The New Orleans Saints' playoff possibilities are slim but not gone - and a victory over the Dallas Cowboys tonight would certainly brighten those hopes.

"We're not out of it," Saints coach Jim Mora said. "We're 6-8 and it's not likely, but don't rule us out until we're dead. We won't."Staying alive past Monday night, Mora acknowledges, will take an outstanding effort, even for a team that has come alive over the past six weeks. After all, the Cowboys are the two-time defending Super Bowl champions and are 11-3 this season, having clinched the NFC East title.

The Saints have won four of their last seven games, including the last two. It's the first time in 25 games they've managed to put together consecutive victories. Mora said after each that his team played its best overall game of the season.

Dallas, coming off a 19-14 upset by Cleveland, has lost only two games in December since 1991 and needs a victory to clinch a first-round bye in the playoffs and the home-field edge in a divisional game. Dallas trails San Francisco by 11/2 games for the homefield advantage throughout the playoffs.

"Not that they need incentive," quarterback Jim Everett said. "Dallas is a team that carries its incentive around with it. I'm sure they will want a win to put that loss behind them though and get on a roll for the playoffs."

The Cowboys have the No. 6 offense in the NFL, No. 5 in rushing thanks to Emmitt Smith's 1,410 yards, who is second in the league. Smith is first in the NFL with 21 touchdowns - three short of tying the league single-season record of 24, set by Washington running back John Riggins in 1983.

"Emmitt is better than I thought he was when I came here," Dallas coach Barry Switzer said. "Because I did not realize - until you get to see him in practice - his lateral quickness. I thought he was a guy that just ran north and south and broke tackles and ran through people because of his great leg strength."

Smith also has six 100-yard games this season despite teams keying on him.

"It's tough running against teams that are geared up to stop the run," Smith said.