Giants still not guaranteed playoff spot

With three games remaining in the season, the Giants are no closer to a division title than they were after last week's big win over Dallas. With Dallas and Washington both notching victories, the final playoff teams won't be determined till the final whistle of the 2005 regular season.

As the season winds down, just remember tiebreakers work like this: first, head-to-head; then division record; and third, common opponents since each of the four teams will have 14 common games in their 16-game schedule.

Here's a look at the teams still in it:

In the playoffs

1. Seattle (11-2). As the only NFC division winner, the Seahawks have the conference's best record and longest winning streak at nine. Incredibly, they're also the only team guaranteed a playoff spot. Remaining games: at Tennessee, Indianapolis, at Green Bay. All eyes will be on Christmas Eve's showdown with the Colts, a possible Super Bowl preview. Unfortunately for fans, with playoffs secure for both teams, Indy and Seattle might treat the game as a meaningless preseason contest.

In the picture

2. New York (9-4). You've heard the scenario. With the Giants' 26-23 OT victory over the Eagles, they've got the inside track to the East crown. The turnaround from last season's 6-10 record should garner Coughlin possible Coach of the Year honors. Remaining games: Chiefs, at Washington, at Oakland. If the season ended today with both teams tied, the division crown would go to New York, since the Giants currently have a better division record, 4-1, than Dallas' 3-2.

3. Chicago (9-4). Speaking of good defenses, the keys to victory in the NFL – especially in the frost-curdling chills of the playoff season – are the ability to run the ball and stop the run. Chicago can do both. Forget the rookie QB, the 2000 Ravens proved a tough D always trumps a less-than-spectacular QB. Like the Ravens then, Chicago is number one in total D; and RB Thomas Jones already has 1,000 yards for the season. However, the recent loss to Pittsburgh makes the season-ending showdown with Minnesota one that could mean the division crown. Since the Bears are undefeated in the division and 8-1 in the conference, the Bears could still make the playoffs even if Minnesota scrambles to win the North. Remaining games: Atlanta, Green Bay, at Minnesota.

4. Tampa Bay (9-4). Even with the big win over the Panthers, the Bucs still have three games to prove themselves worthy of a playoff spot. Coach Jon Gruden has quietly achieved an excellent season. He's done it with a young D and inexperienced QB in Chris Simms. With the best division record so far, Tampa would have the tiebreaker advantage if they win the rest of their division games. Remaining games: at New England, Atlanta, New Orleans.

5. Carolina (9-4). The preseason favorites to reach the Super Bowl from many scribes, the Panthers were starting to hit their stride until last week's loss to rival Tampa Bay. Since the teams split their head-to-head games, should the season end in a tie the division crown would go to the team with the best division record, which at this point is Tampa. Remaining games: at New Orleans, Dallas, at Atlanta.

6. Minnesota (8-5). With a convincing win over the Rams, the Vikes have won an incredible six straight. Righting this lust-boat ship has been difficult. The much-maligned Mike Tice has an unlikely Coast Guard hero in Brad Johnson. A solid 4-1 in division games gives the Vikings as good a chance as any in making the postseason. Remaining games: Pittsburgh, at Baltimore, Chicago.

In contention

7. Dallas (8-5). The Cowboys find themselves on a slippery saddle. Tough games they had to win, they've lost. First Denver, then NY and now KC. Splitting games with the G-men give them a fighting chance if they win the remaining games. But one look shows it is unlikely. Remaining games: at Washington, at Carolina, St. Louis.

8. Atlanta (7-5). With a current 4-4 conference mark and 1-2 in the division, things do not look good for the Falcons. Still, after Monday Night's game with the Saints, they can show their talons with hard-fought victories over these remaining teams: at Chicago, at Tampa Bay, Carolina.

9. Washington (7-6). Somehow the Skins are not dead. With three tough division games left, the Redskins could make things very interesting by winning them all. Still, the scenario seems unlikely. All division games remaining: Dallas, New York, at Philadelphia.

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