The possibilities are seemingly endless, but there are certain givens in the muddled National Football Conference playoff race. For one, if the Redskins beat the Cardinals, they will win the NFC East with an 11-5 record and have the home-field advantage for the first-round playoff game (Dec. 29 or 30). The Cardinals would be eliminated.
If the Cardinals win Sunday's game at RFK Stadium, for a 10-6 record, they would be the East Division champion, according to the National Football League.
St. Louis would win the division title with a victory over the Redskins, based on a 6-2 division record against Washington (4-4) and Dallas (3-5) in a three-way tie at 10-6; a 3-1 round-robin record against the Giants (2-2) and Washington (1-3) in a three-way tie; a 6-2 division record against New York (5-3) in a four-way tie with Dallas and Washington, or a head-to-head sweep of Washington in a two-way tie.
As late as yesterday evening, when the league provided a team-by-team breakdown of the possibilities, NFL wizards still were trying to sort out all the other possible wild card permutations involving the four NFC East teams and the Los Angeles Rams.
Washington (10-5) -- If the Redskins beat the Cardinals, they win the East based on their 11-5 record. If the Rams beat San Francisco Friday night and the Giants beat the Saints Saturday, the Redskins must beat the Cardinals to make the playoffs.
This is the only scenario that would keep the Redskins out of the playoffs. If the Rams beat the 49ers, the Cardinals beat the Redskins and the Giants beat the Saints, the Rams get one wild card with an 11-5 record and the Giants beat out the Redskins and the Cowboys by virtue of a better record in the division.
There has been considerable confusion about why the Giants would beat out the Redskins in that case. If two teams in the same division are tied for the wild card berth, the division tie breaker (not the one involving teams from different divisions) is applied. The first tie breaker is the record for head-to-head games, which the Giants and Redskins split. The next category is records in the division. In that case, the Giants would win the spot on the basis of a 5-3 record, to the Redskins' 4-4.
According to the NFL, the Redskins can be a wild card team if they lose and the Rams lose (based on games against common opponents, Redskins are 4-4 versus the Rams' 3-4). If the Redskins lose, the Giants lose and the Cowboys win, Washington would get the wild card ahead of Dallas based on its 2-0 season sweep. Finally, if the Redskins, Cowboys and Giants lose, the Redskins get the wild card based on better overall record.
N.Y. Giants (9-6) -- The Giants cannot win the division. But they can get a wild card berth by beating New Orleans if the Cardinals and Cowboys lose, even if the Rams beat the 49ers. The Giants also could lose and gain the wild card if Dallas and St. Louis lose. If New York, Dallas and St. Louis all are 9-7, the Giants have the best combined record against the other two.
Dallas (9-6) -- The Cowboys can't win the division. They can get the wild card if they beat Miami and the Rams lose to the 49ers. If the Rams beat the 49ers, the Cowboys still can get a wild card if they win and the Giants and Cardinals lose.
Los Angeles Rams (10-5) -- The Rams can clinch a wild card by beating the 49ers. If they lose, they still get the wild card if either Dallas or St. Louis loses.