EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) -The New York Giants are in a class by themselves in the NFC.
They are not nearly as good as the Dallas Cowboys and the Green Bay Packers, both 9-1 and the only teams to beat them. They are, though, third best in a conference where only six of the 16 teams are playing above .500.
With six games left in the regular season, and barring a collapse by any of the top three, the Giants (7-3) appear a lock for a wild-card spot and a third straight playoff berth.
``We have to play to try to stay there and work our way into the playoffs and get another shot at those upper-tier teams that we have already played,'' defensive tackle Barry Cofield said. ``We have so much to play for, so much still on our plate, and so much still to be excited about. There is no time to mope.''
The playoffs are certainly there for taking. Of the six opponents left on New York's schedule, only the undefeated Patriots have a winning record. That game won't be played until the final weekend of the season.
``We know we are a good football team,'' defensive tackle Fred Robbins said. ``We know we have three losses; we just have to keep moving on. We can't get high on ourselves. We have to go out and perform. This is crunch time, where teams are making their push and we have to do the same thing.''
Here's where things stand in the NFC heading into crunch time:
-Dallas had a two-game lead in the East over the Giants.
-Green Bay is three up on Detroit in the North.
-Tampa Bay (6-4) has a two-game lead in the South.
-Seattle is one up on Arizona in the West.
New York leads Detroit (6-4) in the race for the top wild card, and it has the tiebreaker should the teams finish with the same record after beating the Lions last Sunday.
Tom Coughlin's team also has a two-game lead over Philadelphia, Washington and Arizona (all 5-5) and a three-game edge on the 4-6 crowd - New Orleans, Carolina, Minnesota and Chicago - in the wild-card race.
While it all sounds nice, middle linebacker Antonio Pierce thinks the Giants have a shot at catching the Cowboys. That would be tough because Dallas swept the season series and has the tiebreaker if they finish tied.
``We're not quitting or giving up on that,'' Pierce said. ``Hopefully, at the end of the season it goes our way.''
The Cowboys' toughest game will come a week after Thanksgiving, when they play the Packers on a Thursday night in Dallas. The winner probably will have home-field advantage on the postseason road to the Super Bowl.
No one is surprised that Tony Romo, Terrell Owens and the Cowboys are in the mix. They certainly have the talent and could have gone deeper in the playoffs last year had Romo not muffed a snap on a potential winning field goal attempt against Seattle.
The same can't be said for Brett Favre and the Pack, who were coming off an 8-8 season. Even Favre admits Green Bay has exceeded expectations, noting the team has gained confidence by winning when it doesn't play its best.
``From here on out, we have to play our best football and we have to approach every game that way,'' he said. ``We have to play our best football. New England may not have to approach games that way and still get away with it. They're going to say that, but they could probably get by making a lot of mistakes.
``There was a time in my career where we were so good that we could screw around,'' Favre said. ``We were down 10-0 to Carolina in a championship game here, no big deal. We can't afford to do that right now. Play them one game and one play at a time and see what happens.''
That's the approach Coughlin has taken every week. Nothing has changed with the Minnesota Vikings on tap Sunday.
It will be interesting to see how New York performs. It collapsed down the stretch last year after being hit by a string of injuries. Now is the first time this season it is facing multiple injuries among its starters.
Linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka broke his left leg against the Lions and the status of halfback Brandon Jacobs is uncertain because of a hamstring injury.
``We are excited and looking forward,'' said Coughlin, whose team has won seven of its last eight games. ``As I said, one game at a time, but very much aware of the fact that we have played 10 and we have a six-game schedule.''
After Minnesota, New York finishes with games at Chicago, at Philadelphia, Washington, at Buffalo and New England.
``Obviously we have lost to two good teams, and we are playing well and on a roll,'' quarterback Eli Manning said. ``We've beaten all the teams we're supposed to beat. That's the way it goes. We've got to beat the teams we are supposed to beat and play all them tough.''
If the Giants do that, maybe they will catch Dallas.
``They're not going to go away,'' Cowboys defensive end Chris Canty said. ``I've seen the history of the New York football Giants are not going to go away, they are not. That's not their coach's mentality, that's not who they are players-wise.''
Giants offensive tackle David Diehl agrees.
``Teams sneak up, teams come on strong to put themselves in great position for the postseason,'' he said. ``We still have high expectations.''
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AP Sports Writers Chris Jenkins in Green Bay and Stephen Hawkins in Dallas contributed to this story.

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