The Cycle Theory seems alive and well in the National Football Conference.
For the past decade, one of three NFC teams -- the Washington Redskins, San Francisco 49ers or the New York Giants -- has gone to the Super Bowl virtually every four years.
This year, it's the Washington Redskins' turn. They did it in 1983 and 1987, the 49ers did it in 1984 and '88 and the Giants did it in 1986 and '90. The only team to break the cycle was the Chicago Bears, who went in 1985, but failed in 1989 when the 49ers became the only team in the decade to repeat.
For the Redskins, everything seems to be going their way -- with the possible exception of the sprained tendon in the middle finger of quarterback Mark Rypien's throwing hand.
For example, they'll have the Dallas Cowboys right where they want them next week. In Detroit.
The Atlanta Falcons' 27-20 victory over the New Orleans Saints Saturday means the Falcons will come to RFK Stadium for their next playoff game this Saturday instead of the Cowboys, who beat the Chicago Bears yesterday and would have come to RFK if Atlanta had lost.
Dallas is the only one of the three other remaining NFC teams that has done well against the Redskins this year. They split with the Redskins, beating them at RFK Stadium for the third time in four years, 24-21, and barely lost to them at home, 33-31.
By contrast, the Redskins routed Atlanta, 56-17, and Detroit, 45-0, at home this year although both teams were missing key players. Atlanta didn't have quarterback Chris Miller, cornerback Deion Sanders and offensive tackle Mike Kenn. The Lions didn't have running back Barry Sanders.
Dallas traditionally plays the Redskins tough. Tom Landry got his last victory and Jimmy Johnson got his first victory in RFK Stadium.
But for Dallas to win in Detroit this week and in RFK the following week, the Cowboys would have to do something that no NFC team has ever done before: win three straight road playoff games. The New England Patriots were the only AFC team to do it in 1985.
The Falcons also play to the Redskins' strength by blitzing and leaving their cornerbacks one-on-one with the Redskins' Posse. Rypien bombed that defense for six touchdown passes on Nov. 10.
Give coach Jerry Glanville's crew one thing, though. They weren't intimidated by the lopsided score. They insist the Redskins ran up the score on them and are eager for another crack at them.
"We just didn't talk about getting another shot at Washington occasionally. Somebody has mentioned it every day," Falcons cornerback Bobby Butler said. "It doesn't take a whole lot of prodding to rub open the sore spot they left with you. You know the old saying in this league that what goes around comes around."
The Falcons won their next five games after the Redskins' loss to clinch a playoff berth and they insist they were inspired by that game.
"There's no doubt we used that game as a motivator," safety Scott Case said.
Said defensive end Tim Green: "A guy would have to be a liar to say they didn't rub our noses in it. They did it intentionally and that's uncalled for in the NFL. It doesn't take an elephant's memory to remember the feeling of that day."
Cornerback Tim McKyer said: "Revenge is the name of the game for us. There's no doubt we're going there with a big chip on our shoulders."
Defensive lineman Rick Bryan said: "If they can do that again, I'll take my hat off to them. But I don't feel like they can. I don't think anyone can do that to us right now."
Redskins coach Joe Gibbs is happy to hear that kind of talk. He doesn't want his team to be overconfident.
"Any time you beat somebody in the regular season, I think it works to their advantage when the teams play again," he said. "You have to be impressed with Atlanta. Winning at New Orleans is one of the hardest things to do and they've done it twice within a month."
Gibbs then added a revealing comment. Other than possibly Dallas, there has not been a "hotter team in the league," he said.
Gibbs would never admit he'd rather play the Falcons than the Cowboys, but even he had to concede the Cowboys have been the hottest team lately.
That's why the Redskins will be happy to take their chances with the Falcons.