The playoff picture became less muddled yesterday in the National Football Conference. Atlanta was eliminated from consideration and the Redskins, Vikings and Bear (all 8-5) remain in contention for two berths.
Minnesota can win the NPC Central by defeating Detroit on Saturday night in Pontiac, Mich.
If that occurs, the Redskins would be matched against the Chicago Bears in the tie-breaking formula for the wild-card spot if they finished with the same records. If both teams finish 9-5 or 8-6, the category known as point differential in conference games would break the tie.
Going into the last week of the regular season, Chicago has a 44-point lead over the Redskins in that category and almost certainly would be the wild-card entry over Washington.
If Chicago wins the Central Division - the Bears would have to defeat the Giants and the Vikings would have to lose to Detroit - the Redskins have a much better chance of making the playoffs.
A Redskin loss to Los Angeles would not necessarily eliminate them. If the Redskins are 8-6 and the Vikings are 8-6, the conference point differential would again be used to break the tie for the wild-card spot.
The Redskins have a 16-point bulge over the Vikings, and probably would get the wild card, depending on the scores in the last games.
If all three teams finished with 8-6 records, Chicago would win the Central over Minnesota because of a better record in the division. The Bears would be 6-1, the Vikings 5-2.
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In the AFC, three teams are tied for the Eastern Division lead. A victory by Baltimore over New England on Sunday would cinch the title for the Colts, even if the Dolphins also win, on the basis of a better conference record. If New England and Miami win next week, the Dolphins would gain the title by virtue of a better division record. For the Patriots to capture the title, they must beat Baltimore and Miami must lose to Buffalo.
Oakland has clinched the wild card slot. The Raiders will have a better conference record than any runner-up in the AFC East.