NFL playoff picture 2014: Patriots, Broncos, and Colts clinch divisions
The AFC East and AFC South were decided Sunday.
The New England Patriots were pushed a bit harder than expected by their division rivals, but they were never in danger of losing control of the AFC East. The Patriots came into Sunday needing just a win or a tie against the Miami Dolphins, and they’d clinch the division and a playoff spot. What they got was a dominant performance against the Dolphins, effectively eliminating their rivals from the wildcard race while they were at it. Elsewhere, the Buffalo Bills knocked off the NFC North-leading Green Bay Packers. For the second straight week, they held an MVP quarterback without a touchdown pass. Though the odds are long, the Bills are still alive in the wildcard hunt.
The Kansas City Chiefs exacted revenge on the Oakland Raiders for their Week 12 defeat on Thursday Night Football. Alex Smith had a strong day, throwing for nearly 300 yards and two scores. The 31-13 win pushes the Chiefs to 8-6 and keeps them alive in the playoff hunt. In San Diego, the Denver Broncos jumped up on the Chargers 22-10. Peyton Manning left the game briefly with a thigh injury, but returned to lead Denver to 13 points in the second half. With the win, the Broncos clinch the AFC West.
The AFC North is the most competitive division in football, and on Sunday, the Cincinnati Bengals managed to hold on to their very narrow lead in the division. They came into Sunday at 8-4-1, just a half game up on both the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens. They also led the Cleveland Browns, who were still in it at 7-6. But now the Browns are out of the discussion, and the Bengals are still on top after a dominant victory. Right on their heels are the Steelers. They escaped Atlanta with a 27-20 win over the Falcons. Likewise, the Ravens topped the Jacksonville Jaguars 20-12. Both Pittsburgh and Baltimore stay within a half game of the division lead and remain alive in the wildcard race.
The Indianapolis Colts have been in control of the AFC South all season, and now they’ve locked up the division. Andrew Luck and the Colts came into Sunday’s game against the Houston Texans up two games in the division, and with a win over their rivals, they clinched the division win and essentially eliminated Houston from playoff contention.
Control for the NFC East could be determined Sunday night as the Dallas Cowboys take on the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. The Eagles won the first game between the teams on Thanksgiving in impressive fashion, scoring 33 points in Jerry World. Tony Romo is healthier now than he was in the first matchup, so a better game could be in the cards.
The Arizona Cardinals are still on top in the NFC West, thanks to a win over the St. Louis Rams on Thursday Night Football. The Cardinals are now one of the first teams to clinch a playoff spot, thanks to Thursday’s win and the result of the Sunday night game between the Cowboys and Eagles. Arizona only needed that game to end in something other than a tie to seal a playoff berth. In Seattle, the Seahawks knocked off the San Francisco 49ers for the second time this season. The win sets up a potential division-deciding showdown with the Cardinals next week. As for the 49ers, their loss coupled with the Lions’ victory over the Vikings eliminates them from playoff contention.
The Green Bay Packers’ hopes of earning a playoff bye took a major hit Sunday. Their offense completely disappeared against the stout Buffalo Bills defense. Green Bay receivers dropped passes on nearly every drive, including a likely 94-yard touchdown pass late in the second half. Just as surprising, Aaron Rodgers nearly doubled his interception total for the season, tossing two. As for the Lions, they escaped with a 16-14 win over division rival Minnesota Sunday. The Vikings, who once led 14-0, gave up 10 points off of turnovers and missed three of field goals including a 68-yard attempt with one second left in the game. With the win, Detroit moves into first place in the division.
All eyes are now on the New Orleans Saints, who will take on the Chicago Bears on Monday Night Football. Going into Sunday, the Saints and the Atlanta Falcons were tied for the NFC South lead at 5-8, with the Carolina Panthers trailing at 4-8-1. In Charlotte, an ugly but competitive game broke out between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Panthers. The lead changed five times before Carolina emerged with a 19-17 victory. Though the odds are long, the Panthers could still win the division. Over in Atlanta, the Falcons were handed another loss. The Steelers and a banner day for Ben Roethlisberger put up 27 points, enough to outscore the Julio Jones-less Atlanta offense. However, with a game remaining against the Saints, the outcome is mostly meaningless to the Falcons.