Fear not, Washington Redskins fans.

If the season had ended yesterday, the Redskins still would have qualified for the playoffs. They would have been a beneficiary of the NFL's expanded playoff system, since they would have been the National Football Conference's third, and final, wild-card team. But they would have been there.

That means the Redskins -- as they say in the NFL -- control their own destiny. If they win their final five games, they will be in the playoffs when the season ends Dec. 31.

Of course, their schedule concludes in the following manner: the Dolphins (9-2) at home, the Bears (9-2) at home, the Patriots (1-10) in Foxboro, Mass., the Colts (5-6) in Indianapolis, the Bills (9-1) at home.

"They just keep coming," defensive tackle Eric Williams said yesterday. "We get finished playing Philly and the Giants and now we get Miami and Chicago. Do we have the toughest schedule in the league right now? It seems like it."

Among the NFC's wild-card contenders, the Redskins have the second-most difficult remaining schedule. Their opponents have a combined 33-21 record. The Vikings (5-6) have the most difficult schedule but they've won four straight. Their opponents -- the Packers, Giants, Buccaneers, Raiders and 49ers -- have a combined 37-19 record.

But when the Redskins can't beat the Cowboys in what Williams called "a game we were supposed to win," nothing is assured. So let's start with the Redskins' state of mind as they spent their third consecutive day off.

Instead of sitting in his living room watching the Eagles defeat the Giants to take a one-game lead on his team, Williams sat in a movie theater watching "Dances With Wolves." ("Fantastic," he said. "One of the best I've seen.") Offensive lineman Raleigh McKenzie said he took in as much of yesterday's NFL fare as his television could pull in.

"I was going back and forth," he said. "Every time they flashed the score {of the Eagles-Giants} game, I was thinking, 'We still have a shot.' It's up to us in these last five games. We have to win them."

Catching the Eagles (7-4) is not out of the question for the Redskins. Philadelphia's next two games are on the road against the Bills and Dolphins. The Eagles then play host to the Packers and Cowboys before finishing in Phoenix.

But for the Redskins to host a wild-card game, they probably will have to overtake the Eagles. After head-to-head record, the first tie-breaker among wild-card teams from the same division is divisional record. The Redskins, who split with the Eagles, have finished their divisional play at 4-4. The Eagles are 3-3. A tie in divisional records would prompt a look at the teams' conference records. Philadelphia is 6-3 against NFC teams, Washington 6-5.

The Redskins' conference mark also explains why they are behind the Packers even though the teams have the same overall record. After head-to-head record, the first tie-breaker among wild-card teams from different divisions is conference record. The Packers, who do not play the Redskins this season, are 5-4 against NFC teams.

In its final games, Green Bay plays at Minnesota, hosts Seattle, plays at Philadelphia, hosts Detroit, and plays at Denver (combined opposition record of 24-31). That makes the Packers the team for Washington to watch. A good scenario, as far as the Redskins are concerned, involves the Packers losing to Minnesota (the Packers and Vikings would have six losses) and defeating the Eagles (assuring the Eagles of at least five losses).

Of course, the best scenario for the Redskins involves them winning their games and letting others puzzle over the possibilities. "Every time you lose a game, especially late in the season, you put yourself in a bad position," McKenzie said.

In the AFC, Buffalo leads the East by a half-game over Miami, but plays Houston tonight in Houston. If the Oilers (5-5) win, they will tie Cincinnati and Pittsburgh for first place in the Central. Kansas City and the Los Angeles Raiders are tied for first place in the West with 7-4 records, but the Chiefs have defeated the Raiders twice this season.

The Colts (5-6), Chargers (5-7) and Seahawks (5-6) also are trying to preserve their wild-card possibilities.