AFC West

Storylines to watch during NFL’s championship week

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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — The New England Patriots got a break by not having to face Ben Roethlisberger during their regular-season win over the Steelers in October.

The Patriots’ coaching staff is expecting to get his best this time around with a trip to the Super Bowl at stake.

The 27-16 home loss to New England was the only game the Steelers’ 34-year-old quarterback missed due to injury this season.

He was away less than a month after undergoing surgery to repair the meniscus in his left knee Oct. 17. He was also among several Pittsburgh players that sat out the regular-season finale against the Browns to rest.

Backup quarterback Landry Jones was serviceable in just his third career start in Roethlisberger’s absence.

The Steelers outgained the Patriots 375-362, but were 1 for 4 in the red zone and Jones finished with only one touchdown and an interception.

Pittsburgh is expecting, and will need a stronger performance from the quarterback position this time around.

Coach Bill Belichick said Monday that Big Ben’s return makes the Steelers’ primary offensive options — running back Le’Veon Bell and receiver Antonio Brown — only that much harder to contend with. Bell rushed for 81 yards in the first meeting and Brown had seven catches for 106 yards.

“They’re a tremendous offense. Kansas City was able to make some plays in the red area, but I mean (the Steelers) could’ve easily been up in the 40s,” Belichick said.

“They do a lot of things well; can run it, can throw it. Brown’s the main guy, but all of the receivers, tight ends, backs, I mean they’re all a problem.”

The Chiefs may have planted the seed for how to keep Roethlisberger out of the end zone, however.

The Steelers were held without a touchdown in Sunday’s 18-16 divisional-round win over Kansas City. They also ranked 12th in the NFL during the regular season in red zone efficiency, scoring a touchdown on 59 percent of the trips inside the 20-yard line. They were 0 for 5 in their trips against Kansas City.

Roethlisberger had 13 touchdowns and only three interceptions in the red zone in 14 regular-season games.

But so far in the playoffs, Big Ben has just two total passing touchdowns and three interceptions.

Still, the Steelers coaching staff’s trust in him to throw the deep ball is something that will be a point of emphasis this week, Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia said.

In particular he said Roethlisberger’s calm in the pocket and his offensive line’s ability to protect him helps him buy time to improvise.

“If those plays can get extended or prolonged, that’s when it becomes really difficult,” Patricia said. “I think Roethlisberger right now (is) very mobile, very healthy, a guy that showed even again (Sunday night) that just a slight bit of movement or a slight bit of ability to maybe evade the rush, or stand in there just a little bit longer gives his guys enough time to get open in those situations.”

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GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — For once after a game, Green Bay Packers kicker Mason Crosby felt sore.

He got mobbed by giddy teammates after hitting the 51-yard field goal as time expired to beat the Dallas Cowboys.

At one point, Crosby had to beg hulking left tackle David Bakhtiari from trying to pick up the kicker for a victory parade.

After getting eliminated from the playoffs on the last play in each of the previous three seasons, the Packers experienced last-second elation in the 34-31 win over Dallas on Sunday.

Green Bay will face the Atlanta Falcons on the road in the NFC championship game on Sunday.

“Usually after a game, I don’t feel beat up,” a smiling Crosby said on Monday. “We play a kid’s game, and those moments like that, just kind of bring that (joy) out of us.”

Crosby’s clutch kick was set up by Aaron Rodgers’ throw , while rolling to his left, to toe-dragging tight end Jared Cook along the sideline for a 36-yard gain. Coach Mike McCarthy on Monday credited Rodgers with making all the right calls on that play.

“It’s one of the greatest plays that you’ll ever see in that … we call it the final eight (plays) situation for us. But yes, the orchestration and the protection call, the route concept, great, great job with it,” McCarthy said.

And with those two plays, the Packers were able to cross “last-second win on the road” off their checklist during what has been a remarkable turnaround for a team that was once 4-6.

Last season, the Arizona Cardinals beat the Packers in overtime 26-21 in the divisional round on Larry Fitzgerald’s 5-yard touchdown catch.

The Packers fell 28-22 to the Seahawks in overtime on Jermaine Kearse’s 35-yard touchdown reception in the NFC title game in Seattle two years ago after blowing a 16-0 lead.

They lost 23-20 in a wild-card game in the 2013 season to the San Francisco 49ers on Phil Dawson’s 33-yard field goal as time expired in regulation.

“We’ve been in that situation before. We’ve got to keep fighting and keep playing until the last second,” tight end Richard Rodgers, who caught a 34-yard touchdown pass against Dallas, said on Sunday.

The Packers have bounced back from the season-ending injury to running back Eddie Lacy in October. They have proven that they can win even without top receiver Jordy Nelson, who missed the Cowboys game with injured ribs. The defense has withstood injuries to the secondary.

“This team’s personality is one of a unique energy. They don’t swing too high, they don’t swing too low,” McCarthy said Monday. “When you go through playoff runs, a lot of teams go through injuries. You have to overcome it. We will.”

McCarthy said it was too early to tell what Nelson might be able to do when practice resumes on Wednesday, though he called it a good sign that Nelson was able to go through a light, “regeneration” workout on Monday.

The typically lighter day probably helped the Packers after returning to Green Bay about a couple of hours late after the game on Sunday because of stormy weather in the Dallas area. Like fans who had attended the game, the Packers’ departure from AT&T Stadium was delayed.

But it was a pretty fun flight back home.

“I wish I had a great story to tell you, but I tried to watch a little bit of the Steelers game (against) the Chiefs, but you know, the TV was kind of going in and out obviously because of the weather,” McCarthy said.

The coaches “mainly worked on the way back. But the players — it sounded like they were having a pretty good time in the back of the plane.”

Note: Morgan Burnett (quad) would do “everything he can” to play against the Falcons, McCarthy said. He left the Cowboys game in the second quarter.

