The Washington Times - December 8, 2012, 10:18PM

It was a preposterous notion a month ago, but the Redskins begin the final quarter of the season Sunday as serious playoff contenders. Last Monday’s win over the New York Giants positioned them only one game behind the Giants for first place in the NFC East and one game behind Seattle for the second and final NFC wild card berth.

They are tied with Dallas, Minnesota and Tampa Bay at 6-6, but they are in an advantageous tiebreaker position because they have beaten each of those three.


The Redskins still need help to qualify for the postseason, though, so several games Sunday require monitoring. Most importantly, the Giants and Seattle host games at 4:25 p.m. after Washington hosts Baltimore at 1.

If Washington wins and New York loses to New Orleans, the Redskins would occupy first place in the division and would control their destiny with three games remaining – none of which are against teams that enter Week 14 with a winning record (at Cleveland, at Philadelphia, vs. Dallas).

If the Redskins win each of their last four games, there’s a great chance they would go to the playoffs. They could win three out of four and still qualify, though, as long as the loss is either to Baltimore on Sunday or Cleveland next Sunday. Because Baltimore and Cleveland are in the AFC, those games don’t affect Washington’s conference record, which would be first tiebreaker used to break a two-team tie between the Redskins and Seattle.

Let’s look at whom the Redskins should root for in Week 14, in order of importance.

Here’s the current playoff picture, as presented by Keep in mind tiebreakers are going to change during the course of the final four weeks.

(Home teams are displayed IN CAPS, and TV listings are for the D.C. area.)

New Orleans Saints (5-7) over NEW YORK GIANTS (7-5), 4:25 p.m., FOX5

The division title is Washington’s top goal because division winners are guaranteed to host a playoff game. This is the most important Week 14 outcome, then, because the Redskins need help making up their one-game deficit to New York in the standings.

Washington assumed a commanding tiebreaker advantage over New York last Monday. The Redskins’ 17-16 victory over the Giants split their season series. The next tiebreaker is record against divisional opponents. Washington’s improved to 3-1 against the NFC East while New York fell to 2-3. The Redskins would clinch that tiebreaker advantage by beating either Philadelphia on Dec. 23 or Dallas on Dec. 30.

Arizona Cardinals  (4-8) over SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (7-5), 4:25 p.m., DirecTV 716

The Seahawks currently hold the NFC’s last playoff spot, so they remain the target for any Redskins push toward a wild card berth.

Record against NFC opponents is the first tiebreaker that would apply if Washington and Seattle were to tie in the standings by themselves. Entering Week 14, the Redskins have the advantage because they’re 6-4 in the NFC, and Seattle is 5-4. Not only would a loss Sunday drop the Seahawks to 7-6 overall, it also would hurt their conference record. Washington’s NFC record is not impacted by Sunday’s game against Baltimore.

A Seahawks victory Sunday would level the conference record tiebreaker. The next tiebreaker is record against common opponents (four-game minimum), and Seattle has the advantage entering Week 14.

Redskins fans shouldn’t get their hopes up about this game. Seattle is 5-0 at home this season, and Arizona has lost eight straight.

CINCINNATI BENGALS (7-5) over Dallas Cowboys (6-6), 1 p.m., DirecTV 706

The Redskins are tied with Dallas in the standings, so they could use help distancing themselves from their rivals. Washington has the head-to-head tiebreaker advantage by virtue of its 38-31 victory over Dallas on Thanksgiving. That could change, though, in their game on Dec. 30.

Philadelphia Eagles (3-9) over TAMPA BAY BUCCANERS (6-6), 1 p.m., DirecTV 708

Washington and Tampa Bay are tied in the standings, but the Redskins own the head-to-head tiebreaker by virtue of their 24-22 victory in Tampa on Sept. 30.

Chicago Bears (8-4) over MINNESOTA VIKINGS (6-6), 1 p.m., DirecTV 707

If you concede the NFC’s fifth playoff seed to the NFC North’s second-place team (currently Chicago, which loses a head-to-head tiebreaker with division-leading Green Bay), then it helps Washington most if Minnesota loses this game.

Washington and Minnesota are tied in the standings, but the Redskins own the head-to-head tiebreaker by virtue of their 38-26 victory in Washington Oct. 14.

A Vikings win would not be extremely detrimental to Washington’s playoff chances. If Minnesota and the Redskins win on Sunday, the Redskins would be only a game out of the NFC’s first wild card spot (fifth playoff seed).

BUFFALO BILLS (5-7) over St. Louis Rams (5-6-1), 1 p.m., DirecTV 704

Washington leads St. Louis by a half game in the standings. The Rams own the head-to-head tiebreaker by virtue of their 31-28 win in Week 2, but that won’t be a factor unless the Redskins tie one of their last four games, which is unlikely. Two straight wins have St. Louis on the Redskins’ heels, though.

Detroit Lions (4-8) over GREEN BAY PACKERS (8-4), 8:20 p.m., NBC4

Green Bay leads the NFC North and occupies the NFC’s third seed entering Week 14. However, the Packers are tied with Chicago at 8-4 and hold the division lead only by virtue of their win over Chicago in Week 2. A Packers loss and Redskins win on Sunday would help the Redskins challenge for the NFC’s third seed (in the event Washington wins the NFC East) or fifth seed (first wild card spot). That’s getting a bit ahead of ourselves, though. The Redskins have to catch New York and/or Seattle first.

Enjoy the games and your scoreboard watching.