Count Nevada oddsmakers among the believers. For the first time this season, the Washington Redskins will be favored to win when they step on the field.
The Redskins are an 81/2-point choice in many Nevada sports books to beat the Dallas Cowboys at FedEx Field on Sunday, following 10 straight games in which they entered as the underdog. Indeed, the Redskins received more than a touchdown from oddsmakers in their past two upset victories and three points in their 9-7 loss to Dallas on Oct. 15 when both teams were 0-4.
“There’s a lot of respect for the Redskins, but the line also shows how dreadful Dallas is,” said Las Vegas handicapper Kelso Sturgeon.
Maybe, but the Redskins are no longer the undercard each week. After five straight victories, the Redskins are one game behind Philadelphia (6-4) in the NFC East after beating the Eagles 13-3 on Sunday. The Redskins suddenly are the trendy selection to win the division.
Now comes the tricky part. Does success make the Redskins overconfident against the Cowboys? It wasn’t hard to maintain focus early in the winning streak, but now the role reverses for the first time after crucial victories over the Denver Broncos and Eagles.
“We don’t want to be favored,” linebacker LaVar Arrington said. “We’re the underdogs. That’s what we are.”
Not anymore. Cynics are now supporters, and the once-empty bandwagon now overflows. However, the Redskins only have to flash back to the 0-5 start for a reality check.
“I hope it doesn’t work against us being favored,” tight end Walter Rasby said. “You always have to guard against prosperity. Everybody’s patting you on your back. As long as we take one game at a time, we won’t have a problem with overconfidence.”
Sports’ oldest cliche got lip service from some yesterday “Dallas, Cowboys, Dallas again,” cornerback Fred Smoot said when asked to name the Redskins’ next three opponents but plenty considered a possibility that seemed unthinkable six weeks ago: a playoff berth.
“Now the picture is as big as day, and we can paint anything we want to,” defensive end Kenard Lang said. “People aren’t going to be looking at us crazy no more like we’re the ‘Deadskins.’”
The Redskins could gain the first tie-breaker for the East title by beating the Eagles in the Dec. 16 rematch. That could be the key because both teams have easy schedules down the stretch. The Redskins’ opponents are a combined 19-21. Washington plays Arizona (4-6) twice, plus Dallas (2-8), New Orleans (5-5) and Chicago (8-2). The Eagles’ opponents are a combined 25-26: Kansas City (3-7), San Diego (5-6), New York Giants (5-6), Tampa Bay (4-5) and San Francisco (8-2).
Should the Redskins lose the division title, they likely would compete with the 6-4 Atlanta Falcons for the final wild card slot. The Falcons face a touch schedule: St. Louis (8-1) twice, plus Miami (7-3), Indianapolis (4-6), Buffalo (1-9) and New Orleans for a 25-24 combined mark. The second-place teams in the NFC Central and West likely will get the top two wild cards.
Coach Marty Schottenheimer winces whenever postseason possibilities are mentioned, still remembering disastrous early season losses to the Chargers (30-3), Packers (37-0) and Chiefs (45-13).
“This is the National Football League. The minute you blink … you come up with the short end of it,” he said. “Maybe the only benefit of 0-5 is it brings into very clear focus what happens if you don’t know what you’re doing and don’t prepare yourself.”
The Cowboys are painful reminders of the Redskins’ recent failures. The Redskins have lost eight straight to the Cowboys, including a defeat on a last-second field goal this season. Most of the current Redskins have never beaten the Cowboys.
“They have the upper hand on us right now, and we have to break it,” running back Stephen Davis said. “The records don’t matter. They’re going to play hard. We’re going to play hard.”