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EVERYONE’S AN INSIDER

One was Antonio Brown filming the postgame scene in the Steelers’ locker room on Facebook Live where coach Mike Tomlin urges his team to “keep a low profile” heading into New England for the AFC title game and another member of the team is heard saying, “Keep cool on social media.”

So much for that notion of laying low: Brown filmed for 17 minutes and the video had nearly 1 million views by the time it was removed from his page Monday morning.

BLUNDERING CHARGERS

The Chargers quickly changed their working logo after widespread panning of the look they unveiled after revealing their move from San Diego to L.A. Changing the color scheme from Dodger blue and white to powder blue and yellow wasn’t enough to halt the mockery, however.

The switch came after the Chargers became the butt of jokes, memes and derision on social media . The NFL tweeted the initial logo Thursday, but later deleted it as the Chargers even got trolled by other pro and college sports teams over the logo that looked like a cross between baseball’s Dodgers and hockey’s Lightning.

CLOSE CALLS

After the first half dozen playoff games were decided by an average of 18.3 points and were all won by the home team, Sunday brought road success and nail-biters as the Cowboys and Steelers advanced.

Alex Smith’s 2-point conversion pass to tight end Demetrius Harris would have tied the Steelers with 2:38 left, but left tackle Eric Fisher was whistled for holding ageless linebacker James Harrison.

Smith’s second pass, from 10 yards back, was batted incomplete and the Steelers ran out the clock to preserve their 18-16 win and keep the Chiefs winless at Arrowhead Stadium in the playoffs since 1994.

Hours after Brown live-streamed the Steelers’ locker room, Harrison posted an Instagram video of his workout just after the Steelers landed back in Pittsburgh.

Now, that’s the kind of post Tomlin won’t mind.

HOLD ON:

In the 90 seconds that he spoke to reporters before the Chiefs’ communications staff cut him off, tight end Travis Kelce ripped into referee Carl Cheffers and his crew after K.C.’s loss. Kelce openly questioned the integrity of the officials and said Cheffers “shouldn’t be able to wear a zebra jersey ever again.”

“He shouldn’t be able to wear it at Foot Locker,” Kelce said, adding a few expletives.

After watching the film, Chiefs coach Andy Reid said Monday he didn’t think a flag should have been thrown, either.

“They normally let you play, is what they do, especially in key situations,” Reid said of the officials.

But he said he didn’t want to harp on the hooking call because the Chiefs made plenty of blunders before that crucial hooking call on Fisher.

Among them was Kelce’s drop of a long pass and cold-cocking a cornerback on the next play.

HOLD ON II:

The Seahawks appeared to be in excellent position to extend a 10-7 lead when Hester returned a punt 80 yards to the Atlanta 7. But a holding call on Atlanta’s LaRoy Reynolds against Kevin Pierre-Louis pushed the Seahawks all the way back to the Seattle 7.

“I was holding” Pierre-Louis acknowledged. “I grabbed him a little bit so he wouldn’t get down to Hester. But the referee was able to see it. It cost us.”

Two plays later, Wilson was tripped by backup right guard Rees Odhiambo and fell in the end zone for a safety and the Falcons seized momentum on their way to a 36-20 win.

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll called the penalty a “ridiculously large play in the game.”

CLASSY MOVES

With 2 minutes to go and the Falcons facing first-and-goal at the Seattle 2, coach Dan Quinn called for Matt Ryan to take a knee instead of piling it on his old team and his old boss.

“It was a very classy way to end the game,” Carroll said.

Same with the Patriots showing Texans defensive tackle Vince Wilfork on the video screen in the waning moments of New England’s 34-16 win over Houston. Wilfork, who played 11 seasons in New England before spending his past two in Houston, has talked about retiring.

Asked if it was a special moment to get a going-away cheer from the Patriots fans, Wilfork said, “It’s never special to lose.”

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NFL Today, Divisional Playoffs

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SCOREBOARD

Sunday, Jan. 22

Green Bay (12-6) at Atlanta (12-5), 3:05 p.m. EST, FOX. Aaron Rodgers will play in his third NFC championship game — all on the road — after leading the Packers past Dallas 34-31 in the divisional round. Green Bay will be looking to earn its sixth Super Bowl berth, and first since Rodgers and the Packers beat Pittsburgh in 2011. Matt Ryan and the Falcons will be standing in their way after advancing to the NFC title game for only the fourth time in their 51-year history with a win over Seattle. Atlanta, playing its final game at the Georgia Dome before moving into the $1.5 billion Mercedes-Benz Stadium next season, will try to get to its second Super Bowl — and first since losing to Denver in 1999.

Pittsburgh (13-5) at New England (15-2), 6:40 p.m. EST, CBS. Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers look for their first trip to the Super Bowl since 2011. The Patriots beat the Steelers 27-16 on Oct. 23, but Pittsburgh played without Roethlisberger, who was out with a knee injury. Tom Brady and the Patriots advanced to their sixth straight conference championship game, the longest streak since the 1970 merger, with a win over Houston. Bill Belichick and Brady are in their 11th conference championship game together, the most by a head coach/starting QB duo since the NFL-AFL merger.

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STARS

Passing

— Aaron Rodgers, Packers, threw for 356 yards and two touchdowns to lead Green Bay into the NFC championship with a 34-31 victory at Dallas.

— Dak Prescott, Cowboys, passed for 302 yards and three TDs — the first rookie QB in the Super Bowl era with that many in a playoff game — in Dallas’ 34-31 loss to Green Bay.

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Rushing

— Le’Veon Bell, Steelers, broke his own franchise playoff record by running for 170 yards on 30 carries as Pittsburgh advanced to the AFC title game for the first time since the 2010 season with an 18-16 win at Kansas City.

— Ty Montgomery, Packers, ran for two touchdowns in Green Bay’s 34-31 win at Dallas.

