HERNDON, VA. — HERNDON, Va.--THE WASHINGTON Redskins will go into the Hoosier Dome in Indianapolis Saturday night knowing they need a victory over the Colts, but they won't know how badly they needed it until Sunday afternoon.
The Skins (9-5) will be in a wild-card game on the Jan. 5-weekend, and it will very probably be played in RFK Stadium. But that will be less probable if the Philadelphia Eagles (8-6) beat Dallas Sunday afternoon.
If that happens, the Redskins may have to beat the Buffalo Billon the final Sunday of the season to keep the home-field advantage. Any way they wind up tied, the Eagles edge out the Redskins with a better record in conference play.
The Eagles could take gas by blowing their last two. They are almost as unpredictable as their volatile coach, Buddy Ryan. And losing to Dallas and Phoenix isn't all that hard.
If the Eagles wind up 8-8, Dallas would have only to defeaAtlanta on the last Sunday to become the Redskins' wild-card opponent. Dallas could not be the home team in any case, with a division record of 3-5 at best.
If Philadelphia winds up third-best among the also-rans, it woulalmost certainly have to face Chicago, the NFC Central winner, in the first round.
But not certainly. The Giants (11-3) are the NFC East winnerand they get the bye if they win either of their last two games. The Giants, without Phil Simms, are at Phoenix Sunday and finish at New England.
The first time the Cardinals and Giants met, in the Meadowlandon Oct. 21, Simms started but was knocked out. Phoenix had a 19-10 lead in the last quarter and Simms' backup, Jeff Hostetler, led a wild rally -- aided by one benefit-of-the-doubt call by the officials -- to pull it out in the final seconds, 20-19.
If the Giants lose their last two and the Bears beat Tampa Baand Kansas City, the Bears get the weekend off to get ready for San Francisco. It is unlikely the Giants could lose to the eminently beatable Patriots, with or without a quarterback. But on any given day . . .
Many of the Redskins' fears are being dispelled these days, or aleast assuaged, by the application of the December Mystique. It is becoming an annual ritual, when things get dark, to point out that in December the Redskins become the wonders of the winterland.
The figures have been published: Joe Gibbs' teams these 1years have won 27 games and lost eight. In the Decembers of 1989-90 they are 7-0, so far.
Why? Nobody knows, but defensive coordinator LarrPeccatiello advanced a theory. "We emphasize condition, all year," he said. "So maybe our guys are still in good shape when the other teams are getting tired."
Peccatiello could have a point. Defensive tackles Tim Johnsoand Eric Williams, traded from Pittsburgh and Detroit this season, expressed amazement at the intensity of the Redskins' conditioning program.
Then there is the fact that teams in all sports get more serious aplayoff time approaches. Guilt over earlier laxity is usually a factor.
The most obvious hole in the December Mystique theory is thateams, like the U.S. Senate, are continuing bodies. They are like the farmer's perennial ax: "Couple new heads, couple new handles, but it's the same ax."
Senators are subject to re-election every six years, but prfootball players don't average any such longevity. Three years, nine months, is the average NFL player's period of usefulness.
Only seven of the current Redskins were around when the teawas winning for Joe Gibbs in December 1981. Only nine were Redskins in '82 and '83.
=1 These guys, in other words, aren't those guys. * Rookie guard Scott Beavers' Redskins career lasted seven days. He was cut yesterday to make room for veteran Ken Whisenhunt, a tight end who has been Redskins' property for two seasons but has never played.
Tight ends Jimmy Johnson and John Brandes havpinched-nerve injuries in their shoulders, Gibbs said. Their absence "could cost us a couple of packages [formations]," he said.
Whisenhunt, 28, was in 55 games and started 36 of them in fouyears at Atlanta, catching 56 passes with five TDs. He missed last season with a broken leg.