EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J., OCT. 27 -- The questions this week for the Washington Redskins have once more been about dominance. Not sheer physical dominance, but a more maddening, teasing kind.

Who has a better rivalry going in the NFL these days than the Redskins and New York Giants? They play tense, emotional games that, as Giants Coach Bill Parcells repeated this week, "are the best the NFL has to offer. It's two good teams playing at a high level."

Such a high, even level that the last five games have been decided by a total of 18 points, the last four by 11. When the Giants and Redskins played two weeks ago at RFK Stadium, they never were separated by more than eight points.

Yet, the song remained the same that day. Although it was close, the Giants won, 24-20. It was their fifth straight victory over the Redskins, their eighth in the last nine nonstrike games.

And now, thanks to the NFL's quirky scheduling, the Giants (6-0) and Redskins (4-2) have a return date at 4 p.m. Sunday at Giants Stadium.

It's an important game for the Giants because if they beat the Redskins again, they will lead the NFC East by three games with nine to play. With what appears to be a relatively easy schedule down the stretch, they can leave the Redskins scrambling for one of the NFC's three wild-card slots.

It's an important game for the Redskins for all those same reasons. At the same time, Coach Joe Gibbs and his players have spent much of the past week attempting to downplay what another loss to the Giants would mean.

After all, win or lose on Sunday, they still appear headed for the playoffs, thanks to the collapse of the Rams, Vikings and Packers and the NFL's expanded playoff format (with the additional wild-card team).

The odds say the Redskins are doing the right thing. They haven't won at the Meadowlands since Nov. 13, 1983, and only nine current Redskins played in that game.

Then there's the matter of scheduling. Nine other home-and-home series have been completed, and all of them have been sweeps.

"You don't want to put everything into one game," quarterback Stan Humphries said. "We've still got a lot of games after this, and if you build this one too high, you can falter after it's over. I think you have to just play it as another NFC East game and see who comes out on top. The season's not over if we don't win. Our goal number one is to win the division. But goal number two is to get in the playoffs. It's not an all-or-nothing thing."

When the Giants were here two weeks ago, Parcells said he really didn't know much about his team. The Giants had beaten the Eagles, Cowboys, Dolphins and Cowboys again by an average margin of 15 points.

They hadn't been pushed much in the fourth quarter and Parcells said check with him when that happened. Since then, it has happened twice. The Redskins closed to within 21-20 in the fourth quarter and were driving for what could have been the winning touchdown when safety Greg Jackson intercepted a Humphries pass.

Last week, with quarterback Phil Simms injured in the first quarter, the Phoenix Cardinals led the Giants 19-10 with 5:38 left. The Giants were pushed, and they responded by pushing back. Backup quarterback Jeff Hostetler led an eight-play, 76-yard drive to close it to 19-17. Then, with 58 seconds left, Hostetler took them from their 29 to the Phoenix 22, from where Matt Bahr kicked a 40-yard field goal as time expired.

No Giants team ever had been 6-0, and Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs said this team is better than the one that won Super Bowl XXI.

Parcells disagrees, saying it's far too early to talk about those things.

"We've been very fortunate in some cases to win," he said. "The majority of the games could have been either way and I expect that again this week."

But what Parcells has put together isn't bad. Simms, who has fully recovered from last week's sprained ankle, is the NFL's No. 1-rated quarterback, with eight touchdown passes against but one interception.

He burned the Redskins for pass plays of 80, 61 and 63 yards and is at that peculiar point in his career where, after 12 seasons, a lot of New Yorkers now realize they've been watching one of the best quarterbacks in league history.

"Phil is a guy that hasn't been appreciated as much as he should have," Parcells said. "I think New York quarterbacks have had a tough time of it. Steve Grogan said that they love them when they're young and love them when they're old. It's that middle part you have to get through. As Phil has gotten older, he's much more appreciated. At this point in his career, Phil is not playing for the reasons of a lot of other players. He's not playing for recognition, money or statistics. He's playing because he enjoys it and he enjoys winning and competition."

The supporting cast around him isn't bad either. Dave Meggett is the NFC's No. 1-ranked punt returner and No. 2-ranked kickoff returner, as well as the game's best third-down specialist.

And then there's the defense. Linebacker Lawrence Taylor is the best player on the NFL's No. 1-ranked defense. That defense yielded the Redskins a decent amount of yardage (328) and 20 points, but neither was enough.

Their philosophy is to stop the run with a terrific front seven and to play soft in the secondary. "They're so good that their secondary doesn't have to come up and support {against} the run," Gibbs said. "That means they can do some different things in the secondary."

Specifically, they can allow teams to get some yards and complete some passes. But their philosophy is to not give up any deep passes and to bet that teams can't drive 80 yards without a mistake.

That is what happened to the Redskins. They opened the game with a massive 18-play, 10 1/2-minute drive but got only 66 yards and a Chip Lohmiller 43-yard field goal. They did the same thing on their second possession, driving 68 yards, to the 12, from where Lohmiller missed a 30-yarder.

The Redskins had rolled up 134 yards and held the ball for 15 of the game's first 20 minutes, and all they had to show for it was a 3-0 lead.

Simms and Stephen Baker then connected for an 80-yard touchdown play and the Giants never trailed.

"We don't feel there's that much difference between the two teams," Humphries said. "We just haven't made the play to go over the top. One play kind of turns the whole game around."