— Ezekiel Elliott, Cowboys, had 125 yards on 22 carries in Dallas’ 34-31 loss to Green Bay.

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Receiving

— Jared Cook, Packers, caught six passes for 104 yards, including a toe-dragging 36-yard grab to set up the winning field goal in Green Bay’s 34-31 victory at Dallas.

— Dez Bryant, Cowboys, had nine catches for 132 yards and two TDs in Dallas’ 34-31 loss to Green Bay.

— Antonio Brown, Steelers, had 108 yards receiving on six catches in Pittsburgh’s 18-16 win at Kansas City.

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Special Teams

— Chris Boswell, Steelers, set an NFL postseason record with six field goals to account for all of Pittsburgh’s points in an 18-16 win at Kansas City.

— Mason Crosby, Packers, kicked a game-winning 51-yard goal a few minutes after booting a 56-yarder in Green Bay’s 34-31 victory over Dallas.

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Defense

— Micah Hyde, Packers, had a sack and an interception in Green Bay’s 34-31 win at Dallas.

— James Harrison, Steelers, had a sack and three tackles for loss to help lead Pittsburgh past Kansas City 18-16.

— Jeff Heath, Cowboys, sacked Aaron Rodgers and also picked him off in Dallas’ 34-31 loss to Green Bay.

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STREAKS & STATS

Green Bay’s 34-31 win over Dallas was the first by a road team after 12 straight home victories in the playoffs dating to last season. The Packers were also the previous road team to win — over Washington in last season’s wild-card round. … The Cowboys almost became the third team in the Super Bowl era to win in the playoffs after trailing by 15 points in the fourth quarter. The first was Dallas in 1972, when “Captain Comeback”, Roger Staubach, rallied the Cowboys for a 30-28 win over San Francisco. Instead, top-seeded Dallas ended up with its fifth straight loss in the divisional round and a 21-year drought in trips to the NFC championship game. … Since 2001, the Patriots and Steelers have combined to win nine AFC titles. … The Steelers became the first team to win a playoff game without a TD since eventual Super Bowl champion Indianapolis in the 2006 AFC divisional round at Baltimore. … The Chiefs have not won a postseason game at Arrowhead Stadium, largely considered one of the toughest venues in the league, since beating the Steelers in January 1994. That was also the last time Kansas City advanced to the AFC title game.

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MILESTONES

With a 34-31 win at Dallas, Mike McCarthy passed Vince Lombardi and Mike Holmgren on Green Bay’s coaching victory list with his 10th postseason victory. … Pittsburgh’s Le’Veon Bell rushed for a team-record 170 yards in an 18-16 win at Kansas City. Combined with the 167 he had in a win over Miami last week, Bell has the most yards rushing by a player in his first two career postseason games.

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KICKIN’ IT

Pittsburgh’s Chris Boswell set an NFL postseason record with six field goals in the Steelers’ 18=16 win at Kansas City. He also joined former Chargers kicker John Carney (1993) as the only players to make six or more field goals in a game twice in the same season. Boswell also had six in Pittsburgh’s 24-20 win at Cincinnati on Dec. 18.

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THROW, CATCH, KICK

Aaron Rodgers threw a 36-yard pass to a toe-dragging Jared Cook on the sideline, and Mason Crosby kicked a 51-yard field goal on the next play as time expired, sending Green Bay to the NFC championship game with its eighth straight win while thwarting a Dallas rally in a 34-31 victory in the divisional round of the playoffs Sunday. The throw on the run from Rodgers to Cook came on third-and-20 with 12 seconds left, and after the Cowboys tied the score twice in the final 4:08 after trailing by 18 in the first half and by 15 to start the fourth quarter.

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TWO BAD

Kansas City appeared to tie the game against Pittsburgh when Alex Smith connected with Demetrius Harris for a 2-point conversion with 2:43 left. But left tackle was called for holding the Steelers’ James Harrison and the play didn’t count. Forced to attempt the conversion again, Smith’s pass to Jeremy Maclin was batted incomplete, allowing Pittsburgh to hold onto its lead — and seal an 18-16 victory.

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WHAT ARE THE ODDS?

Oddsmakers in Las Vegas made the New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons favorites to meet in the Super Bowl. Atlanta is a 4-point favorite to beat Green Bay at home next Sunday, while New England is a 5 1/2-point pick at most sports books to beat Pittsburgh.

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SIDELINED

Green Bay safety Morgan Burnett left the game against Dallas because of quad injury. He apparently got hurt on the opening drive of the game when he collided with teammate LaDarius Gunter when they were both trying to defend a pass thrown toward Dez Bryant.

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SPEAKING

“He shouldn’t be able to wear a zebra jersey ever again. He shouldn’t be able to wear it at Foot Locker.” — Kansas City tight end Travis Kelce on referee Carl Cheffers, who called Chiefs left tackle Eric Fisher for holding to negate a 2-point conversion at the end of an 18-16 loss to Pittsburgh.

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“It’s kind of a blur right now. When we have 35 seconds on the clock and that our offense can move the ball into field goal range and a manageable kick, that’s just special.” — Green Bay’s Mason Crosby, who kicked a 51-yard field goal to lift the Packers over Dallas 34-31 after Aaron Rodgers marched the offense down the field in the closing minute to set up the winning score.

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“I think it’s going to be a showdown. Two great quarterbacks going head to head. Two of the best teams in the AFC. It’s time to settle it next week.” — Pittsburgh running back Le’Veon Bell after the Steelers advanced to the AFC championship game against New England with an 18-16 win at Kansas City.

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NFL Divisional Playoff Roundup: Clutch Rodgers leads Packers past Cowboys 34-31

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ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — Aaron Rodgers didn’t need another Hail Mary this time.

Maybe just call it a “Half Mary.”

