Robert Griffin III was 8 years old when the Washington Redskins last won the National Football Conference’s East title in 1999.
The Redskins’ rookie quarterback gets a chance to end the NFC East’s longest current title drought, when Washington hosts the Dallas Cowboys in a showdown for the division crown in two days and a spot in the National Football League playoffs.
The Redskins have won six straight games under Griffin, the second pick in this year’s draft out of Baylor University, following a 3-6 start. It’s the franchise’s longest winning streak since a seven-game run in the 1996 season.
“I told the guys, ‘Don’t play this up so big that you can’t seize it,’” the 22-year-old Griffin said at a news conference two days ago. “You have to approach it the same exact way you have for the last six weeks. Know it’s for all the marbles, but don’t go out and play scared. You have to play like you have nothing to lose and we’ve done that the last six weeks.”
If the Redskins, who are three-point favorites, lose, they would have an outside chance to make the playoffs as the NFC’s final wild-card representative, but would need the Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings to both lose their regular-season finales. The Bears and Vikings are both 9-6 and in the hunt for a wild- card berth, which go to the two non-division winners with the best records in each conference.
“We want to control our own destiny and it’s our job to do that,” said Griffin, who was voted to the Pro Bowl after passing for 3,100 yards and 20 touchdowns while rushing for a quarterback rookie-record 752 yards and six scores.
The only way for the Cowboys (8-7) to make the postseason is by beating the Redskins and winning the NFC East. A Dallas victory would also eliminate the New York Giants, the defending Super Bowl champions, from postseason contention.
The Giants have lost five of their past seven games and are rooting for more than a Redskins’ win this weekend. New York (8- 7) needs to beat the Philadelphia Eagles at home on Dec. 30 and have the Cowboys, Bears and Vikings all lose to make the playoffs as a wild-card team. The Bears visit the 4-11 Detroit Lions and the Vikings host the 11-4 Green Bay Packers. The Giants are favored by 7, the Bears by 3 and the Vikings are 3 1/2-point underdogs.
“It’s obviously not the circumstances that you want, but at least you have a circumstance,” Giants quarterback Eli Manning said. “Sometimes that’s all you can hope for.”
The NFC East is one of two division titles up for grabs heading into the final week of the season.
The San Francisco 49ers (10-4-1) can clinch the NFC West with a victory at home against the Arizona Cardinals (5-10). The 49ers also could earn a bye in the first round of the playoffs with a win and a Packers’ loss in Minnesota.
If the 49ers lose, the Seattle Seahawks (10-5) could take the NFC West title with a home win against the St. Louis Rams (7-7-1). The Seahawks also are in position for a first-round playoff bye if they win and the 49ers and Packers lose.
With the NFC South-champion Atlanta Falcons (13-2) having earned a week off during the opening round of the playoffs, Green Bay could wrap up the other first-round bye with a win against the Vikings.
Minnesota would clinch the NFC’s final wild-card berth with a win against the Packers. The Vikings also could slip into the postseason with losses by the Cowboys, Giants and Bears.
The Bears’ postseason chances hinge on a win against the Lions and a loss by Minnesota.
While all six playoff spots have been locked up in the American Football Conference, the Houston Texans, Denver Broncos and New England Patriots will be competing for the two first- round byes.
The Texans and Broncos would be able to rest their players during the opening round of the postseason simply by winning this weekend. Houston (12-3) visits the Indianapolis Colts (10- 5) and Denver seeks its 11th straight victory at home against the Kansas City Chiefs (2-13).
The Patriots (11-4) need a home win against the Miami Dolphins (7-8) and a loss by either the Texans or Broncos for a first-round bye.
“I’m not trying to look anywhere past Sunday,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. “Our game against Miami doesn’t stand on its own, but in conjunction with some other games. It could have an impact on what happens to us the following week. We’ll try to do the best we can with our opportunity.”
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