Even if this weren't a rivalry, it would have the makings of high-ratings drama. The Redskins were once 3-6, the Cowboys 3-5. Washington is riding a six-game winning streak; Dallas is on a 5-2 run, with the only losses against the Redskins on Thanksgiving Day and in overtime last week against the New Orleans Saints.
Washington's Robert Griffin III is setting new standards for rookie quarterbacks with his talent, leadership and star power. Unless he has a bad day, he'll break the single-season NFL record for rookie passer rating, set by Ben Roethlisberger in 2004.
Even though he's from Texas and went to college at Baylor, Griffin didn't grow up with a dispassionate view of Cowboys-Redskins love-hate. Instead, he was a Denver Broncos fan.
"For guys like myself (and) the other rookies, we're fresh into this rivalry," Griffin said. "But we can definitely sense how the fans feel, how some of the guys who have been here for many years feel about the Cowboys, and that's the mindset we have to take on. We're doing it for them. We're doing it for the fans."
Tony Romo has set the Dallas record for yards passing and might hit 5,000 for the season, but, like the Cowboys in general in recent years, has been dogged by the inability to win consistently after Christmas. Romo has only one playoff win to his credit, and the franchise still stings from Week 17 playoffs-or-bust blowout road losses to the Philadelphia Eagles in 2008 and the New York Giants last year.
"Experience can be a really positive thing. It doesn't always have to be a good experience. Sometimes it can be a bad experience," Dallas coach Jason Garrett said. "When you didn't get the job done, hopefully you can learn from what happened."
But, for the most part, Cowboys players this week were careful not to dwell on those past failures, noting that every year's team is different from those that played before. It took linebacker Brady Poppinga - a midseason pickup who has started one game - to seize the issue and offer it as a rallying cry.
"This place is becoming accustomed to these types of games," Poppinga said. "Because I understand last year was essentially the same scenario, but instead of playing the Washington Redskins going to Washington they were playing the New York Giants.
"I think this place is due. For crying out loud, let's get us one. What do you guys say? Is that a good idea? That's what I think."