Rodgers threw a 36-yard pass to a toe-dragging Jared Cook on the sideline, and Mason Crosby kicked a 51-yard field goal on the next play as time expired, sending the Packers to the NFC championship game with their eighth straight win while thwarting a Dallas rally in a 34-31 victory in the divisional round of the playoffs Sunday.

The throw on the run from Rodgers to Cook came on third-and-20 with 12 seconds left, and after the Cowboys tied the score twice in the final 4:08 after trailing by 18 in the first half and by 15 to start the fourth quarter.

“I love the opportunity to go out there and make plays,” said Rodgers, who threw for two touchdowns to give him 21 during the winning streak, although he threw his first interception during the run.

“I was disappointed we had a chance there at 28-13 to go up three scores and make it really difficult for ’em and I threw a pick there on third down. We were able to come down and have two good drives toward the end of the game.”

Dallas’ rally was led by rookie sensations Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott in their playoff debuts, and the first two career postseason touchdown catches for star receiver Dez Bryant along with the first for 14th-year tight end Jason Witten.

“We’re not going to stop no matter what the score is, no matter the game,” Prescott said. “It shows the true character of this team.”

Crosby’s winner was the third field goal of more than 50 yards in the final 1:33 — two from Crosby and one from Dallas’ Dan Bailey. And Crosby had to make the winner twice after Dallas coach Jason Garrett called timeout before the first attempt.

“It’s kind of a blur right now,” Crosby said. “When we have 35 seconds on the clock and that our offense can move the ball into field goal range and a manageable kick, that’s just special.”

Rodgers, who sparked last week’s wild-card win over the New York Giants with another Hail Mary before halftime, is headed to an MVP showdown with Atlanta’s Matt Ryan next Sunday.

It will be Rodgers’ third NFC title game — all on the road for Green Bay (12-6) — and he got there in his first game at the home of the Cowboys since he won his only title as the Super Bowl MVP six years ago.

Cook, who had six catches for a team-leading 104 yards, kept both feet inbounds with a knee just above the ground out of bounds on the decisive play. The play was confirmed on review.

“I saw him rolling to the right it was underneath coverage in front of me,” Cook said. “If I got over the top of them, Aaron would put the ball in the right place. Put it right on the sideline with enough room to get my feet down. It was a heck of a throw by him.”

Prescott, whose 11-game winning streak during the regular season sent Tony Romo to the bench when he returned from a preseason back injury, rallied the Cowboys in a way that probably made Dallas’ 10-year starter proud.

The Cowboys (13-4) almost became the third team in the Super Bowl era to win in the playoffs after trailing by 15 in the fourth. The first was Dallas in 1972, when “Captain Comeback”, Roger Staubach, rallied the Cowboys in San Francisco.

Instead, top-seeded Dallas ended up with its fifth straight loss in the divisional round and a 21-year drought in trips to the NFC championship game.

In the same position nine years ago, the Cowboys lost to the New York Giants, the biggest disappointment of Romo’s tenure.

“I thought we were a team that was capable of taking this thing all the way,” owner and general manager Jerry Jones said. “I know we are now after that second half.”

Prescott — a fourth-round pick who was supposed to be the No. 3 quarterback before injuries changed everything — got Dallas’ rally going with a 40-yard touchdown toss in the first half to Bryant, the first playoff TD for the star receiver.

Then he set the stage for the first tying score on a 6-yarder to Jason Witten to get within 28-20.

After a 7-yard scoring pass to Bryant — who had nine catches for 132 yards — Prescott ran in the tying 2-point conversion with 4:08 to go.

Rodgers led the Packers to a go-ahead 56-yard field goal from Crosby with a big boost on a pass interference penalty against rookie Anthony Brown that wiped out an interception from Jeff Heath, whose pick earlier in the game helped Dallas rally.

The Cowboys answered with a 52-yarder from Bailey with 35 seconds remaining.

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Pittsburgh Steelers kicker Chris Boswell (9) celebrates with teammates after kicking a 22-yard field goal during the first half of an NFL divisional playoff football game against the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday, Jan. 15, 2017, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

STEELERS 18, CHIEFS 16

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Chris Boswell’s pinpoint right leg and Le’Veon Bell’s two dancing feet.

They do call it football, after all.

Indeed, Bell spent much of Sunday watching the film “Happy Feet.”

“I wasn’t nervous about the game,” Bell said. “I don’t watch ESPN or NFL Live, because I know they’ll talk about the game. I don’t necessarily want to think about the game.

“I watch stuff like ‘Happy Feet.'”

Who needs to reach the end zone when you have Bell chewing up yards and the clock, and Boswell setting an NFL playoff record with six field goals? Throw in a stingy Pittsburgh defense for most of Sunday night, and a multitude of mistakes by Kansas City, and the Steelers’ 18-16 victory sent them into the AFC championship game.

The Steelers (13-5) needed to hold off a last-ditch threat by the Chiefs (12-5) before advancing to face New England next Sunday night for a spot in the Super Bowl. The Patriots won at Pittsburgh 27-16, but Ben Roethlisberger was injured and didn’t play.

“I think it’s going to be a showdown,” Bell said. “Two great quarterbacks going head to head. Two of the best teams in the AFC. It’s time to settle it next week.”

Since 2001, the Patriots and Steelers have combined to win nine AFC titles.

Spencer Ware’s 1-yard touchdown run took Kansas City within 18-16. The Chiefs at first converted the 2-pointer to tie it, but tackle Eric Fisher — the first overall selection in the 2013 draft — was penalized for holding. The next try failed.

With 2:43 remaining, Justin Gilbert misplayed the kick return and was tackled at the Pittsburgh 5. Roethlisberger hit Antonio Brown for 7 yards on third down and Pittsburgh then ran out the clock, securing a ninth straight victory for the Steelers. The Chiefs have not won a home playoff game since 1994, losing five in a row.

“I feel like we left a lot of plays on the field that we should have made,” linebacker Justin Houston said. “We didn’t; it’s the playoffs, every play counts.”

