For the better part of three years, the Washington Redskins have been underdogs under head coach Mike Shanahan. So, it may come as a surprise that the Redskins are three-point home favorites for Sunday night's showdown with Dallas to determine the NFC East titlist.
Don't believe the hype and the Redskins shouldn't either. Instead, they should simply go about their business like they have for the last six weeks. Don't fret about who's favored. Just beat Dallas.
Shanahan would probably prefer to be the underdog against the Cowboys and for good reason.
According to Redskins blogger Rich Tandler, the Redskins have won more games this season when they were not favored, than when they were.
The Redskins also won on the road at Cleveland after the Browns were favored by 4. That accounts for six of Washington's nine wins.
In contrast, the Redskins have won as favorites just three times. They defeated Baltimore after the Ravens opened as two-and-a-half point underdogs. Washington also swept Philadelphia after being favored over the Eagles by 3.5 at home and 4.5 last week in Philly.
Perhaps Shanahan wanted his Redskins to feel like also-rans all along. Remember his "evaluation" statement after Washington's Week 9 home loss to Carolina dropped the Redskins to 3-6?
“When you lose a game like that, now you’re obviously playing to see who is going to be on your football team for years to come,” said Shanahan, via Frank Schwab of YahooSports.com. “Now we get a chance to evaluate players and see where we’re at. Obviously we’re not out of it statistically. But now we find out what type of character we’ve got and how guys keep on fighting through the rest of the season.”
In no uncertain terms, Shanahan said Washington didn't have a chance to salvage the season. He suggested the playoffs were a pipe dream and clearly stated that his plans were to determine who had had the best chance to make the Redskins' 2013 roster.
Boy, did he have us fooled.
But in hindsight, Shanahan was not completely off base with his statement. The Panthers' loss was Washington's third in a row and ninth in 10 games at FedEx Field. He probably should have strung together his words a bit more carefully, but he was speaking the truth. Right? Well, sort of.
Shanahan knew the meat of the schedule was still to come, with three straight divisional matchups and an AFC "reprieve" against Baltimore and Cleveland, before closing battles at Philadelphia and versus Dallas.
Any sane person would chuckle if you told them that the Skins would win each and every one of those games, on their way to the NFC East title. But here they are and with a win Sunday, that impossible dream will come true.
Did Shanahan's statement strike fear in the Redskins? Was it an ancient secret of his to light a fire under his team? Or were his words just misinterpreted and spun to make him look bad.
I'm guessing that all of the above is true. And it's why most of us are nothing but Monday morning quarterbacks.
We get mad when the Redskins don't play well or live up to expectations. But Mike Shanahan has a method to his madness.
Washington Post writer Mike Wise likes to refer to Shanahan as "My-Way Mike" because for some players (like Albert Haynesworth), it's either Mike's way or the highway.
The nickname may not be entirely accurate, but it suits a coach that has resurrected the Redskins from the dead.
My-Way Mike won back-to-back Super Bowls for Denver. His coaching success will one day earn him a spot in Pro Football's Hall of Fame. And it's why Washington will play its most meaningful game, in recent memory, against the hated Cowboys.
Washington's regular season finale has been rescheduled for prime time viewing Sunday evening at 8:20 p.m. ET sharp. If Chicago or Minnesota wins earlier in the day, it will be a do-or-die contest for Washington.
But that's the way Shanahan and the Redskins like it.
"I think it’s good. I think it's really good," said Shanahan, per Mike Jones of The Washington Post. "They get used to the pressure over the last six weeks, knowing every game is do or die. They’re used to that scenario right now."
They know we have to play our best football, and everything we’re working for comes back to this weekend: taking advantage of what we’ve done the last six weeks. It really doesn’t mean anything unless we take advantage of our game against Dallas.
In essence, it's Mike's way or the highway for Washington. And if the Redskins don't rally behind the words of their leader, they may be left to wonder, "What if?"
Joe Versage is an NFL Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. He previously covered the Buffalo Bills, Washington Redskins and Baltimore Ravens as a television beat reporter. Follow him on Twitter at: @JoeVersage Takip et: @JoeVersage
Unless otherwise noted, all player, coach and game information are courtesy of Redskins.com and the National Football League. Additional information and statistics were obtained from WashingtonPost.com, RealRedskins.com and YahooSports.com.