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Cowboys, Redskins clinch playoff spots; other clubs on the verge

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With three weeks remaining in the regular season, the National Football League playoff picture is beginning to take shape. Two of the six division races are all but decided, with the Los Angeles Raiders on the verge of clinching the AFC West and Miami in command in the AFC East. The Raiders (10-3) can make it official with a Thursday night win over San Diego, while the Dolphins (9-4) can assure themselves of either a tie or an outright title depending upon the outcome of weekend games.

Things are closer in the other four races, but it's still pretty clear in most cases which teams are likely to be in the playoffs.

The AFC Central, for instance, has turned into a dogfight between the Pittsburgh Steelers, who lost to the Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving, and the Cleveland Browns, who have won four of their last five games including Sunday's 41-23 conquest of the Baltimore Colts. Only one game now separates Pittsburgh and Cleveland, with one of them certain to win the division title and the other in the driver's seat for a wild card spot.

Dallas and Washington, the NFL's two winningest clubs with 11-2 records, have yet to settle their annual NFC East duel, but both already have clinched playoff berths, the first NFL clubs to do so.

The Cowboys beat the St. Louis Cardinals on Thanksgiving Day to seal at least a wild card spot. Meanwhile the defending Super Bowl champion Redskins achieved the same playoff status via a close 28-24 win against the Philadelphia Eagles, who have now lost seven games in a row and scored only 196 points in 13 games, the second worst offensive output in the NFL behind Tampa Bay.

It was another big afternoon for the Redskins' John Riggins, with TDs No. 20 and 21 setting an NFL record for most touchdowns rushing in a single season.


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