Giants to earn play-off spot with victory

AMERICAN football’s National Football League regular season concludes with a mad dash for the playoffs this weekend, with 11 teams still chasing three postseason berths.

The New York Giants will be first off the mark.

Despite losing six of their last seven games they can virtually clinch the last National Football Conference wild card with a win over the Washington Redskins on Saturday.

There are four other teams in the NFC with 7-8 records — the Green Bay Packers, Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers and St Louis Rams — and the Giants hold the tiebreaker edge over all of them.

Only the Packers can beat New York in an unlikely strength-of-victory tiebreaker.

If the Giants win on Saturday, then Atlanta, Carolina and St Louis will be eliminated from playoff contention before their games on Sunday.

The Packers would know before they take the field at Chicago on Sunday if they have a chance to win a tiebreaker.

That will only be the case if hapless Detroit upset the playoff-bound Cowboys and Minnesota beat St Louis.

That game in Chicago has also drawn attention as the possible NFL finale of Green Bay quarterback Brett Favre. A future Hall of Famer, Favre is closing in on Dan Marino’s all-time record for touchdown passes. But Favre, the NFL’s only three-time MVP and an eight-time Pro Bowler, contemplated retirement after last season and did not make his decision to return until late April. In 15 years with the Packers, Favre has led the Packers to 10 postseason appearances, including six division titles, back-to-back Super Bowl appearances in 1996 and 1997 and one championship.

But the Giants remain the most likely to complete the NFC playoff lineup. They could even make the playoffs with a 7-9 record if Green Bay, Atlanta, Carolina and St. Louis all lose.

Even so, it’s hardly what the Giants envisioned when they built a 6-2 record in the first half of the season.

Coach Tom Coughlin heard chants of “Fire Coughlin” after last week’s 30-7 defeat to New Orleans.

So Coughlin reacted by stripping offensive coordinator John Hufnagel of his play-calling duties on Tuesday, handing them over to quarterbacks coach Kevin Gilbride for Saturday’s game.

“There’s no doubt that our offensive team needs a change, needs a spark,” Coughlin said. “John Hufnagel is not a scapegoat here. He is not. But we need a spark, and that’s the way it goes.”

The two AFC wild-card spots are up for grabs on the final Sunday of the season.

The Denver Broncos and New York Jets, both with 9-6 records, can punch their tickets with victories. The Broncos host the San Francisco 49ers and the Jets face the lowly Oakland Raiders.

Four teams with 8-7 records — Cincinnati, Jacksonville, Kansas City and Tennessee — are also alive in the AFC playoff race.

The Bengals host reigning Super Bowl champions Pittsburgh, who are already eliminated from playoff contention.

The Jaguars visit the Chiefs and the Titans, who have won six in a row, meet New England.

The Patriots, San Diego, Baltimore and Indianapolis have clinched AFC division titles.

The Chicago Bears, Saints and Seattle Seahawks have sealed NFC division crowns.

Philadelphia and Dallas have secured their playoff berths, and their results Sunday will determine which goes in as NFC champion and which as a wild card.

Since the Eagles swept the Cowboys in the season series, they can clinch the division title with a win against Atlanta.

It would be the Eagles’ fifth NFC East title in the last six seasons.

The Eagles were not given much of a chance of reaching the playoffs after Donavan McNabb suffered a torn ligament in his right knee on November 19.

Three-time Pro Bowl quarterback Jeff Garcia has stepped and played at an extremely high level, going 4-1 as the starter. He has completed 62.2% (115-of-185) of his passes for 1,280 yards and 10 touchdowns with two interceptions.

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