The scoring started furiously in the opening minutes, then the game became a kicking exhibition by Boswell, who also had six field goals in the regular season against Cincinnati. And Bell put on a virtuoso running performance, patiently finding holes and then exploding through them. He added a team-record 170 yards rushing to the 167 he had in a win over Miami last week.

“The coaches put a lot of trust in me to get the job done,” Bell said of his 30 carries. “Just run hard. Just picked my spots where I could and run hard.”

The Steelers became the first team to win a playoff game without a TD since eventual Super Bowl champion Indianapolis in the 2006 AFC divisional round at Baltimore.

Using a no-huddle attack almost to perfection early on, the Steelers drove deep into Kansas City territory. But they bogged down inside the 5 and Boswell made a 22-yard field goal.

The Chiefs were just as efficient on a six-play march capped by receiver Albert Wilson lining up in the backfield, then slipping uncovered into the end zone for a 5-yard score.

Pittsburgh’s answer came on a 52-yard heave to All-Pro Brown, who somehow was covered by Houston. That led to Boswell’s second field goal, a 38-yarder. He added a 36-yarder to cap a 14-play drive on which Pittsburgh again barely huddled.

A clean game up until then turned to, well, turnovers, on successive series. Bud Dupree pounded Alex Smith, whose pass shot high into the air and was caught by linebacker Ryan Shazier.

The Steelers got to the Kansas City 5, where Frank Zombo leaped to deflect Roethlisberger’s throw, and All-Pro safety Eric Berry — burned for 26 yards on the previously play — picked it off in the end zone.

Boswell’s fourth field goal, from 45 yards, made it 12-7 at the half. His 43-yarder, setting the franchise record for a postseason game and tying the league mark of five, came on Pittsburgh’s first series of the second half. A 43-yarder midway in the fourth quarter gave Boswell the NFL record.

“It’s just about doing my job,” Boswell said. “Coming out here, put it through the yellow pipes. Don’t really think too much. Don’t think like I’m the guy or anything. I’m just doing my job and doing my one-eleventh for the team.”

Kansas City’s Cairo Santos got in on the kicking act with a 48-yarder to make it 15-10. At that point, 10 seconds from the end of the third quarter, the Chiefs were outgained 333 yards to 150.

NFL divisional playoff matchups: Can Matt Ryan, Falcons exploit Seahawks?

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NEW YORK (AP) — The divisional round of the NFL playoffs has a familiar feel.

All four of the matchups this weekend are rematches of regular-season games from this season. And Saturday’s games feature coaches going against their former teams.

Atlanta coach Dan Quinn spent four seasons with Seattle, including the 2013 and ’14 seasons as the team’s defensive coordinator.

The Seahawks advanced to the Super Bowl in both seasons, including winning it to cap the 2013 season. Quinn got the better of Pete Carroll and the Seahawks with a 26-24 win at CenturyLink Field in Week 6.

And, Houston’s Bill O’Brien was on Bill Belichick’s staff in Foxborough from 2007-11. O’Brien is looking for a better result on Saturday night after his Texans were dominated 27-0 in September.

The Steelers and Packers both enter Sunday’s games as two of the hottest teams in the NFL. Pittsburgh will enter its matchup at Kansas City on an eight-game winning streak. The Steelers routed the Chiefs 43-14 in Week 4.

And Green Bay will travel to Dallas on a seven-game surge as it tries to knock off the top-seeded Cowboys and get even for a 30-16 loss at Lambeau Field in Week 6.

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Seattle (11-5-1) at Atlanta (11-5), Saturday at 4:35 p.m. EST (Fox)

This will be the second postseason meeting between the teams. Both were in the divisional playoffs, and both at the Georgia Dome.

Four years ago, Seattle fell behind 20-0 before Russell Wilson led his team on three fourth-quarter touchdown drives to take a 28-27 lead with 31 seconds left. However, the Falcons completed two long pass plays and Matt Bryant kicked a 49-yard field goal in a 30-28 win.

“It’s one of those games,” Carroll said Tuesday of the loss in January 2013. “It’s one of those games you store away, but it doesn’t have anything to do with what’s going on now.”

That game was a rare postseason loss for Wilson, who is 8-3 in his career in the playoffs.

Atlanta has lost five of its past six playoff games. An Atlanta loss would end the Falcons’ 25-year stay in the Georgia Dome. Mercedes-Benz Stadium is scheduled to open next season.

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Houston (10-7) at New England (14-2), Saturday at 8:15 p.m. (CBS)

The Patriots are more than a two-touchdown favorite. And with good reason.

New England has won seven of the eight meetings overall. The Patriots are 4-0 at Foxborough against Houston, outscoring the Texans a combined 150-49. And that includes a 27-0 rout in Week 3 with Jacoby Brissett was at quarterback because Tom Brady was serving his four-game suspension.

Brady has 22 playoff wins, the most in NFL history. Brady is also the NFL postseason leader in completions (738), attempts (1,183), passing yards (7,957) and touchdown passes (56).

And Belichick has 23 postseason wins, most all time.

Houston’s best hope is for defensive end Jadeveon Clowney to get consistent pressure on Brady. The No. 1 pick in the 2014 draft was a big reason why the Texans dominated the Raiders in the wild-card round. He had an acrobatic interception to set up a touchdown in the 27-14 win.

“That kind of boosts us up a little (like), OK we gonna show them,” Clowney said earlier this week of being a big underdog.

“One of the mentalities this week going into this game is we’re the underdogs, always been underdogs all season — let’s go out there and prove to them why we’re here in this second round now.”

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Green Bay (11-6) at Dallas (13-3), Sunday at 4:40 p.m. (Fox)

This is the eighth postseason meeting between the teams, which includes such memorable matchups as the “Ice Bowl” in 1967.

