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Week 16 Rewind: NFL playoff picture comes into focus

The lineup of playoff teams is nearly complete, but the postseason pairings are still up in the air after Sunday’s Week 16 games in the National Football League.

In the AFC, New England, Indianapolis and Denver are headed for the playoffs with division titles in tow. Either Pittsburgh or Cincinnati will win the NFC North. The Steelers have one of the AFC wild-card bids clinched. Cincinnati, San Diego, Kansas City and Baltimore are alive for the other.

Dallas is the only division champion set in the NFC, but Seattle clinched a playoff spot and took a big step toward winning the NFC West by defeating Arizona and tying the Cardinals for first in the division. Seattle owns the tiebreaker advantage with a head-to-head sweep of Arizona. The winner of next week’s Detroit-at-Green Bay in the NFC North and Carolina-at-Atlanta in the South will determine those division winners. Arizona already had clinched a playoff spot before this weekend’s games and Green Bay clinched a spot on Sunday.

Game of the day

Seahawks 35, Cardinals 6

The scoop: Seattle gave up the game’s first score, then took firm command. The Seahawks outgained the Cardinals, 596-216, as Russell Wilson passed for 339 yards and two touchdowns and Marshawn Lynch broke away for a 79-yard TD run. The margin would have been even larger had Steven Hauschka not missed field goal tries from 50, 52 and 47 yards.

Why the Seahawks won: Third-string quarterback Ryan Lindley of the Cardinals was no threat to the league’s No. 1 overall defense and pass defense.

Playoff bound

Steelers 20, Chiefs 12

The scoop: Ben Roethlisberger passed for 220 yards and a touchdown and Pittsburgh locked up a postseason berth in methodical fashion. Antonio Brown caught seven passes and a touchdown for Pittsburgh. Kansas City’s Alex Smith passed for a season-high 311 yards but was sacked six times. The Steelers (10-5) will face Cincinnati next week for the AFC North title. The Chiefs (8-7) need to beat San Diego next Sunday and receive plenty of help to make it to the playoffs.

Why the Steelers won: They wouldn’t let the Chiefs finish drives with touchdowns. Kansas City was 0 for 4 in the red zone and 0 for 2 in goal-to-go situations.

Cowboys 42, Colts 7

The scoop: Dallas ended a four-year playoff drought in a dominating victory with Tony Romo throwing four touchdown passes and breaking Troy Aikman’s franchise record for yards passing.

Why the Cowboys won: They scored touchdowns on their first four possessions. The Colts had little to play for and looked it while barely avoiding their first shutout loss in 21 years.

Patriots 17, Jets 16

The scoop: Jonas Gray scored the go-ahead touchdown on a 1-yard run early in the fourth quarter after the Patriots intercepted Geno Smith, and New England clinched a first-round playoff bye. Tom Brady threw a 3-yard TD pass to Rob Gronkowski for the Patriots (12-3), who could earn home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs if Denver loses at Cincinnati on Monday night.

Nick Folk’s 52-yard field goal attempt could have given New York a lead with just over five minutes left, but it appeared to be partially blocked and fell short. Brady and the Patriots then ran out the clock.

Why the Patriots won: They allowed four sacks and did not have a gain longer than 17 yards (a run) but did just enough things right to win.

Lions 20, Bears 14

The scoop: Joique Bell scored the go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter, and Ndamukong Suh had two sacks for Detroit, which had wrapped up at least a wild-card playoff berth the night before when Philadelphia lost. Calvin Johnson added six catches for 103 yards for Detroit.

Why the Lions won: They found their offensive effectiveness in the second half, scoring on three of four possessions – there was a blocked field goal try on the fourth – and ran off the last 1:56 after intercepting a Jimmy Clausen pass.

On the bubble

Falcons 30, Saints 14

The scoop: Matt Ryan completed 30 of 40 passes for 322 yards and a touchdown. The Saints committed three turnovers in the fourth quarter in losing their fifth straight at home and were eliminated from playoff consideration. The game ended on an 86-yard fumble return by Osi Umenyiora of the Falcons.

Why the Falcons won: They held New Orleans to 57 yards rushing and sacked Drew Brees five times.

Panthers 17, Browns 13

The scoop: Cam Newton threw for one touchdown and ran for another as Carolina (6-8-1) took sole possession of first place in the NFC South, setting up the winner-take-all showdown next Sunday at Atlanta.

Why the Panthers won: They wouldn’t let the Browns put together any sustained drives. Cleveland had only eight first downs, just two in the first half, and had the ball for only 21:57.

Texans 25, Ravens 13

The scoop: Running back Arian Foster took a pitch from quarterback Case Keenum and with a defender in his face, threw a 5-yard touchdown pass to C.J. Fiedorowicz for Houston’s only touchdown and a 16-0 lead in the second quarter. The rest of the Houston points came on Randy Bullock’s franchise-record six field goals. The Ravens (9-6) need help next week to get into the postseason. Keenum got his first win in nine NFL starts.

Why the Texans won: J.J. Watt again led a defense which overwhelmed Baltimore. Watt had seven tackles, including one sack, three tackles for loss and four hits on the quarterback.

Off the bubble

Dolphins 37, Vikings 35

The scoop: Dolphins owner Stephen Ross announced in the locker room after the game that Joe Philbin will return as coach next season. Ross was excited because Miami won after overcoming an early 14-0 deficit. The Dolphins fell behind again before tying the game on Ryan Tannehill’s fourth touchdown pass of the day with 1:11 to go. They won when rookie Terrence Fede blocked a punt for a safety in the final minute. Philbin’s job had been considered in jeopardy because the Dolphins will miss the playoffs for the sixth year in a row.

Why the Dolphins won: Punting from their 11-yard line in the final minute of regulation in a tie game, the Vikings weren’t able to successfully get the kick off.

Giants 37, Rams 27

The scoop: Odell Beckham Jr. caught two touchdown passes and rolled up 148 yards receiving against a defense that hadn’t allowed a TD in three straight games, leading New York over St. Louis. Beckham set a franchise rookie record with his 10th and 11th TD catches, shattered another rookie mark for receptions and topped 1,000 yards while shrugging off a pair of late hits in the second quarter. The second led to a brawl and three ejections, none of them to starters.

Why the Giants won: They had a season-best 514 yards in total offense.

Dog of the day

Packers 20, Bucs 3

The scoop: Green Bay held Tampa Bay to 109 yards, the lowest team output in the NFL this season, and Aaron Rodgers threw for 318 yards and one touchdown.

Why the Packers won: Tampa Bay had only six first downs. Green Bay had seven sacks, two each by Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers.

News wire services contributed to this report.


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