past, but this is a big game and he'll be pumped."

For his part, Cunningham said that if the Redskins keep him in the pocket, that it won't be a problem. Many scouts agree, saying where once he could give a defense one look before scrambling, he has developed very much into a pro quarterback where, even without being able to run, he'll be effective.

"I'll just stay in there and throw the ball if that's what it takes," he said. "I may have to take a couple extra hits, but if that's what it takes, that's no problem. That's the difference between our system this year and last. I can sit back in the pocket and do a lot of different things. Last year we had a real basic offense."

Rypien hasn't started against the Eagles since Week 2 of last season. Doug Williams, Humphries and Rutledge have started against them since.

"I don't think it makes any difference who plays quarterback for the Redskins," Ryan said. "We've faced a different quarterback every time we've played them the last five years. The've got probably the best offensive personnel in the National Football League, and they've always been tough on us. The quarterback won't make that much of a difference."

That Ryan has never won a playoff game and that the Redskins were embarrassed in Philadelphia eight weeks ago may not matter much either. Gibbs has said all week that competitive people want to come back and get their revenge.

But with both teams being three victories from the Super Bowl, there are other priorities.

"It's a big motivation," Clark said. "For a long time, you took it for granted that the Redskins would be in the playoffs. This is a good feeling to be back in and that was our goal. Whatever we get from here is great. They think they're going to end up in Tampa. It's up to us to make sure they don't. It's going to be an enjoyable game. I think everyone's going to get their money's worth."