Two weeks ago, when the Eagles' season had dissolved into a technicality, Andy Reid refused to abandon the game plan and treat the remaining games as if they were exhibitions. The integrity of the NFL, Reid said, was too important.

There are several teams this weekend that wished every coach felt the same way.

As the regular season comes to a close, there are five teams fighting for the two remaining playoff spots, one in the NFC and one in the AFC.

In the NFC, if the Washington Redskins beat the Dallas Cowboys, they will make their second postseason appearance in the last three years, while Minnesota and New Orleans will be out. In the AFC, if the Tennessee Titans beat the Indianapolis Colts, they will be in for the first time since 2003, and Cleveland will stay home - again.

The thing for the Vikings, Saints and Browns is this: The Redskins and Titans are playing opponents that are already in the playoffs, have already secured their playoff seed, and will rest their stars for at least part of the game.

Essentially, the Redskins and Titans will be participating in play-in games against opponents who will treat the event like an exhibition.

That's good news for the Redskins and Titans, and very bad news for the Vikings, Saints and Browns.

The integrity of the game? At this point for the front-runners, the playoffs take precedent. That's just the way it is.

"When you have to depend on other people, it's not a good feeling," Colts coach Tony Dungy told reporters in Indianapolis on Thursday.

Dungy has been there before, in need of other teams' assistance to make the playoffs, just like the Browns, who can smash San Francisco today and still not see it matter unless the Titans lose.

"It was in 1998," Dungy said, recalling his days with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. "We needed to win in Cincinnati, and we needed someone else to beat the Arizona Cardinals. We won our game, and we're flying home and we're about 40 minutes from Tampa, and we heard that Arizona kicked a field goal in overtime to win it. And that knocked us out of the playoffs. Our thought at that point was we had a lot of opportunities - we had eight other opportunities - to win some games that year and we didn't, so you really can't blame anybody but yourself."

True enough.

While the playoff intrigue will dominate the weekend, here are a few other things to watch as the regular season comes to a close:

The return of 88. The Browns have to hope that Marvin Harrison will return to the Colts' lineup today after missing the last nine games, and 10 overall, with a knee injury. Harrison, who has just 20 catches for 247 yards this season, practiced on Thursday, and Dungy has said that if Harrison can go, he'll likely keep Peyton Manning in the game a little bit longer so Manning and Harrison can work on their timing.

When the doctors say "he can come back and will have no further or greater risk of injury, then that's when he'll be back," Dungy said. "Now, when we get to the playoffs and the games mean a little bit more, he may be able to play with the same condition that he hasn't been able to play with during the regular season."

Ride 'em, Cowboy. The Redskins, who have won three straight games to move into playoff position, likely will get a break today. Terrell Owens will rest his high ankle sprain, and Tony Romo likely won't play much. Washington lost the first matchup by five points on Nov. 18, in Dallas.

Divisional dominance. The AFC South will finish the season with the league's best record. With intra-division games on tap today, the AFC South will end the year 42-22. The next most successful division is the NFC East, which entered Week 17 with a 38-22 record and can finish no better than 41-23.

The AFC as a whole is widely considered the more dominant conference, but consider this: Heading into the final weekend, five teams in the AFC had 4-11 records or worse, seven teams had winning records, and five teams had at least 10 wins; only two NFC teams had records worse than 5-10, seven teams were north of .500, and four teams had at least 10 wins. A big discrepancy? Not at all.

36 West. Brian Westbrook needs 2 yards - any kind of yards - to set the Eagles' franchise record for yards from scrimmage. He sits at 2,005. Westbrook also needs four catches to join Roger Craig, LaDainian Tomlinson and Steven Jackson as the only players in NFL history with 2,000 yards from scrimmage and 90 receptions. With three catches, Westbrook will set the Eagles' record for most receptions in a season with 89.

Run, baby, run. Speaking of Westbrook, he enters the final weekend of season trailing only San Diego's Tomlinson and Minnesota's Adrian Peterson in rushing yards. Tomlinson has 1,418 rushing yards, followed by Peterson with 1,305 and Westbrook with 1,291. Last weekend, the Redskins used eight and nine men in the box to limit Peterson to just 27 yards on nine carries.

Saints' march. Thanks to the Eagles last week, the Saints need to see the Redskins and the Vikings lose today to return to the playoffs. It's been a disappointing season for New Orleans, which was gunning for the Super Bowl after losing to Chicago in last year's NFC title game.

But 0-4 out of the gate didn't help that pursuit. Drew Brees leads the league with 405 completions and needs only 14 to set an NFL record, but it's likely going to be a wasted effort.

Contact staff writer Ashley Fox
at 215-854-5064 or afox@phillynews.com.