A win for the Washington Redskins on Saturday vs. the Philadelphia Eagles means the team will have claimed its second NFC East crown in four seasons.
For the past few weeks, as the Washington Redskins have played their way into various ties and half-game leads atop the NFC East, the team has continued to maintain a "one-game-at-a-time" approach.
Looking ahead, the team said, would not be appropriate, as all four teams in the division were still clearly in the hunt going down the stretch.
That approach has paid off for the Redskins, especially in Week 15 action. The pesky Dallas Cowboys, clinging to mathematical odds to stay in the race, were defeated by the New York Jets, 19-16, to officially be eliminated from the playoff picture. Then, the New York Giants and the Philadelphia Eagles – the two teams who entered the week tied with the Redskins atop the division – both lost at home on Sunday.
Those results – coupled with the Redskins' 35-25 victory over the Buffalo Bills Sunday at FedExField – have given Washington, at 7-7, a whole one-game lead in the division with two games left to play.
It's as simple as this: if the Redskins can go to Lincoln Financial Field on Saturday and defeat the Eagles, then they will claim their second NFC East title in four seasons.
One game at a time.
"As a coach, the whole idea of your team is you want to get stronger as the season goes on," said head coach Jay Gruden, whose Redskins team on Sunday claimed consecutive victories for the first time all season. "Right now we're 7-7… Who knows what's going to happen? We still have a lot of work to do. As long as we stay focused at the job at hand – and that's Philadelphia – we'll be OK."
If the Redskins want to win and advance to the playoffs on Saturday, they already know they'll be facing off against an Eagles team desperate to do anything it can to keep its postseason hopes alive. If Philadelphia can win its last two games – over the Redskins and then the Giants in Week 17 – then the Eagles, and not the Redskins, will be NFC East champs.
"We still have life," Eagles wide receiver Jordan Matthews said after Sunday night's 40-17 loss to the Arizona Cardinals. "Everything is right in front of us, and like I said, in a game like this, it's not as demoralizing because we really beat ourselves … I'm really optimistic and I know that all the guys are too."
Washington has reasons to be optimistic, too. The Redskins already defeated the Eagles in a Week 4 thriller at FedExField – remember Kirk Cousins & Co. driving 90 yards down the field to notch a game-winning touchdown pass to Pierre Garçon? – and are playing their best all-around football of the season.
For DeSean Jackson, who would love nothing more than to eliminate his former Eagles team from playoff contention for a second straight season, the team knows "what we're in for" on Saturday.
"All the guys in the locker room, we have guys that came from other teams and guys like myself that have played in big games," Jackson told reporters after Sunday's game. "We're just excited for the opportunity and it can't get any better than going back to Philly."
Going back to Philly and winning also means the Redskins would've exorcised yet another demon this season. Already the team has gotten over its previous inability to win on the road and to win back-to-back games, but now the Redskins need to find a way to win during primetime. The team's winning percentage under the lights the past two-plus seasons has been worse than .125.
Cousins hopes to draw on experience from the 2012 season, when the Redskins reeled off seven straight wins to claim their first NFC East title since 1999. They defeated the Cowboys 28-18 in Week 17 to claim the division on Sunday Night Football.
"[In] 2012, we were really good under the spotlight," Cousins said. "I remember the division came down to the last game on Sunday Night Football, we won that game. I remember playing on Monday night against the Giants, we won that game. Played on Thanksgiving Day, we won that game. There have been games where I've been here where the spotlight was on us and we did consistently win."
For Ricky Jean Francois, who has been on plenty of winning teams in San Francisco and Indianapolis, the "one game at a time" approach definitely won't change now that "one game" could mean the difference between clinching a playoff spot or being on the outside looking in.
"We've got to make sure we stay responsible," he said. "We've got to make sure we're doing our thing. At no given chance can we fall off beat. If we fall off beat and get complacent, we're going to be back in the same predicament that the Redskins [have] always been in each year."