Here is the NFL's playoff checklist:
New England Patriots, in as AFC East champions;
Denver Broncos, in as AFC West winners;
Indianapolis Colts, in as AFC South champs;
Arizona Cardinals, in as NFC representative.
Those were the postseason manifestations of Sunday's on-field action — although the Cardinals didn't even play. The week's action began with the NFC West leader's 12-6 victory at St. Louis (6-8) on Thursday night, and when Dallas beat Philadelphia 38-27 on Sunday night, the Cardinals owned at least a wild card.
Monday's game has New Orleans (5-8, but in position to lead the NFC South) at Chicago (5-8).
Patriots 41, Dolphins 13
New England clinched the AFC East title for the sixth straight season, with Tom Brady throwing two touchdown passes in a big third quarter.
Leading 14-13 at halftime, the Patriots scored on four consecutive series while piling up 24 points, the most in any third period in team history.
New England (11-3, but now 7-0 at home) can secure home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs by beating the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills.
"It's good to go in there and finish them off like we did," Brady said.
Miami (7-7) saw its slim postseason hopes dwindle further.
"It'll probably take a miracle to get into the playoffs," Dolphins wide receiver Mike Wallace said.
Broncos 22, Chargers 10
At San Diego, the Broncos took a fourth successive division crown even though Peyton Manning played through a thigh injury and flu-like symptoms.
Connor Barth kicked five field goals, and Denver's 12th straight division road win tied San Francisco's NFL record set from 1987-90.
Manning came out of the game late in the second quarter. He returned for the start of the third and threw a 28-yard touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas to give the Broncos a 16-3 lead.
"We were unsure at halftime to be honest with you, until Peyton made the cavalry entrance there at the start of the third quarter," coach John Fox said. "I think it's a tribute to the kind of toughness Peyton has and the kind of competitor he is that he got up and did a tremendous job in those conditions."
The Broncos (11-3) won their fourth straight game.
The Chargers (8-6) have lost two straight.
Colts 17, Texans 10
At Indianapolis, Andrew Luck threw two touchdown passes and Indianapolis won its second straight AFC South title. The Colts (10-4) have won four games in a row.
Luck was 18 of 34 for 187 yards and one interception on the same day Reggie Wayne passed Peyton Manning for the most games and wins in franchise history. Wayne has played in 209 games, winning 142.
"This never gets old. This feeling never gets old," Wayne said, referring to the division title as he downplayed the milestones. "At training camp we made some goals. Taking care of the division was our first goal so we were able to check that one off."
Houston (7-7) lost starting quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick to a left leg injury in the second quarter. Rookie Tom Savage replaced Fitzpatrick and was ineffective, going 10 of 19 for 127 yards.
Cowboys 38, Eagles 27
At Philadelphia, Dez Bryant had a career-best three touchdown receptions.
DeMarco Murray had a pair of TD runs to help the Cowboys (10-4) move ahead of the Eagles (9-5) into first place in the NFC East. The Eagles dominated the Cowboys in a 33-10 road win on Thanksgiving, but Dallas seized control of the division with two weeks left.
The Cowboys jumped to a 21-0 lead early in the second quarter before Philadelphia rallied. Chris Polk had TD runs of 1 and 5 yards, and Darren Sproles ran in from the 1 to give the Eagles a 24-21 lead late in third quarter. But Tony Romo and the Cowboys answered quickly with two touchdowns in a span of 2:51.
Bengals 30, Browns 0
At Cleveland, the debut of Johnny Football was a monumental flop.
Rookie QB Johnny Manziel failed to live up to the overwhelming buildup surrounding his debut as the AFC North-leading Bengals (9-4-1) built a 20-point halftime lead and rolled to their fourth straight road win. Bengals rookie Jeremy Hill rushed for 148 yards and two touchdowns.
The Bengals got their first shutout since Dec. 21, 2008, in Cleveland.
Manziel, promoted over the slumping Brian Hoyer to spark the Browns (7-7), finished 10 of 18 for 80 yards and two interceptions. He was sacked three times, and had Bengals players imitating his signature "money-rubbing" gesture more than once.
"It was tough," Manziel said. "I need to be better. It's tough to come out and there and lay an egg like that and I put that on me. I'm not using the rookie excuse. It's not me. I needed to play better."
Bills 31, Packers 13
Bacarri Rambo intercepted two Aaron Rodgers passes and Marcus Thigpen scored on a 75-yard punt return.
Defensive end Mario Williams also forced Rodgers to fumble, which led to running back Eddie Lacy being tackled in the end zone for a safety with 1:51 left. Dan Carpenter hit all three of his field goal attempts, including a 51-yarder in the second half, to help keep host Buffalo (8-6) in the AFC playoff picture.
The Packers (10-4) had won five in a row. Rodgers finished 17 of 42 for 185 yards with two interceptions.
