(Reuters) - The National Football League (NFL) regular season is poised for wild finish on Sunday with five teams scrambling for two playoff spots and others looking for an edge as they prepare to launch their Super Bowl bids.
Much of the drama will center around the NFC East where the Washington Redskins (9-6), Dallas Cowboys (8-7) and New York Giants (8-7) will stage a battle royale for the division crown with a ticket to the post-season going to the survivor.
The key match-up comes in the final game of the regular season, a primetime showdown between the Redskins and Cowboys in the U.S. capital. The Giants are home to Philadelphia.
There will also be plenty at stake in the NFC North with the Minnesota Vikings (9-6) and Chicago Bears (9-6) trying to lockup a wild-card spot and the division leading Green Bay Packers (11-4) looking to clinch the NFC’s number two seed and a first-round bye.
The NFL record book could look very different on Monday as the Vikings’ Adrian Peterson makes a final run at the single- season rushing record while the Detroit Lions’ Calvin Johnson bids to become the first receiver to post a 2,000-yard campaign and Houston Texans defensive tackle J.J. Watt, Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller and San Francisco 49ers defensive end Aldon Smith look to take down the single season sack record.
Peterson needs 208 yards to eclipse Eric Dickerson’s rushing record of 2,105 yards set in 1984 but the Vikings’ focus will be on beating the Packers and clinching an NFC wild-card spot.
Chicago closes out the campaign with a trip to the Motor City where they must combine a win over the Lions (4-11), losers of seven straight with a Vikings’ loss to move on.
The Bears must find a way to shut down Johnson, who smashed Jerry Rice’s single-season receiving record last week against the Atlanta Falcons. Megatron, as Johnson is known to fans, needs just 108 yards to go where no receiver has gone and become the first to reach the 2,000-yard plateau.
The final playoff spot is not likely to be awarded until the mouth-watering winner-take-all Redskins and Cowboys game.
While the Cowboys’ only path to the post-season requires a victory, the Redskins could scrape into the playoffs with a loss if the Bears and Vikings also lose their finales.
The situation is much bleaker for the slumping Giants, who will need plenty of help to advance.
The defending Super Bowl champions have lost five of their last seven and must defeat Philadelphia and hope Dallas, Chicago and Minnesota all lose.
The Redskins-Cowboys meeting already is one of the NFL’s most storied rivalries even without what is at stake on Sunday.
“For guys like myself and the other rookies, we are fresh into this rivalry but we can definitely sense how the fans feel, how the guys who have been here for many years feel about the Cowboys and that’s the mindset we have to take on,” said quarterback Robert Griffin III, who returned to the field last week to lead the Redskins to victory over Philadelphia after sitting out a week with a sprained knee.
“It is the biggest stage but none of us are looking at it that way,” Griffin told reporters. “It’s another game we have to go out and win and that’s the way we look at it.”
While Sunday’s game will be a new experience for Griffin it is familiar territory for Dallas quarterback Tony Romo and many of the Cowboys, who found themselves in the exact same position a year ago needing a win over the New York Giants in their finale to get to the playoffs.
The Cowboys fell 31-14 and headed home while the Giants rode the momentum all the way to a Super Bowl title.
With a Redskins’ victory, Griffin can join two other NFL rookie of the year candidates in the playoffs. Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck and the Seattle Seahawks’ Russell Wilson have already guided their teams to post-season berths.
Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto