Needing to win their season-finale against the New York Giants Jan. 1 to reach the playoffs, history says the Washington Redskins will advance.
Since 1974, the Redskins are 9-2 when facing a must-win scenario in their final game for a chance to make the postseason. Three times, though, the team won and still lost a tie-breaker to advance. Still, Washington has won three straight scenarios, in 2005, 2007 and 2012, to make the postseason.
Older fans remember the 1979 backbreaker, when Washington lost in the final moments to Dallas, 35-34, for the NFC East title. The Redskins didn't make the wild card, either. One moment they were nearly division champs, the next they were headed into the offseason. That loss came after winning the 1974, 1976 and 1977 finales to advance.
Washington won its last three games in 1985 but lost a three-way tie-breaker with Dallas and New York at 10-6 each. The Redskins won their last five to reach 10-6 in 1989 and still didn't win the tie-breaker for the wild card. The team lost the 1992 finale but backed in the next day when other teams lost. In 1997, Washington beat Philadelphia, 35-32, to reach 8-7-1, only to be eliminated hours later, when Minnesota won to become 9-7.
The Giants are reportedly resting some starters against the Redskins because New York is the NFC's fifth overall seed regardless of outcome. Las Vegas linesmakers certainly believe New York is tanking the game by making Washington eight-point favorites. The Redskins are still all in, though, with no losing scenario letting them advance, so injured running back Robert Kelley and tight end Jordan Reed practiced Dec. 28.
A win alone, however, is not enough to guarantee a Redskins playoff appearance. If the Detroit Lions-Green Bay Packers game ends in a tie Sunday night, the Redskins would find themselves on the outside looking in.
"We obviously wouldn't think of it as a successful season unless we get in the playoffs," head coach Jay Gruden said. "I think anytime you don't make the playoffs -- regardless of your record -- it's a little bit of a disappointment. We have a good team, we have good players, and we feel like we should be in there. But we still have work to do, and it's not over yet.
"[The Giants are] going to compete and try to win the game, so we have to obviously get ourselves ready to go. We don't worry about who's out there, we've just got to worry about what we do and prepare and perform to the best of our capabilities."
The Redskins are essentially in playoff mode now with the next loss ending the season. After five months together, Gruden said the 8-6-1 team has been "interesting, that's for sure.
"It's been fun coaching these guys. We've had our ups and downs, for sure. We've handled adversity. We've played really well at times and not played well at times. It's kind of been like our own mini roller-coaster ride, to be honest with you.
"But, I like where we are. We have a chance in the final game of the season -- that's something to be said in a positive way. We just have got to keep grinding and try to finish a little bit better than we did last year, at 9-6-1 and 4-2 in the division, which would be good. We have a lot to play for; guys are competing and playing until the end. That's what I like."