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Patriots give up home-field advantage with loss; Pittsburgh earns trip to playoffs

By Milt Northrop

NEWS SPORTS REPORTER

Unless there’s an upset, the road to Santa Clara and Super Bowl 50 in the AFC will not go through Foxborough, Mass., as planned.

Denver claimed the No. 1 seed in the AFC by pulling out a 27-20 victory over the lowly San Diego Chargers at home after the New England Patriots were upset on the road by the Miami Dolphins, 20-10.

The pressure was on Denver in its late afternoon game. If the Broncos were upset it would have given the AFC West division championship to streaking Kansas City and would have dropped the Broncos from No. 1 to the No. 6 seed in the AFC playoffs. That would have meant a road game at Houston instead of a week off to await the outcome of the Wild Card weekend games Saturday and Sunday. Denver and New England will have the first-round byes in the AFC.

Pittsburgh, of course, gained the No. 5 seed by winning at Cleveland while the New York Jets were losing to the Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

Houston wrapped up the AFC South. The Texans would have won the division with their 30-9 victory at home over Jacksonville, but before that game was officially over, Houston backed into the division crown via a complicated tie-breaker decided by the New Orleans Saints victory over the Falcons in Atlanta.

In NFC, the final seedings were set when Minnesota defeated the Packers in Green Bay, to win the NFC North and grab the No. 3 seed, dropping the Packers to No. 6.

A capsule look at Sunday’s Week 17 NFL games:

Game of the day

Broncos 27, Chargers 20

The scoop: Ronnie Hillman ran 23 yards for the winning touchdown with 4:44 left, one play after a 22-yard interception return by Shiloh Keo of the Broncos. San Diego had taken a 20-17 lead early in the fourth quarter on an 80-yard pass from Philip Rivers to rookie Tyrell Williams. Denver tied it on a 35-yard Brendan McManus field goal with 9:45 left.

Why the Broncos won: Big plays. Besides the Hillman run and the Keo interception, they scored on a 72-yard pass from Brock Osweiler to DeMaryius Thomas.

Playoff bound Vikings 20, Packers 13

The scoop: Captain Munnerlyn of the Vikings returned a fumble by Aaron Rodgers 55 yards for what proved to be the winning touchdown as Minnesota captured the NFC North title and the No. 3 seed in the NFC playoffs. Minnesota sealed the victory when Xavier Rhodes intercepted Rodgers’ fourth-and-goal pass in the end zone with 2:18 left.

Why the Vikings won: They sacked Rodgers four times and never let him get comfortable in the pocket.

Dolphins 20, Patriots 10

The scoop: New England, which never led in the game, scored its only touchdown on a 2-yard run by Stephen Jackson to tie the game at 10 early in the third quarter, then never crossed midfield again. Ryan Tannehill passed for both Miami touchdowns. Rookie Devante Parker caught one from 15 yards and his 46-yard reception set up a 2-yard TD pass to Jordan Cameron for the other.

Why the Dolphins won: The Patriots had only 126 passing yards and converted only 4 of 14 third downs.

Bengals 24, Ravens 16

The scoop: Cincinnati trailed after three Ravens’ field goals, then scored touchdowns on three straight possessions in the middle of the game. AJ McCarron passed for two scores and Jeremy Hill ran 38 yards for the other.

Why the Bengals won: They were outgained but had no turnovers while Baltimore had two.

Steelers 28, Browns 12

The scoop: Ben Roethlisberger passed for 349 yards and all three Pittsburgh touchdowns. Cleveland had four field goals but no touchdowns. The Browns (3-13) finished with their worst season since they also went 3-13 in 2000. It cost coach Mike Pettine his job.

Why the Steelers won: The Browns were still in it until they turned the ball over three straight times in the fourth quarter.

Texans 30, Jaguars 9

The scoop: Brian Hoyer returned for Houston and passed for 249 yards and one touchdown in the victory which gave the Texans the AFC South title. JJ Watt led the Texans’ defense with three sacks, two passes deflected, a forced fumble and recovery and a team-high eight tackles.

Why the Texans won: Blake Bortles was sacked eight times and intercepted twice.

Panthers 38, Buccaneers 10

The scoop: Cam Newton passed for two touchdowns and ran for two as the Panthers completed a 15-1 regular season.

Why the Panthers won: They intercepted Jameis Winston twice and held the Bucs to 75 yards rushing.

Seahawks 36, Cardinals 6

The scoop: Russell Wilson passed for three touchdowns as Seattle dominated its division rival right from the start. The Seahawks scored on their first five possessions. One field goal was set up by an interception. Another followed a 66-yard punt return by rookie Tyler Lockett.

Why the Seahawks won: Arizona moved the ball for only two of its seven first-half series.

Chiefs 23, Raiders 17

The scoop: Kansas City never trailed although Oakland stayed within two scores all the way. KC stopped a final Raiders series in the last 1:34.

Why the Chiefs won: Alex Smith was intercepted twice, only his sixth and seventh all season, but Kansas City punched out 189 rushing yards including 61 by Smith.

Running for the bus

Colts 30, Titans 24

The scoop: Ryan Lindley came off the bench and directed the Colts’ 2-minute offense at the end of the first half for the go-ahead touchdown, an 18-yard pass to Andre Johnson. Tennessee wrapped up the first pick in the NFL College Draft.

Why the Colts won: Besides their turnover, the Titans had five three-and-out series.

Lions 24, Bears 20

The scoop: Matthew Stafford passed for all three Detroit touchdowns and had no turnovers while the Lions picked off three Jay Cutler passes including one in the end zone. The Lions went 6-2 the second half of the season but that may not be enough to save head coach Jim Caldwell.

Why the Lions won: They had touchdown drives of 77, 72 and 80 yards.

Eagles 35, Giants 30

The scoop: The Giants were driving for a score that could have given them a 34-21 lead. Then Eli Manning fumbled and cornerback Walter Thurmond returned it 83 yards for an Eagles touchdown and a 28-27 lead. DeMarco Murray of the Eagles ran 54 yards for the first touchdown of the game and Sam Bradford passed for two TDs. Manning threw three TDs, none to Odell Beckham Jr.

Why the Eagles won: The Giants ‘ 502 yards of total offense, was not enough to offset a weak defense.

49ers 19, Rams 16 (OT)

The scoop: Phil Dawson kicked his fourth field goal of the game with 3:27 left in overtime to win it but the victory did not save the job of first-year head coach Jim Tomsula, who was fired after the game.

Why the 49ers won: They shut out the Rams for the last 45:33.

Saints 20, Falcons 17

The scoop: The only scoring in the second half came on two field goals by Kai Forbath of the Saints, including 30-yard game-winner on the final playafter Jamarca Sanford intercepted a Matt Ryan pass.

Why the Saints won: Atlanta had two turnovers and punted twice in its four second-half possession.

Dog of the day

Redskins 34, Cowboys 23

The scoop: Washington owned a 24-0 lead by the time the game was 21 minutes and 44 seconds old then survived a Dallas comeback. Kirk Cousins passed for the first three Redskins touchdowns.

Why the Redskins won: They got the early jump, then sat back giving up 512 yards to Kellen Moore and the Cowboys.

News wire services contributed to this report. email: mnorthrop@buffnews.com