Have the Washington Redskins recharged for a playoff run or simply beaten two bad teams?
It's hard to tell.
A bye week can revive a team. The Redskins returned from an 0-7 start in 1998 to finish 6-3, which led to the NFC East title the following season.
Washington lost three straight before its break, including an awful 21-13 loss to Carolina (2-8). The Redskins appeared headed for their third straight poor season under coach Mike Shanahan.
But the schedule-maker gave Washington a chance for redemption following the bye with three straight division games. A sweep will leave Washington tied or one-game back of the NFC East lead.
The 38-31 victory over Dallas on Thursday wasn't as close as the score. That followed a 31-6 triumph over Philadelphia four days earlier. Two easy wins over bitter rivals might mean Washington could rally in the final month to win the division.
It might also just mean Washington beat two awful teams. Philadelphia is 3-7 with six straight losses. Dallas is 5-6 with a penchant for turnovers.
Washington will soon prove whether it's truly a playoff contender when returning Dec. 3 against the New York Giants. New York barely survived Washington 27-23 on Oct.?21 with a late touchdown.
If the Giants lose to the Green Bay Packers on Sunday, Washington will take the NFC East lead if it beats New York, while holding the tie-breaker with a 3-1 division record. A loss would leave them two games back with four remaining, and New York would have the first tie-breaking head-to-head edge. Even a wild-card slot would become a long shot.
The Redskins have an edge in quarterback Robert Griffin III. The rookie returned from the bye "hungry" to throw four touchdowns in consecutive games.
Griffin suddenly looks like a possible MVP contender. The rookie wall of late November, when most college teams finish their regular season, hasn't hit Griffin. Then again, the bye came at the perfect time to prevent it.
When Washington seemed about to squander a one-time 28-3 lead on Thursday, Griffin led a late field goal drive to seal the game. He finished 20 of 28 for 311 yards with four scores, one interception and a 132.6 rating. This after a perfect 158.3 rating against Philadelphia by completing 14 of 15 passes with four touchdowns.
Getting injured receiver Pierre Garcon back the past two games certainly helps. That circus catch he turned into a 59-yard touchdowns vs. the Cowboys is one of the Redskins' best receptions in years. Garcon certainly showed no problem with the sore toe that cost him six games. After spending the preseason as Griffin's favorite target, Garcon could be huge for Washington in the final weeks.
If the Redskins are to become the fourth 3-6 team to make the postseason since 1990, they need to probably win their final five games to finish 10-6. But after New York and Baltimore, Washington faces Cleveland, Philadelphia and Dallas.
A seven-game winning streak? It's possible.