What: Cowboys (8-7) at Redskins (9-6)
Where: FedEx Field, Landover, Md.
When: Sunday, 8:20 p.m.
TV: NBC WRC-4
Redskins Kickoff and Postgame Live: Comcast SportsNet, 6:30 p.m. and immediately following the game.
Outlook: Two months ago, it would have been impossible to fathom the drama-filled scenario that will play out under the lights Sunday at FedEx Field.
With a win over its hated rivals, Washington will clinch its first playoff berth in five seasons and claim the team’s first NFC East championship in 13. Even with a loss, the Redskins can qualify via the wildcard if both the Bears and Vikings lose. Update: With the Bears victory on Sunday, a loss to the Cowboys will eliminate the Redskins from the playoffs.
A division title, though, would be so much more therapeutic for a proud franchise that’s in desperate need of resuscitation.
It would justify the steep price in draft picks paid to acquire Robert Griffin III, who would join fellow rookie signal callers Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson in the postseason.
It would provide tangible proof that Mike Shanahan and his coaching staff has the program pointed in the right direction.
But first, of course, they’ve got to win. And that will be no easy task, even for a Redskins’ team that has stared down a ‘must-win’ on its schedule each week since the bye.
“We’ve been playing for all the marbles over the last six weeks, and we knew it,” Shanahan said. “We sat down at 3-6, and we put the schedule on the board, what we had to do each week and how we had to concentrate and what the other teams had to do. But we had to take care of our business. We’ve been in that situation for awhile and I think our players are used to it."
In the teams’ first meeting on Thanksgiving Day at Cowboys Stadium, the Redskins struck four times in the second quarter to grab a commanding 28-3 lead. But because of a defense that’s struggled for much of the season, it almost wasn’t enough.
Tony Romo and Dez Bryant directed a heart-stopping rally that pulled the Cowboys to within 38-31. The comeback bid didn’t end until DeAngelo Hall recovered an onsides kick with 18 seconds remaining and ran the ball to Dallas two-yard line.
It would not be a surprise if Sunday’s game followed a similar script.
Both teams feature prolific offenses led by capable quarterbacks who are complemented by multiple weapons. The Redskins’ Griffin-led unit ranks fifth in total yards (5,770), while Romo and Co. rank sixth (5,698). (For more on the Cowboys’ passing attack, click here.)
The rivals share another similarity: defenses that rank in the bottom third of the league in points allowed per game. The Redskins rank 21st in points yielded (24.7), while the Cowboys are 23rd (24.8). (For more on the Cowboys’ defense, click here.)
Outside of the Redskins’ practice facility, the hype surrounding this game has reached near epic proportions. Coverage on cable television has been nonstop for days, local newspapers have doubled the number of reporters assigned to Redskins Park and the hosts on sports talk stations are hardly taking a breath between breakdowns of individual matchups.
In the locker room, however, Griffin and others are stressing the importance of business as usual.
“Whenever you play the moment up too much, it can become too big to seize the moment,” Griffin said. “You just want to make sure you don’t make something so big that you can’t grab a hold of it. We’ve just got to go out and win a football game. That’s what they pay us to do and that’s why we play.”
Trent Williams, the other offensive captain added: “This is the biggest game I’ve played in as an NFL player. You just trying to keep the week regular, don’t do anything out of the ordinary.”
“But,” he continued, “There are a lot of nerves that come into play. This type of game, once you hang your cleats up, no matter how long you play, you will remember this game and this moment.”
Indeed, everyone will.
Here are a few more storylines the crew at www.csnwashington.com will be following:
1—With 104 more yards Alfred Morris will own the best rushing season in Redskins’ history by breaking Clinton Portis’ mark of 1,516 yards set in 2005. Another touchdown will give Morris the team's rookie record in that category, as well. (He’s currently tied with Hall of Famer Charley Taylor's record of 10.)
2—Keeping Bryant in check could be the key to a Redskins’ victory. The Cowboys’ wide receiver is playing with a broken finger, but he's also got 10 touchdowns and 808 yards receiving in the past seven games, which includes the 145 yards and two touchdowns he posted on Thanksgiving.
The Redskins’ secondary, meanwhile, ranks 30th in yards allowed and is tied for the second most touchdowns yielded with 29.
3—The current forecast is calling for is calling for dry conditions, but also some wind and temperatures in the low 30s. The Cowboys are 4-11 the past 20 years when temps are below 40. If that means keeping the ball on the ground, the Redskins should have an edge.