Only three weeks remain in the regular season, and the Washington Redskins (7-6) still need help to qualify for the playoffs.
They enter Sunday’s road game against the Cleveland Browns trailing the New York Giants (8-5) by one game for first place in the NFC East and one game behind sixth-seeded Chicago and fifth-seeded Seattle for the two NFC wild card berths.
In order for the Redskins to qualify for the postseason, they have to win all three of their remaining games AND the Giants or Chicago have to lose once, or Seattle has to lose at least one of the two remaining games it plays against NFC opponents.
That makes for some important scoreboard watching Sunday, particularly among the 1 p.m. games. In the Redskins’ best-case scenario, they would control their playoff destiny by 4:30 p.m.
Let’s look at whom the Redskins should root for in Week 15, in order of importance.
Here’s the current playoff picture, as presented by NFL.com.
Here is Washington’s two-team tiebreaker outlook against all the NFC contenders. Keep in mind tiebreakers are going to change during the course of the final three weeks.
(Home teams are displayed IN CAPS, and TV listings are for the D.C. area.)
ATLANTA FALCONS (11-2) over New York Giants (8-5), 1 p.m., DIRECTV 704
The Redskins would take over first place in the NFC East if they beat Cleveland and the Giants lose to Atlanta, regardless of Dallas’ result against Pittsburgh. Considering Atlanta’s record and that injured Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw has been ruled out, the likelihood of New York losing probably is greater Sunday than it would be next week at Baltimore or in the season finale at home against Philadelphia.
The division title is Washington’s top goal because division winners are guaranteed to host a playoff game.
Green Bay Packers (9-4) over CHICAGO BEARS (8-5), 1 p.m., DirecTV 705
The Bears last week dropped into the NFC’s last playoff spot, so they replaced Seattle as the target for any Redskins push toward a wild card berth.
The Redskins already have clinched victory in any two-team tiebreaker with Chicago, so they simply need Chicago to drop into a tie with them in the overall standings.
The Bears finish the season with a pair of games against 4-win teams (at Arizona and at Detroit) so Sunday’s game probably is their greatest chance of losing.
BUFFALO BILLS (5-8) over Seattle Seahawks (8-5), 4:05 p.m., DirecTV 713
The Redskins are chasing fifth-seeded Seattle for a wild card berth, but passing the Seahawks is complicated because of their tiebreaker situation.
The Redskins and Seahawks are each 6-4 against NFC opponents. The Redskins need Seattle to lose a game in order to tie in the overall standings. If that loss comes at home against San Francisco next week or at home against St. Louis in the finale, the Redskins would claim the two-team tiebreaker advantage, assuming the Redskins win out.
Because the Seahawks’ opponent on Sunday plays in the AFC, their NFC record won’t be impacted. The tiebreaker between the Redskins and Seattle won’t evolve until next week because both teams play AFC opponents Sunday, but the Redskins still need Seattle to lose whenever possible.
Seattle currently has the two-team tiebreaker advantage over the Redskins because of its superior winning percentage against common opponents.
Pittsburgh Steelers (7-6) over DALLAS COWBOYS (7-6), 4:25 p.m., WUSA9
The Cowboys are tied with the Redskins in the NFC East standings. Washington has the head-to-head tiebreaker by virtue of its 38-31 win on Thanksgiving, but that could change depending on the outcome of the rematch on Dec. 30.
The Cowboys would have the two-team and three-team tiebreaker advantage over Washington if they win the rematch, so the Redskins would benefit from any Dallas losses along the way.
Minnesota Vikings (7-6) over ST. LOUIS RAMS (6-6-1), 1 p.m., DirecTV 708
The Vikings are tied with Washington in the overall standings at 7-6, but Washington holds the two-team tiebreaker victory by virtue of its 38-26 win over Minnesota on Oct. 14. So the Redskins can afford to stay tied with Minnesota given the choice between these two teams. Minnesota visits AFC-leading Houston next week.
The Rams, on the other hand, are a greater threat because all three of their remaining games are against NFC teams. The Redskins might need St. Louis to beat Seattle in the season finale, so the more the Rams drop in the standings before then, the better it is for Washington.
The Rams hold the two-team tiebreaker over Washington by virtue of their 31-28 victory on Sept. 16. However, that likely won’t be a factor because Washington would need to tie a game in order for them to possibly end the season tied in the standings.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (5-8) over Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-7), 1 p.m., DirecTV 707
The Redskins clinched the two-team tiebreaker against both of these teams by virtue of head-to-head victories back in September. Since New Orleans is farther behind Washington in the standings, the Redskins would benefit most if Tampa Bay lost Sunday.