Seahawks 17, 49ers 7
At Seattle, Marshawn Lynch rushed for 91 yards and a touchdown, Russell Wilson threw a touchdown pass to rookie Paul Richardson, and the Seahawks knocked rival San Francisco from playoff contention.
After a sluggish, sloppy first half, Seattle (10-4) awoke in the final 30 minutes behind the running of Lynch and a defense that shut down the 49ers. Colin Kaepernick was sacked six times and the 49ers didn't run a play past the Seattle 38 in the second half.
The loss and Detroit's win eliminated San Francisco (7-7) from contention.
Lions 16, Vikings 14
At Detroit, Matt Prater's 33-yard field goal with 3:38 remaining lifted the Lions into a tie for first place in the NFC North with the Packers.
The Lions (10-4) didn't have an easy time, spotting the Vikings (6-8) a 14-0 lead before a pair of second-quarter interceptions helped the Lions start their rally.
Even at the end, Detroit had to sweat out a 68-yard field goal attempt by Minnesota's Blair Walsh on the game's final play. The kick was short.
Steelers 27, Falcons 20
At Atlanta, Ben Roethlisberger threw for 360 yards and William Gay returned an interception for a touchdown. The Steelers (9-5) remained a half-game behind Cincinnati in the AFC North with their second straight win.
The Falcons (5-9) ensured themselves of a losing season but will win the NFC South by sweeping their final two games, against New Orleans and Carolina.
Pittsburgh led 13-0 after Gay picked off Matt Ryan's pass over the middle on the first play of the second quarter, returning it 52 yards. The Steelers extended the lead to 27-13 with Le'Veon Bell's 1-yard run in the opening minute of the fourth period.
Ravens 20, Jaguars 12
At Baltimore, the Ravens sacked rookie Blake Bortles eight times and returned a blocked punt for a touchdown.
Baltimore (9-5) scored just once with its offense on the field. But the defense was solid, and special teams helped the Ravens stay in the thick of the AFC playoff chase.
Terrell Suggs was credited with 2 1/2 sacks and rookie Timmy Jernigan, starting for the suspended Haloti Ngata, had two.
Jacksonville (2-12) failed to earn its first win on the road.
Panthers 19, Buccaneers 17
Derek Anderson threw for 277 yards and a touchdown, Graham Gano kicked four field goals and the Panthers moved to 5-8-1, percentage points atop the weak NFC South.
Anderson was 25 of 40 and improved to 2-0 as a starter in place of Cam Newton, sidelined while recovering from a car accident Tuesday that left him with two fractures in his lower back.
Greg Olsen tied a career high with 10 catches for 110 yards, and rookie Kelvin Benjamin had eight grabs for 104 yards.
Josh McCown threw a touchdown pass and ran for another for the visiting Bucs (2-12).
Chiefs 31, Raiders 13
At Kansas City, Alex Smith threw for 297 yards and two scores. Knile Davis had touchdowns running and receiving, and De'Anthony Thomas returned a punt 81 yards for another score as the Chiefs (8-6) got even for a 24-20 loss to Oakland (2-12) last month.
The Chiefs led 10-6 early in the third quarter before scoring three touchdowns in 4 minutes, 42 seconds. The last was a 70-yard throw from Smith to Davis, who had taken over the majority of running back duties after Jamaal Charles took a shot to the head.
Charles passed concussion testing and returned briefly to the game.
Giants 24, Redskins 13
Eli Manning threw three touchdown passes to rookie Odell Beckham Jr. and the host Giants took advantage of an overturned touchdown at the end of the half.
Manning and Beckham connected 12 times for 143 yards, with touchdown passes covering 10, 35 and 6 yards. The win was the second straight for the Giants (5-9) after seven consecutive losses.
The Redskins (3-11) blew a touchdown and command of the game on a fumble by Robert Griffin III as time expired at the end of the first half. Griffin scrambled for an apparent 8-yard touchdown and a 17-7 lead, diving over the pylon, and then running on to the field and spiking the ball with emphasis.
A video review by referee Jeff Triplette determined that Griffin lost control of the ball diving over the pylon and the play was ruled a touchback.
The call incensed veteran receiver Santana Moss so much that he bumped an official while arguing and was ejected. Instead of a 10-point lead, the Redskins led 10-7.
Jets 16, Titans 11
At Nashville, Chris Ivory scored on a 1-yard run with 3:09 left in a game marked by a brawl between two of the NFL's worst teams.
The Jets (3-11) got their first road win in the first NFL game to end with a 16-11 score. They also snapped a three-game skid.
Geno Smith threw for 179 yards and a TD. He also was apparently hit by Titans defensive tackle Jurrell Casey, starting a brawl in the third quarter. Casey was flagged, but not ejected.
The Titans (2-12) have lost eight straight and 11 of 12 in their worst skid since 1994 when their home was in Houston.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP_NFL
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Posted on Mon, December 15, 2014
by The Associated Press