Sunday’s Week 16 games in the National Football League settled a lot but much of the postseason puzzle remained unsolved.
The four AFC division champions (New England, Cincinnati, Indianapolis and Denver) and one wild-card slot (Kansas City) are set, but there’s a doozy of a battle for the final playoff spot. Baltimore, San Diego and Miami all could end up with 9-7 records after next week. In that case, Miami would have the tiebreaker edge based on conference record.
In the NFC, no division champion had been crowned yet. Chicago could have clinched the NFC North but lost at Philadelphia Sunday night. Philadelphia’s game at Dallas next Sunday will decide the NFC East, and Green Bay’s game at Chicago will settle the NFC North race. Carolina and Seattle lead the other divisions but haven’t clinched, although both are in the playoffs for sure.
The odd team out in the final NFC wild-card race will be a double-digit winner. Either New Orleans (10-5), San Francisco (10-4) or Arizona (10-5) will not make it.
Game of the day
Cardinals 17, Seahawks 10
The scoop: Carson Palmer threw a 31-yard touchdown to Michael Floyd with 2:13 left, keeping Arizona’s playoff hopes alive and quieting the loud-mouth Seattle fans by ending the Seahawks’ 14-game home win streak. The Seahawks still can clinch the NFC West with a win over St. Louis next Sunday.
Why the Cardinals won: Russell Wilson of the Seahawks completed only 11 of 17 passes for 108 yards.
Count them in
Panthers 17, Saints 13
The scoop: Cam Newton threw a 14-yard touchdown pass to Domenik Hixon with 23 seconds left to lift the Panthers their first playoff berth since 2008. Carolina can wrap up the NFC South and first-round bye with a win next Sunday at Atlanta. The Panthers intercepted Drew Brees twice and sacked him six times. After being held to 116 yards passing for the game’s first 59 minutes, Newton led the Panthers 65 yards in 32 seconds for the winning score..
Why the Panthers won: Between the Carolina defense and the rain that was torrential at times, the Saints managed only one touchdown drive.
Colts 23, Chiefs 7
The scoop: Andrew Luck threw for 241 yards and a touchdown in a potential preview of an AFC wild-card game. Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith fumbled once and was picked off.
Why the Colts won: Both Indianapolis touchdowns came after Kansas City turnovers.
Broncos 37, Texans 13
The scoop: Peyton Manning again owns the NFL record for touchdown passes in a season and Denver owns the AFC West title. Manning regained his record with 51 when he threw for 400 yards and four touchdowns, including three in the fourth quarter. He surpassed the 50 TDs by Tom Brady in 2007 and the Broncos extended Houston’s franchise-record skid to 13 games. Manning had previously established the record by throwing 49 touchdown passes in 2004.
Why the Broncos won: Houston trailed only 16-13 before Matt Schaub threw an interception that touched off a three-TD barrage by Denver.
Patriots 41, Ravens 7
The scoop: Before the game began the Patriots knew they had wrapped up their fifth straight division title thanks to the Bills’ 19-0 win over Miami. New England then went out and thrashed the defending Super Bowl champions. Logan Ryan had two interceptions, LeGarrette Blount scored twice and the Patriots breezed. The final score made it look even easier than it was because New England scored touchdowns on two returns in the final 1:59.
Why the Patriots won: They actually were outgained but Baltimore lost the turnover battle, 0-4.
Bengals 42, Vikings 14
The scoop: Vincent Rey returned an interception 25 yards for a touchdown, and Andy Dalton threw four touchdown passes. Cincinnati clinched an unprecedented third straight playoff appearance when Miami lost at Buffalo.
Why the Bengals won: The Vikings did not gain a first down the entire second quarter .
On the waiting list
Cowboys 24, Redskins 23
The scoop: Tony Romo passed 10 yards to DeMarco Murray on fourth-and-goal with 1:08 left to give Dallas the victory. Romo rallied the Cowboys from a nine-point, fourth-quarter deficit. Pierre Garcon (11 catches, 144 yards) broke Art Monk’s single-season franchise reception record.
Why the Cowboys won: They yielded a lot of yards but holding the Redskins to two first-half field goals, one after Washington had reached the 4-yard line, proved to be the difference
Chargers 26, Raiders 13
The scoop: San Diego is still in the AFC wild-card hunt. The Chargers have won their last three. Philip Rivers threw a go-ahead, 4-yard touchdown pass to rookie Keenan Allen with 5 minutes left in the third quarter. The Chargers also got help from Buffalo’s win over Miami. San Diego must beat Kansas City at home next Sunday and have Miami and Baltimore both lose against the New York Jets and Cincinnati, respectively.
Why the Chargers won: They dominated the two middle periods on the scoreboard and possession time.
Steelers 38, Packers 31
The scoop: Le’Veon Bell scored a 1-yard touchdown with 1:28 left and Pittsburgh withstood Green Bay’s last throw into the end zone on the final play in dealing the Packers’ playoff hopes a blow. Bell scored five plays after scrambling Packers quarterback Matt Flynn fumbled while being tackled by Troy Polamalu. The Steelers recovered at the Green Bay 17. Pittsburgh was eliminated from the playoff race by San Diego’s win, however.
Why the Steelers won: Cortez Allen’s 40-yard interception return for a TD turned out to be decisive in an otherwise even game.
Eagles 54, Bears 11
The scoop: Nick Foles threw two TD passes in the third quarter as the EAgles took a 24-0 first-half lead and rolled past Chicago.
Why the Eagles won: They had to travel only 43 and 39 yards for two early touchdowns after Chicago miscues.
Don’t call us, we’ll …
Giants 23, Lions 20 (OT)
The scoop: Josh Brown’s 45-yard field goal on the third drive of overtime eliminated Detroit from postseason contention. Detroit coach Jim Schwartz chose to play for overtime by running out the clock with 23 seconds and two timeouts left from the Detroit 25.
Why the Giants won: Their offense did little in the second half but they got seven points on an interception return by Will Hill with 4:57 left in the game to tie the game at 20.
Rams 23, Buccaneers 13
The scoop: NFL sack leader Robert Quinn got three of St. Louis’ seven sacks, giving him a franchise record 18 for the season. He broke Kevin Carter’s franchise record of 17 set in 1999.
Why the Rams won: The Bucs managed just 170 total yards.
Jets 24, Browns 13
The scoop: Rookie Geno Smith threw two touchdown passes to former Buffalo Bill David Nelson, ran for another score and had no turnovers or sacks. Jason Campbell was intercepted twice as the Browns lost their sixth straight.
Why the Jets won: Cleveland scored just one touchdown in four trips to the Red Zone. New York converted 12 of 18 third downs.
Dog of the day
Titans 20, Jaguars 16
The scoop: Nate Washington scored on a 30-yard pass from Ryan Fitzpatrick and Tennessee got a much-needed defensive stop late to end a three-game losing streak. Tennessee overcame a 10-point deficit in the second half and won for just the third time since September.
Why the Titans won: They outscored the Jags, 14-3, in the second half with Fitzpatrick directing touchdown drives of 80 and 73 yards.
News wire services contributed to this report.