American Football: Dallas aim to extend dynasty: The battle for a place in Super Bowl XXVIII hots up in the land of the Giants

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The Independent Online
ON THE final weekend of the NFL regular season, four teams are still in the hunt for the two remaining playoff berths up for grabs. The Minnesota Vikings, with a Jim McMahon-inspired 14-9 victory at Washington on Friday night, claimed the final wild-card spot in the National Conference, while in the American Conference the Miami Dolphins, the New York Jets, the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Los Angeles Raiders all nurture hopes of extending their season.

But the most eagerly anticipated contest today will be at New Jersey's Meadowlands Stadium between two teams who have already made sure of their playoff places, the New York Giants and last season's Super Bowl winners, the Dallas Cowboys.

Both with serious designs on Super Bowl XXVIII, they go head-to-head for the NFC East title, the winner ensuring a bye in next weekend's first round of play-off matches. Dallas have won their past three meetings, including a 31-9 victory earlier this season, and despite losing the first two games of the campaign, the Cowboys are favourites to win back-to-back championships.

There is an equally climactic finish in the NFC Central, where the Detroit Lions, who hope to have the prodigious running back Barry Sanders back after injury, play host to the Green Bay Packers in a match to decide the divisional championship. It is the first time since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970 that two divisional titles have been decided by winner-take-all contests on the final weekend of the regular season. San Francisco have already secured the NFC West championship.

Matters are more complicated in the AFC, where Buffalo (losers of the past three Super Bowls), Houston (the league's in-form team with 10 successive victories) and Joe Montana's Kansas City have won their respective divisions. Denver already have a wild- card place, and the New York Jets, who looked on course for the playoffs before losing three times in the past four weeks, can still qualify, but they need to beat Houston while Miami must lose at New England. The other teams still in the wild- card hunt, Pittsburgh and Los Angeles, have tough matches against Cleveland and Denver respectively.

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