WASHINGTON — The playoff hopes of the Washington Redskins rest heavily on the shoulders of two teams that have very little incentive to win their last game of the NFL season.
The Dallas Cowboys (10-5) already have clinched the NFC East title, and the only tangible incentive in their final game against the 49ers (9-6) Sunday is a possible home-field advantage against the Rams. The Pittsburgh Steelers (7-8), who face the Giants (9-6) in the other game the Redskins will watch, are out of the playoffs and will be playing only to avoid their first losing season since 1971.
"We're not concerned with who needs what," said Donnie Shell, the Steelers' 12-year veteran safety. "We're trying to salvage our season and end on a winning note. You don't want to end on a loss because you want some good to carry over to the next season.
"And we proved we weren't quitters against Buffalo (coming from a 21-0 deficit). The Giants need this for the playoffs, and we need it for pride. In the offseason, you always remember how you played in the last game."
To make the playoffs, the Redskins must win their final regular-season game Saturday at St. Louis and hope either the Giants lose to the Steelers at Giants Stadium Saturday, or the 49ers lose to the Cowboys Sunday in Candlestick Park.
So what's in it for the Cowboys and Steelers? Will the Cowboys rest injured players such as Danny White and Gary Hogeboom and stay with quarterback Steve Pelluer? Will the Steelers use young backup players as starters in an attempt to build for next season? No one was saying for sure Monday.
After being sacked by Giants defensive end Leonard Marshall on the Cowboys' first drive of the third quarter, White did not return to action because of a bruised left shoulder. After the game, Coach Tom Landry said he hoped to have White for the 49er game, but White was not so sure.
"It's a painful injury and I'd like to sit out for a while and rest," White said after the game. Landry and White were not available to comment Monday.
Cowboy President Tex Schramm said Monday that White was listed as questionable and "I don't know about any other team, but around here, that's not a good sign."
The Cowboys can gain a home-field advantage with a win over the 49ers only if the Rams lose to the Raiders next Monday night. But Schramm doesn't see the chance to play again in Texas Stadium as enough incentive to spur a team.
"I don't think the home-field advantage is enough motivation for a football team," Schramm said. "We've been in that situation, and I wish I felt that it was, but I don't think a team can psyche itself up just because of a home-field advantage."
Schramm says the Cowboys' recent record in Candlestick (0-3) might be more of an incentive.
"From that standpoint, the team's been embarrassed the last several years in San Francisco," Schramm said. "Now people don't think we can win out there. The players don't want to be embarrassed as they were against Chicago and as they were in Cincinnati, and San Francisco is capable of doing that. So that would be the motivation, more pride, and fear of ridicule and embarrassment."
In his Monday press conference, Steelers Coach Chuck Noll said he was disappointed with how the season has gone, but added he would not necessarily be using the game as a proving ground for younger players.
"Next year is a long way off," Noll said. "A lot can change in the offseason. We're going to play this game for what it's worth."