The playoffs never come easily for the Washington Redskins.
Not since its last Super Bowl championship in 1991 when they finished 17-2 has the franchise enjoyed a standout season from the start and eased into the postseason. No, it's always "must wins" by Thanksgiving that makes December more tense than a misbehaving child awaiting Santa's judgment.
"We can't be complacent because we don't have the opportunity to be complacent," coach Mike Shanahan said. "Every game for us is like a playoff game."
In 2005, the Redskins ended with five straight wins to earn a wild-card berth. In 2007, they took the last four. Even the 1999 NFC East title was only clinched with one game remaining.
And here they go again.
Three straight wins have the Redskins (6-6) back in contention with meaningful late-season games for the first time in five years. Yet, Washington trails the New York Giants by one game with four remaining.
Winning the NFC East crown might require a seven-game winning streak, the team's longest since 1996. New York's schedule is brutal with New Orleans, Atlanta, Baltimore and Philadelphia remaining. Maybe the Redskins can lose once more and still claim the division, but mostly likely 9-7 means a wild card at best. Washington is currently seventh behind Seattle for the final seed.
Washington's final four against Baltimore on Sunday followed by Cleveland, Philadelphia and Dallas respectively has a two-tiered approach. AFC losses to Baltimore and Cleveland are less costly than NFC division opponents Dallas and Philadelphia because of tie-breakers.
The Redskins' final opponents are a mix. Oddly, Baltimore (9-3) suddenly seems vulnerable while Cleveland (4-8) is on the upswing. Philadelphia (3-9) can't end the season quick enough before the coaching staff is fired. Dallas (6-6) continues to underwhelm.
Baltimore comes off a heart-breaking 23-20 loss to nemesis Pittsburgh. The Ravens can still win the AFC North on Sunday by beating Washington along with a Pittsburgh and Cincinnati loss or tie. Still, the Ravens seem to have lost some juice lately and won't be revived by Baltimore fans inside FedEx Field because Redskins backers are filling seats nowadays.
Cleveland has won two straight and three of five after a 1-6 start. Then again, the wins were over Pittsburgh minus quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and weaklings San Diego and Oakland.
Washington will likely dispatch the Eagles with even the Philadelphia crowd on their side. That leaves Dallas as perhaps a virtual play-in game for the playoffs with the winner possibly advancing.
Seattle has the easiest schedule so scoreboard watching might not be easy for Redskins fans. With Arizona, Buffalo, San Francisco and St. Louis, Seattle could go at least 2-2 and possibly 3-1 for the final wild card.
Winning the NFC East is paramount for Washington because Seattle may not surrender the sixth seed. Certainly, it makes the final weeks finally compelling.