And the Packers and Cowboys are tied with the Giants for the most playoff appearances at 32.

Packers coach Mike McCarthy has nine playoff wins, tied with Vince Lombardi and Mike Holmgren for the most in club history.

The Cowboys, who have four straight losses in the divisional round, are looking for their first NFC championship game appearance since the 1995 season.

Dak Prescott will be the first rookie QB to start a playoff game for Cowboys.

Since winning the Super Bowl after the 2010 season, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has not won back-to-back playoff games.

Packers receiver Jordy Nelson, who had an NFL-high 14 touchdown catches in the regular season, will miss the game because of injured ribs.

“We’re a different offense, though,” Rodgers said earlier in the week about his team’s offensive options.

“We’re doing a lot of different things than we were last year, a lot of things better. I think our offensive line is playing better. Our scheme has advanced, and we’re getting more contributions from the tight end at this point.

“Davante (Adams) is a legit receiver in this league, and obviously Randall Cobb, who is established as well,” he said.

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Pittsburgh (12-5) at Kansas City (12-4), Sunday at 8:20 p.m. (NBC)

The game was moved from 1:05 to prime time because of a potential ice storm due to hit the Kansas City area this weekend.

The Steelers beat the Dolphins 30-12 in the wild-card round for their NFL-record 35th postseason win.

Ben Roethlisberger had five touchdown passes in Pittsburgh’s previous meeting against the Chiefs.

“They are a very aggressive defense,” Roethlisberger said. “We were able to utilize some of that the first time we played them. But like I said, we throw that out the window. They may be more conservative. They may just play their game.”

The previous time the Chiefs hosted a playoff game was in January 2011. Their coach for that game was Todd Haley, now the Steelers’ offensive coordinator.

The Chiefs have lost four straight home playoff games, three in the divisional round.

The Chiefs beat the Steelers 27-24 in the wild-card round on Jan. 8, 1994. Joe Montana was the quarterback for the Chiefs, who have not won a home playoff game since.

In fact, the Chiefs have only won two playoff games at home in their history, even though they were a founding member of the old AFL. The other came against the then-Los Angeles Raiders in 1991, also in the wild-card round.

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NFL’s divisional playoff teams: Anyone scared of that spread in Foxborough?

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(PhatzRadio Sports / USA Today / AP)   —   NFL power rankings heading into this weekend’s divisional playoff round:

Divisional weekend

Saturday, Jan. 14

*Seattle Seahawks at Atlanta Falcons*

Time: 4:35 p.m. ET, TV: (Fox)

Betting line: Seattle favored by 4

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*Houston Texans at New England Patriots*

Time: 8:15 p.m. ET, TV: (CBS)

Betting line: Patriots favored by 16

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Sunday, Jan. 15

*Pittsburgh Steelers at Kansas City Chiefs*

Time:  1:05 p.m. ET, TV: (NBC)

Betting line: Chiefs favored by 1

*Green Bay Packers at Dallas Cowboys*

Time:  4:40 p.m. ET, TV: (Fox)

Betting line: Cowboys favored by 4

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Conference championship weekend

Sunday, Jan. 22

NFC Championship Game – 3:05 p.m. ET, Fox

AFC Championship Game – 6:40 p.m. ET, CBS

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Super Bowl 

Sunday, Feb. 5

Super Bowl LI (NRG Stadium, Houston) – 6:30 p.m. ET, Fox

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When the point spreads came out for the divisional playoff round, the line getting the most attention was for the game at Foxborough, the one projected blowout.

While all four teams coming off byes are favored, the Patriots (14-2) opened as a 13½-point choice against the Texans (10-7). The money started flowing in, and the line moved up to 15½.

The players and coaches have no interest in such things, of course, reasoning that betting lines have no impact on what happens on the field Saturday night.

They are right. Talent makes the difference, and there rarely has been such a mismatch in skill as in this one.

Not that the Texans, fresh off a rout of the injury-wrecked Raiders, will simply forfeit. They recognize the challenge and sound eager to face it.

“You have to make sure that, No. 1, that you do your job,” Texans coach Bill O’Brien said. “That your players understand what their role in the game is and how they’re supposed to perform on every single play.

“They’re going to make their share of plays. I think one of the big things for us is we have to play good, sound, fundamental football. They’re the type of team that if you make too many mistakes, they’re going to bury you.”

Let the romping begin.

New England has won its past four meetings with Houston at Gillette Stadium by a combined 150-49. It’s tempting to pick that score, but we’ll go with the average of those results.

BEST BET: PATRIOTS, 38-12

Pittsburgh (plus 2) at Kansas City, Sunday

That boot being worn by Ben Roethlisberger after Pittsburgh’s win against Miami is very worrisome. But Roethlisberger tends to always show up in the playoffs and perform superbly much of the time.

The Steelers eased past the Chiefs on Oct. 2, but that was in Pittsburgh. Kansas City is better now than it was back then, although so are the Steelers.

If KC can get pressure on Big Ben and somewhat control Antonio Brown, the league’s most dangerous receiver (and non-quarterback), and RB Le’Veon Bell, it can use its relatively conservative offense to its advantage. But will Andy Reid turn the reins loose a bit when the Chiefs have the ball?

A matchup we can’t wait to see is Brown vs. All-Pro cornerback Marcus Peters.

The feeling is that only the Steelers could derail another trip to the Super Bowl for New England. Pro Picks would like to see if Pittsburgh can do that, so …

UPSET SPECIAL: STEELERS, 23-21

Seattle (plus 4½) at Atlanta, Saturday

Experience, coaching and swagger — they all are on the side of the visitors.

Seattle is as accomplished as any NFC playoff team, and many of the key contributors to its recent success remain on the scene: Russell Wilson, Bobby Wagner, Richard Sherman and Doug Baldwin.

Now that Thomas Rawls seems healthy, there’s a running game to complement Wilson, Baldwin and tight end Jimmy Graham.

