The Washington Redskins must beat the New York Giants on Monday to have any chance of winning the NFC East, but a wild-card spot suddenly seems like a possibility, too.
In the up-and-down NFL, the Redskins (5-6) are a late bloomer after two straight wins. They're still two games behind the Giants, who looked like the defending Super Bowl champions during Sunday's 38-10 throttling of the Green Bay Packers.
Even if Washington beats New York, the Giants (7-4) would remain in control of the division with four games remaining. But New York has a tough schedule ahead: New Orleans, Atlanta and Baltimore before finishing with Philadelphia. Meanwhile, Washington faces Baltimore, Cleveland, Philadelphia and Dallas.
It's conceivable that Washington can catch New York at 9-7, but 10 victories would require the Redskins to win their last five games. The team is looking better, but that's too much to expect from a group that lost to Carolina (2-8) and St. Louis (4-6-1) already this season.
Still, it's fun to think about playoff possibilities for the first time since 2007.
If the Redskins reach the postseason, they likely will benefit from wild-card tiebreakers. Head-to-head is the first, and Washington beat Tampa Bay (6-5), Minnesota (6-5), New Orleans (5-6) and Dallas (5-6). Seattle (6-5) may have both its starting cornerbacks suspended four games for performance-enhancing drugs, and that would weaken the Seahawks' chances.
Washington nearly beat New York before falling in the final moments of a 27-23 loss on Oct. 21. Don't forget that the Redskins swept the Giants last season.
The Redskins aren't afraid of the Giants. Monday is the Redskins' biggest home game since 2007. Why, the seats might even all be filled -- at least until the fourth quarter.
This is the most upbeat time in coach Mike Shanahan's three-season tenure -- maybe even more than last year's 3-1 start because that was too early in the season to think about the playoffs. Sure enough, Washington went 2-10 after that start.
The difference is quarterback Robert Griffin III. His brilliant play might earn him rookie of the year honors and has created some talk he's worthy of consideration as the NFL's MVP. Griffin threw a combined eight touchdowns in five days in victories over Philadelphia and Dallas.
There's no letdown now. Early-season injuries are largely past. The defense isn't good, but the offense can win shootouts, and Kai Forbath may be the team's best kicker since Chip Lohmiller departed in 1995.
Just when Shanahan started talking about next year, this season suddenly became relevant.
Everything changed in two games. And everything could change again if Washington doesn't beat New York and Baltimore. If the Redskins go 2-0, postseason fever spreads like the flu around the holidays. If they lose both, they can start playing for next year -- seriously this time. A split, especially if the victory comes over New York, continues them on a path of tepid expectations.
Suddenly, anything is possible.