Joe Gibbs predicted yesterday that a team will need a 9-7 record to earn the National Football Conference's second wild-card spot. That means his Redskins would have to win four of their last five games against the toughest part of their schedule to be contenders for that playoff berth.

"I just don't think 8-8 will do it," said Gibbs, whose 5-6 team is tied with six other clubs for the second position. "Someone is going to get hot in November and take it with a 9-7 record.

"I know that leaves us a very difficult task. I don't know how we will do. But just winning five of our last six games, like we've done, is hard to do. Who would have thought we could accomplish that after the way we started?"

Three of Washington's final five games are on the road. The Redskins play at Dallas (8-3) Sunday, followed by a trip to Buffalo (6-5). After meeting Philadelphia (9-2) and Baltimore (1-10) in RFK Stadium, they close out the season at Los Angeles (5-6).

The Redskins have yet to beat a team with a winning record, and Gibbs said the Cowboy game this week "would give us a chance to see if we are ready for an 8-3 opponent. That remains to be seen. You have to remember that in this league this year, you start thinking you are playing pretty great and then it's a disaster. In two short weeks, you can be back in the pits again.

"But I think winning the last three weeks has been significant from two standpoints. First, each week we played a team that thought it had to beat us to remain in playoff contention (St. Louis, Detroit and New York), but we still won even though they had a lot of incentive going for them. Second, the wins gave us a lot of confidence. We came back every time we had to and we did what it took to pull them out. You have to feel good about that."

But Gibbs maintained that he would not stress playoff possibilities to his players this week.

"We will concentrate on Dallas," he said. "The playoffs are something that's there. I don't think they are something we are thinking of that much. It just adds a different excitement to the year. The playoffs are why we are playing. The fact they now are a possibility keeps everyone excited, it keeps something added in the atmosphere. It picks you up."

He also said he would know more about how realistic Redskin playoff talk is after the next three weeks.

"That will be answered by that time, I would think," he said. "I guess anyone right now has a shot, because evidently six other teams aren't doing a whole lot better than we are.

"Who would have thought we'd be even talking about playoffs at this point after the way we lost our first five games? I thought we would straighten ourselves out and start winning, but no one could have guessed this, not even the coaches."

None of the other teams in contention for the second spot (New York, Tampa Bay, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Detroit and Green Bay) has played as well as the Redskins the last six weeks. However, none faces any harder schedule than Washington over the final five weeks.

"We've played really well for awhile and I think we can do okay against the teams we have to face now," tight end Don Warren said. "It will certainly give us an idea of how far we've come."

Certainly, this is a far better Redskin team than the one that lost to Dallas, 26-10, in the opening game at RFK Stadium. The offense has improved steadily since Gibbs switched to a one-back, two-tight end alignment and even the defense, which had been giving up 450 yards a game the last four weeks, performed better Sunday against the Giants.

"The (defensive) players got together Saturday night and had a meeting without the coaches and they took it upon themselves to play better," Gibbs said. "I thought they really went after people Sunday. They played hard. We're still struggling with our front four and our linebackers are always being shuffled, but I thought there was definite improvement.

"We're still shaky when we get in those third-and-8, -9, -10 and -12 situations. When we do, I really fear them."

Injuries to two defensive players will affect the Redskins' nickel defense against Dallas. Linebacker Mel Kaufman has a slightly separated left shoulder and Lemar Parrish remains hobbled with a bad knee. Neither is expected to play Sunday.

That means Jeris White will start for Parrish and probably rookie Quentin Lowry will replace Kaufman in the nickel, as he did in the second half against the Giants. The Redskins also could activate linebacker Rich Milot, who has been on the injured reserve list with knee problems. A decision will be made on Milot at the end of the week.

"We really got a good game out of Brad Dusek," said Defensive Coordinator Richie Petitbon, who made five personnel changes with the defense prior to the Giant game. "That's encouraging. It's the best game he's played in two years, as far as I'm concerned. He ran really well and he didn't have any more injuries."

Dusek was making his first start in three weeks after recovering from a series of leg and shoulder injuries. He could be an important figure Sunday, considering how well he has been able to defend against the run in past years.

The Redskins are hopeful that tackle Joe Jacoby (pinched nerve) will start against the Cowboys . . . John Riggins now is the eighth-leading rusher in NFL history with 7,350 yards . . . The Redskins are 26th in the league in points surrendered with 270 . . .