But this is one of those prove-it games for Atlanta’s All-Pros, quarterback Matt Ryan and wideout Julio Jones. Which opponent to better prove that your offense, and an improving defense, are capable of a long postseason run than against the big kid on the NFC block?

Falcons coach Dan Quinn gets the better of his mentor, Seattle’s Pete Carroll, in a squeaker.

FALCONS, 27-26

Green Bay (plus 4) at Dallas, Sunday

Who isn’t in awe of Aaron Rodgers, the league’s best quarterback over the past two months? Hey, the guy even connects regularly on desperation passes.

The big issue here is the health of Jordy Nelson, who got a helmet to the ribs from the Giants in the wild-card game and was sidelined. It’s not likely he will be on the field Sunday, and even if he is, Nelson probably will be limited.

Still, the Packers will play loose and A-Rod will be dynamic. They figure to do their share of scoring against a Dallas defense that ranked 26th against the pass.

Then again, sensational rookies Zeke Elliott and Dak Prescott, operating behind the best line in the NFL and complemented by Jason Witten and Dez Bryant, also should supply points.

In a shootout …

PACKERS, 37-33

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Last Week: Against spread (1-3). Straight up: (3-1)

Season Totals: Against spread (125-124-8). Straight up: (159-99-2)

Best Bet: 11-7 against spread, 13-5 straight up.

Upset special: 6-11-1 against spread, 6-12 straight up

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NFL Wild Card Roundup: Rodgers works Hail Mary magic, Packers beat Giants 38-13

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GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — Aaron Rodgers, master of the Hail Mary pass, struck again in another big moment.

Rodgers overcame a sluggish start and finished with four touchdown passes, including a momentum-swinging 42-yard heave to Randall Cobb at the end of the second quarter, to lead the Green Bay Packers to a 38-13 win Sunday over the New York Giants in an NFC wild-card game.

The Packers move on to face the Dallas Cowboys in the divisional round next week.

Rodgers was 25 of 40 for 362 yards, continuing a remarkable run of quarterback play that helped the Packers win their final six games of the regular season to take the NFC North. Cobb finished with five receptions for 116 yards and three scores.

For much of the first half, the Giants’ defense flustered the two-time NFL MVP. They got pressure on Rodgers and the secondary blanketed the Packers’ talented receiving corps , and a few boos even rained down from the stands after New York built a 6-0 lead on two field goals by Robbie Gould.

As it turned out, Rodgers was just getting started.

“We hit a Hail Mary. That got us going,” Rodgers said.

Green Bay scored two touchdowns in the final 2:20 of the second quarter, punctuated by another remarkable desperation pass by Rodgers.

With the ball on the Giants 42, Rodgers took the snap with 6 seconds left. He rolled to his right before heaving a throw from about the Packers 47. Cobb somehow got behind three defensive backs near the back of the end zone to haul in the pass, getting both feet down before falling out of bounds.

“They boxed us out better than we played it,” Giants coach Ben McAdoo said. “It was a heck of a throw, heck of a catch.”

The Giants looked stunned, just like how the Detroit Lions and Arizona Cardinals looked last season after Rodgers pulled off similar feats.

“Davante (Adams) made a bunch of plays,” Rodgers said. “And Randall Cobb, who this offense has been missing for a long time. We’re better with 18 on the field and he showed it tonight.”

Rodgers and Cobb weren’t done.

They connected again on a 30-yard touchdown pass late in the third quarter for a 21-13 lead. That score answered a Giants scoring drive that briefly cut the deficit to one.

“Second half we got back to some rhythm throws and I was getting better on my timing, getting the ball out of my hand quickly,” Rodgers said. “No negative-yard plays, the offensive line blocked really well, regardless of the stats.”

A Packers defense ranked 21st in points allowed (24.3) coming into the game limited the production of Odell Beckham Jr., and the Giants’ receiving corps in spite of a battered secondary.

Beckham finished with four catches for 28 yards. Eli Manning was 23 of 44 for 299 yards, including the 41-yard touchdown pass to Tavarres King in the third quarter.

But the Giants were plagued by a series of drops by their receivers .

“It’s a game inches, and we were just inches short on some of these plays, inches away from big plays,” Beckham said.

Rodgers began dissecting the secondary after coach Mike McCarthy had his quarterback roll more outside the pocket, and the Packers started working the middle of the field.

Cobb had a big night after missing the last two games of the regular season with an ankle injury. Adams had eight receptions for 125 yards and a score.

Top receiver Jordy Nelson was knocked out of the game with 11 minutes left in the second quarter with a rib injury.

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STEELERS 30, DOLPHINS 12

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Le’Veon Bell spent the last two Januarys watching helplessly while the Pittsburgh Steelers tried to make a deep postseason run without him. The ever fluid running back made up for lost time Sunday against the Miami Dolphins.

So did Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown, the other members of Pittsburgh’s “Big Three” together in the playoffs for the first time.

Pounding away relentless at a defense that hardly seemed interested in stopping him at frigid Heinz Field, Bell ran for a franchise postseason record 167 yards and two scores . The Steelers overwhelmed the beaten-up and mistake-prone Miami Dolphins 30-12 on Sunday.

“We wanted to go out there and make a statement,” Bell said.

Bell, Brown and Roethlisberger, who wore a walking boot on his right foot afterward, more than wiped away the bitter aftertaste of a 30-15 whipping at the hands of the Dolphins in mid-October. Given a shot at redemption, Pittsburgh didn’t let it go to waste. The Steelers (12-5) led by two touchdowns before the game was 10 minutes old on long touchdown passes from Roethlisberger to Brown. Miami never got closer than 11.

“Le’Veon was beastly,” said Brown, who finished with five receptions for 124 yards and the two scores. “All day, controlling the line of scrimmage, just running guys over and finding a way to put the ball in the end zone. Any time he’s playing like that, we’re going to be a hard team to beat.”

