What's at Stake?

Even though everyone but the mathematicians out there knows that the Redskins are eliminated from the NFL playoff picture, be wary of talk of a string of meaningless games to finish out the season. There is no such thing as a meaningless NFL game. In multi million dollar enterprises such as pro football, even if there is not shot at the ultimate prize, there is plenty at stake for everyone involved.

Steve Spurrier: His vaunted Fun and Gun offense has produced very little this year. It has worked in spurts, but not for four quarters. Even though talk that his departure is imminent has cooled, he needs to figure out a way to get his offense to move the ball consistently if he's going to avoid leaving the NFL it total humiliation (whenever that departure may occur).

Assistant coaches: Clearly, the jobs of several coaches hinge on the team's performance over the next five games. Among them are George Edwards and Kim Helton.

Jeremiah Trotter and Jesse Armstead: There were press reports last week that neither of the two linebackers was in the team's 2004 plans. Being cut in the offseason would almost certainly cost both players millions of dollars and could mean the end of Armstead's career. It's up to them to try to change the organization's collective opinion of their play over the last five games.

Tim Hasselbeck: He was named the starter due to Patrick Ramsey's injured foot so gets another audition this week. This is his chance to get off the NFL roller coaster he's been riding for the past few years. His first extended NFL action was against Miami and he was was solid but far from spectacular. His performance did raise the bar for him immediately; he'll be expected to win on Sunday. Hasselbeck will be an exclusive-rights free agent this offseason meaning that the Redskins can have him back as their backup if they want. A good, winning performance on Sunday will go a long way towards making the Redskins want him back or, if not, that another NFL team will give him a serious look.

Trung Canidate: He is in the lineup because he's a home run threat every time he touches the ball. So far, that's just in theory. His longest gain this year is 23 yards, more like a double than a home run. Although he hasn't been awful in gaining smaller chunks of yardage, he's not going to stay employed as a smash-mouth between the tackles runner. If he wants to secure a spot on next year's team, it would behoove him greatly to bust off a few long gainers.

Champ Bailey: He's in his contract year and will get many millions of some team's dollars this coming offseason no matter what happens in the coming five weeks. A spectacular performance by Bailey combined with a late-season winning streak would enhance Bailey's market value slightly—and when you're looking at that kind of money, even a slight increase can take care of another generation or two of future Bailey's.

Dan Snyder: He still has premium seats to sell with some pretty hefty price tags. A poor ending to the season makes it very difficult for the organization to fill these seats. (Yeah, we know, poooor Danny. Still, he has to write out a pretty hefty check every month to pay the mortgage on FedEx Field.)

The New Orleans Saints, the Skins' next opponent, aren't exactly having a blockbuster season themselves. The job of their coach, Jim Haslett, is also on the line, perhaps even more so than Spurrier's. Quarterback Aaron Brooks looks at times as though he's going to step up among the NFL's elite quarterbacks and at other times like he has no business being a starter at this level.

One Saint who is having a great season is running back Deuce McAlister. He has rushed for over 100 yards in eight straight games, including a 182-yard effort against Philadelphia last Sunday.

This will be the third straight week that the Redskins have faced one of the league's top running backs. Their experiences with the other two, Carolina's Stephen Davis and Miami's Ricky Williams, were similar. Neither back piled up a lot of yards, particularly not in the early going. Still, each one scored the winning touchdown for his team late in the fourth quarter, sending the Redskins off to stinging defeats.

The key questions on Sunday are these: Can Hasselbeck and the struggling offense build a lead? If so, can the defense finish it off with a key stop in the fourth quarter?

Redskins 27, Saints 17

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