This NFC East "Championship Game" on Sunday will decide the fourth seed in the NFC playoffs. Technically, if Chicago and Minnesota lose, Washington will already be in the postseason by the time this game is played, but A) that only happens 27.1 percent of the time and B) it would be tangibly much better to win, have the fourth seed and host a team like the Seattle Seahawks in the first round than to have to travel to play San Francisco or Green Bay. As one of just two games in which both teams have playoff implications riding on the outcome (Green Bay at Minnesota is the other), this has all the makings of a classic shootout. It could go either way, but, ultimately, the home team wins out and stays alive more often than not in our simulations.
On the season, the Washington Redskins are 9-6 straight-up and 10-5 against-the-spread versus the 14th ranked NFL strength of schedule. Washington has won and covered the spread in six straight games (including three upset victories as underdogs -- and the OVER has hit in four of those six games). Over that stretch, which includes three games against teams still in the playoff hunt, the team has an average margin of victory of 30.3-20.3. Their play as of late has catapulted the Redskins up our NFL Power Rankings to number eight.
More impressive than the simple ascension of the Redskins after a 3-6 start has been the play of second overall draft choice and 2011 Heisman Trophy winner (also known as the top player on our board for the 2012 NFL Draft) Robert Griffin III. With all due respect to the amazing seasons of Russell Wilson and Andrew Luck, Griffin would easily win our vote for NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year. Consider that the Redskins lead the NFL in yards-per-play and yards-per-pass and are second in lowest turnover percentage and third in yards-per-rush. Griffin's 375 pass attempts and 114 rush attempts have accounted for 64.2 percent of the team's offense on the year despite Griffin missing a full game and parts of two others.
It has actually been the defense, which lost two important starters early in the year, that has bounced back and shown great improvement down the stretch. The Redskins average almost 0.7 more yards-per-pass and 0.9 more yards-per-rush than opponents. Washington and San Francisco are the only two teams in the top ten in both rushing efficiency margin and passing efficiency margin.
Dallas is 8-7 SU and 6-9 ATS against the ninth ranked NFL schedule in 2012. The Cowboys have played well recently as well. Dallas has won five of its last seven games, though it has only covered the spread in three of those games (the OVER has hit in five of the last seven). One of those two recent losses came on Thanksgiving Day to Washington at home, 38-31. The other loss came last week to another great all-around offense that won in a shootout when New Orleans went to Dallas and won 34-31. In our updated NFL Power Rankings, Dallas is just 15th. The Cowboys have a top ten pass offense (led by quarterback Tony Romo and wide receiver Dez Bryant), yet rank below average in all of our other strength-of-schedule-adjusted efficiency metrics. Fortunately for the Cowboys, having an elite passing attack can keep any team in the game.
The last time these two teams met, 69 points were scored. In eight of the Cowboys' last 12 games, more than 48 points have been scored by the two teams combined. Similarly, the combined score in Redskins games has topped 48 eight times this year. More to the point, when the fourth and eighth best offenses in the league take on the 21st and 31st ranked defenses (respectively), expect a shootout that is in doubt throughout (to find out exactly how likely either team is to win the game after each play, follow along with our free Live ScoreCaster output for this game here). Washington, the better team, wins in the most likely scenario, but the game lives up to the hype and, with its high scoring, offensive show and rookie standouts, serves as a microcosm of the 2012 NFL season.
According to 50,000 games played by the Predictalator, the Washington Redskins win at home over the Dallas Cowboys and clinch the NFC East division 58.3 percent of the time and by an average score of 29.3-25.6. With an over/under line of 48.5, the OVER in this game is our strongest (side or total) opinion of Week 17 as it covers 59 percent of the time. With 52.4 percent accuracy or greater needed to be profitable, this play would warrant a $69 play from a normal $50 player. The side, which currently sees Washington favored by three points, is appropriate and not playable.