Three-quarters through the NFL season, the race for the playoffs should be hitting its peak.
Not in the NFC, where the six playoff teams were all but decided on Sunday, and what remains is deciding the seedings.
The AFC? Hold on for the final weeks.
In the NFC, Green Bay (9-3) clinched the North on Sunday, something the Packers could have done two weeks ago had they not lost two straight games. The 49ers (8-4 in the West) and Eagles (9-3 in the East) are three up with four to play. New Orleans' 23-20 win over Tampa Bay just about guarantees those two teams, plus Atlanta, will make the postseason from the South.
The South is anyone's race. Tampa Bay is 9-3, Michael Vick and Atlanta are 8-3-1 and New Orleans is 8-4.
''This is kind of a round robin,'' Saints coach Jim Haslett said. ''We beat Tampa twice. Atlanta beat us twice. Hopefully, Tampa will beat Atlanta next week and we'll just pass the thing around.''
The losers in this are the Giants and the Rams, who two weeks ago looked like playoff contenders. The Giants, with the injury to QB Donovan McNabb making the Eagles vulnerable, looked ready to seize control in the East.
But New York (6-6), its defense weakened by injuries, has managed to lose to Houston and Tennessee.
''I'm not even thinking of the playoffs,'' the Giants' Tiki Barber said.
St. Louis, with Kurt Warner clearly hurting, lost 10-3 in Philadelphia, with the only touchdown coming on Bobby Taylor's interception return. Third-string QB A.J. Feeley played prevent offense, not gambling with the lead.
Warner is 0-6 as a starter this season, and the Rams are teetering at 5-7.
Washington and Dallas also are 5-7 and everyone else in the NFC is 4-8 or worse.
''I hate the word 'parity,' '' Rams tight end Ernie Conwell said after the loss in Philadelphia. ''But we've been able to see both ends of it. We were 4-12 and then went to the Super Bowl. Now we're the defending NFC champions -- and this.''
If Conwell wants to discuss parity, the AFC is the place.
Only three teams are under .500: Jacksonville (5-7), Cincinnati (1-11) and expansion Houston (3-9). And the Jaguars still are contenders, albeit barely.
So with four weeks to go, it's almost impossible to line up playoff scenarios.
Next week should clear up some questions.
Indianapolis (8-4) takes its four-game winning streak to Tennessee (7-5), with the winner in control of the South. That's because the Titans won in Indy, so if they win again, they have a clear tiebreaker for the division title.
Pittsburgh (7-4-1) has a 1 1/2-game lead over Cleveland and Baltimore in the North. On form, the Steelers should win it.
But the East and West are blanket races.
In the East, one game separates New England and Miami (7-5) in first from Buffalo (6-6) in last. And Drew Bledsoe goes back to Foxboro next week with the Bills to face the Patriots.
In the West, San Diego's overtime win over Denver gives it the edge in a three-team race with the Broncos and Raiders, with the Chiefs (6-6) two games back.
LOSING BY THE NUMBERS: Coaches have charts that tell them when to go for 2-point conversions and when not to. They'd be better off using their brains.
''Twelve-point lead, go for two,'' the Giants' Jim Fassel said, quoting the chart after his team's 32-29 overtime loss to Tennessee.
The Giants went for the 2-pointer and failed after taking a 26-14 lead 15 seconds into the fourth quarter. The Titans cut it to 26-21, then the Giants couldn't convert a first-and-goal at the 1 in the final two minutes, a major problem all season.
So they kicked a field goal, allowing the Titans the chance to tie, which they did with 9 seconds left on a touchdown and 2-pointer. If Fassel had kicked on that first TD, the Giants would have been up by nine, rendering the Tennessee score meaningless.
''There are a lot of factors,'' Fassel conceded. ''You do it late in a game, not early in a game, because you never know how the numbers are going to tumble.''
In his case, the numbers tumbled him out of contention.
ANOTHER 2: With his team trailing the Bucs 2-0, New Orleans' Jim Haslett went for the 2-point conversion and missed after his team's first TD in the second quarter. It was the Saints' 10th 2-point try of the season, an NFL record.
The Saints won 23-20, so it didn't matter.
But until they converted a late first down, they were only a Tampa Bay field goal away from overtime. If they'd kicked the first time, they'd have led by four and the Bucs would have had to score a touchdown.
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