What kind of finishing touch will the Buffalo Bills add to the most successful regular season in their history?
That's the only real question to be asked of the finale today against the Washington Redskins at RFK Stadium.
Buffalo (13-2) already knows it will be home for a playoff game two weekends from now against a wild-card survivor.
The Redskins (9-6) already know they must travel to Philadelphia's Veterans Stadium next weekend to face the NFC East-rival Eagles. Any chance of the 'Skins hosting the Eagles for the wild-card game was foreclosed when Philadelphia won at Phoenix Saturday.
So today's outcome between two playoff-bound teams is meaningless. How the teams perform and how certain individuals perform is not, however.
After all they accomplished this season, the Bills certainly don't want to turn in one of those run-for-the-bus games inferior Buffalo teams became known for.
"Winning is always important," is what Bills coach Marv Levy is telling his team. "Winning is a habit and we want to keep developing that habit."
The Bills already have won more regular-season games than in any year in their history, surpassing the 12-2 mark turned in by the 1964 team and the 12-4 by the 1988 team. The only goal left is to finish with the NFL's best regular-season record: The are tied for best record with San Francisco at 13-2.
Stung by last week's late collapse at Indianapolis, the Redskins are trying to get themselves back on track before the playoffs begin. They had won three games in a row to clinch a wild-card berth before giving up two touchdowns in the last 81 seconds to lose to a Colts team they had outplayed by a wide margin.
Quarterback Mark Rypien, trying to move the 'Skins into position for a try at a game-winning field goal, threw an interception instead. Indianapolis rookie Alan Grant returned it 25 yards for the winning touchdown.
Rypien's inconsistency has mirrored the Redskins' in-and-out play this season.
"I thought a couple of times we had found ourselves, but we have been inconsistent," said coach Joe Gibbs, who is not the least bit pleased with his team's unpredictable play.
"We want to go full bore," Gibbs said of today's game.
Rypien has thrown eight interceptions the last three weeks. More than that, he has misfired his passes on key downs.
Levy said he intends to use all his healthy players.
For the second week in a row, Frank Reich, who went to college at nearby University of Maryland, will start at quarterback in place of the injured Jim Kelly. Reich is 4-0 as a starter in the NFL.
Presumably, Levy will substitute more liberally than normal. Three Bills who are in the running for individual statistical titles should get ample opportunity to add to their statistics.
Running back Thurman Thomas leads the NFL in rushing with 1,297 yards, 16 more than Barry Sanders of the Detroit Lions. Thomas seems to have clinched the individual honor for scrimmage yards (rushing and receiving) with 1,807. He also shares the AFC lead for touchdowns with 13.
Wide receiver Andre Reed leads the AFC with 71 receptions and is tied for the conference lead with eight TD catches.
Defensive end Bruce Smith is one sack behind Kansas City linebacker Derrick Thomas, who leads the NFL with 20 after getting one Saturday at Chicago. The league record is 22 by Mark Gastineau of the New York Jets.
Kelly, of course, is the NFL's top-rated passer at 101.2 and also leads with a 63.3 completion percentage. His closest competitor for the passing title is Houston's Warren Moon at 96.8, but Moon also is out with an injury. Joe Montana of San Francisco has a 62.2 completion percentage.
Among the players who will get a good look today, of greatest interest is how rookie Al Edwards performs as the third receiver in the shotgun formation. Edwards, who has played mostly as a punt and kick return man, will take the place of Don Beebe, who suffered a fractured leg last week and is out until next season. Another rookie receiver, Vernon Turner, was activated from the practice squad and will make his debut on the active roster.
Free safety Mark Kelso is expected to see his first action since he suffered a fractured and dislocated ankle in the fifth week of the season.
Levy promises the Bills won't take a timid approach for fear of injuries.
"We're not going to walk on eggs in this game," he said. "I'll play my starters. It depends on the flow of the game. I might do more relieving, have some people go out and come back in."
Then the Bills can stroll for the bus with their heads held high and start thinking about the playoffs.