To fully appreciate the folly that is the NFC, consider the following true facts:

The Redskins haven't beaten a team with a winning record this season and have allowed more points than all but five NFL teams -- and are the NFC East titlists.

The Lions clinched a playoff berth after losing their third straight game.

The Cowboys, Giants, Panthers and Packers all are 7-8 -- and one of them is playoff-bound.

The Panthers can make the playoffs if they win and if the Cowboys-Giants game ends in a tie (which it will).

The Rams have been the NFC's only respectable team, and even they get disrespected because they beat a lot of bad teams. But they beat just about everybody by 35-10, which is pretty good even if you're playing the Harlem Globetrotters' schedule.

Meantime, over in the AFC, the Patriots have been assailed because they've lost six of seven games to fall to 7-8 and out of the playoff picture. In the NFC, they'd be co-favorites to reach the Super Bowl.

As for the NFC East, I haven't seen this much bad football since "The Waterboy." Watching the Cowboys-Giants or the Cardinals-Eagles play offense is like watching a chess match played with nothing but pawns.

The NFC East has the worst 9-6 team in football (the Redskins), an absolutely woeful 7-8 team (the Cowboys) and another (the Giants) that is the worst 7-8 team in the history of organized sports at any level on any continent, including Antarctica.

And here's a parting thought so horrifying you shouldn't share it with children: If the Cowboys win their next five games, they are Super Bowl champions.

(Academia Note: In a move that ensures that The Man never sends another penny to his alma mater, budding analyst Boomer Esiason was the speaker for the University of Maryland's winter commencement ceremonies. I guess Carrot Top was unavailable.)

As always, the following point-spread picks should not be used as the basis for any actual cash wager:

Colts (-2) at Bills: Richard Nixon lost the presidential election in 1960, lost the California gubernatorial race in 1962 and had to retreat to private law practice in New York in the mid '60s before reemerging spectacularly with a victory in the 1968 presidential election. The Colts were division champions from 1975 to 1977 but lost every playoff game, left Baltimore under cover ignominiously in 1984, lost a chance to get to Super Bowl XXX in 1995 and suffered through 3-13 seasons in 1997 and '98 before galloping ingloriously toward Super Bowl XXXIV. History does repeat itself, my friends. Pick: Colts.

Dolphins at Redskins (-3): With Redskins playoff-bound, owner Daniel M. Snyder reportedly will extend Coach Norv Turner's contract on a "half-to-half" basis. . . . As expected, Dolphins playbook now includes Miranda rights. Pick: Dolphins.

49ers at Falcons (-6 1/2): Every time the Falcons' Tim Dwight starts upfield with a punt, I think it's going to end like a Super Dave sketch. . . . Topic of Bill Walsh's final Tuesday lecture series: "Origins of the Center Snap." Pick: 49ers.

Buccaneers (-4) at Bears: When I see Martin Gramatica jog onto the field, I get the same feeling as when I used to watch "The Tonight Show" and saw Johnny Carson come out from behind the curtain. Pick: Bears.

Ravens (-1) at Patriots: When I see Adam Vinatieri jog onto the field, I get the same feeling as when I used to watch "The Tonight Show" and saw Joey Bishop come out from behind the curtain. Pick: Patriots.

Bengals at Jaguars (-8 1/2): Mike Brown sticking with Bengals Coach Bruce Coslet despite 21-35 record is reminiscent of Herbert Hoover sticking with Treasury boss Andrew Mellon after 1929 stock crash. Pick: Jaguars.

Cardinals at Packers (-8): For season finale, Packers fans have voted to forego "Star-Spangled Banner" in favor of "Taps." . . . Ray Rhodes, meet Phil Bengtson. Pick: Cardinals.

Seahawks at Jets (-1 1/2): Mike Holmgren wants to go to the Meadowlands on the season's final weekend like I want to go to a First Wives' convention. Pick: Jets.

Lions at Vikings (-7 1/2): I ran a bunch of data into my computer. It concluded that the Lions, currently 8-7, would be 7-7-1 or 8-6-1 with Barry Sanders. Pick: Lions.

Giants at Cowboys (-6): Beset with Y2K problems, Giants have been using game plans from 1900. . . . Projected final score: Cowboys 11, Giants 11. Pick: Giants.

Rams (-8 1/2) at Eagles: Moses parting the Red Sea, Neil Armstrong walking on the moon, Kurt Warner making it to Super Sunday. Pick: Eagles.

Raiders at Chiefs (-4 1/2): Kansas City area Red Cross asking for donors of "bad blood" in anticipation of Raiders game. Pick: Raiders.

Saints at Panthers (-9): Why shouldn't Mike Ditka come back? Heck, Kevin Costner kept making movies after "Waterworld." Pick: Panthers.

Titans (-3 1/2) at Steelers: Bad sign: Tim Conway now showing up on Steelers game film. Pick: Titans.

Chargers at Broncos (-7): Chargers to scrap "bipartisan huddle" experiment. Pick: Broncos.

Last week: 8-7.

Season record: 105-114-10.