Certainly, at least, teams like the Dolphins (10-7). Given a chance to prove their first playoff berth in eight years wasn’t a fluke despite being outgained and outscored during the regular season, Miami never found a rhythm. The problem wasn’t the single digit wind chill or a vicious hit absorbed by quarterback Matt Moore in the second quarter as much as it was the Steelers.

Pittsburgh sacked Moore five times, forced turnovers on three consecutive possessions in the middle of the game, and never really let the Dolphins up off the deck.

“It’s hard to win when you turn the ball over,” said Moore, completed 29 of 36 passes for 289 yards with a touchdown and an interception. “In the playoffs, you can’t make mistakes and that’s on me.”

Pittsburgh (12-5) ran off its eighth straight victory to set up a visit to AFC West champion Kansas City (12-4) next Sunday. The Steelers rolled by the Chiefs 43-14 on Oct. 2.

“We have to understand the same passion and dedication that we put in this week to beat Miami, that’s how Kansas City is going to try to beat us,” Bell said.

At least Bell will be around for the challenge. He missed the playoffs each of the last two seasons with knee injuries. All he did in his postseason debut was break Hall of Famer Franco Harris’ team mark for yards rushing in a playoff game. Harris ran for 158 yards in a Super Bowl win over Minnesota 42 years ago. Bell reached that total by the end of the third quarter.

The Dolphins tried to hype themselves up by running around in shirt sleeves in the single-digit wind chill during warmups. Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier did them one better, racing around shirtless — as if to send a message that his team is plenty comfortable playing this time of year.

It sure looked like it.

The Steelers scored on their first three possessions, and Miami’s playoff victory drought was well on its way to 17 years and counting. Miami running back Jay Ajayi managed just 33 yards on 16 carries, or 171 yards less than he piled up against Pittsburgh in October.

NFL Today, Wild-Card Playoffs

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SCOREBOARD

Sunday, Jan. 8

Miami (10-6) at Pittsburgh (11-5), 1:05 p.m. EST, CBS. The Dolphins are making their first playoff appearance since 2008 and looking for their first postseason win since the wild-card round in 2000. Matt Moore will play at quarterback in place of the injured Ryan Tannehill for the first postseason start of his 10-year career. The Steelers, meanwhile, are looking to make up for a 30-15 loss to the Dolphins on Oct. 16, when Jay Ajayi ran for 204 yards, the first back to go over 200 yards rushing vs. Pittsburgh in 16 years.

New York Giants (11-5) at Green Bay (10-6), 4:40 p.m. EST, Fox. Giants coach Ben McAdoo was a Packers assistant under Green Bay’s Mike McCarthy from 2006-13, and is the second head coach in franchise history with at least 11 wins in his first year (Dan Reeves, 11 in 1993). New York’s strong secondary will face Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers, who threw 15 TD passes and no interceptions in the Packers’ six-game winning streak to end the regular season.

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STARS

Passing

— Russell Wilson, Seahawks, was 23 of 30 for 224 yards and two touchdowns in Seattle’s 26-6 victory over Detroit in the wild-card round.

— Brock Osweiler, Texans, threw a touchdown pass and ran for another score in Houston’s 27-14 win over Oakland.

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Rushing

— Thomas Rawls, Seahawks, set a franchise postseason record with 161 yards rushing, including a 4-yard touchdown run, in Seattle’s 26-6 win over Detroit in the wild-card round.

— Lamar Miller, Texans, ran for 73 yards and a touchdown on 31 carries to help lead Houston past Oakland 27-14.

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Receiving

— Doug Baldwin, Seahawks, had 11 catches for 104 yards and a TD to help lift Seattle to a 26-6 victory over Detroit.

— DeAndre Hopkins, Texans, caught five passes for 67 yards and a score in Houston’s 27-14 win over Oakland.

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Special Teams

— Nick Novak, Texans, kicked field goals of 50 and 38 yards in Houston’s 27-14 victory over Oakland.

— Matt Prater, Lions, accounted for all of Detroit’s points with field goals of 51 and 53 yards in a losing cause as the Lions fell to Seattle 26-6. He was the first player with multiple 50-yard field goals made in the same playoff game.

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Defense

— Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus, Texans. Clowney had his first career interception, which set up Houston’s first touchdown in the opening quarter of a 27-14 win over Oakland. Mercilus had two sacks for the NFL’s top-ranked defense.

— Cliff Avril, Seahawks, had two sacks in Seattle’s 26-6 victory over Detroit.

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STREAKS & STATS

With a 26-6 loss at Seattle, the Detroit Lions have dropped nine straight postseason games, the longest skid in NFL history. Their last road playoff victory was in 1957 at San Francisco en route to winning the NFL championship. … Seattle has won 10 straight postseason games at home. … Houston’s Lamar Miller had 31 carries — rushing for 73 yards and a TD — and averaged just 2.35 yards in Houston’s 27-14 win over Oakland. According to the NFL, teams are 37-0 in the postseason since 1950 when a player gets 30 or more carries. … Oakland failed to get a first down on its first 11 third-down attempts at Houston. The Raiders finally converted one early in the fourth quarter and finished 2 of 16 on third downs. … Seattle’s Steven Hauschka has missed seven extra points this season, the most in the NFL.

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MILESTONES

With a 26-6 victory over Detroit, Seattle’s Russell Wilson has the most wins by any starting QB in his first five seasons in NFL history, including the playoffs, with 64. He broke a tie with Baltimore’s Joe Flacco. … Thomas Rawls’ 161 yards rushing topped Seattle’s franchise postseason record of 157 by Marshawn Lynch against Green Bay two years ago. … Doug Baldwin has three games of 100 yards receiving or more in the playoffs, a Seahawks postseason record.

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CONNOR COOKED

Oakland’s first trip to the playoffs since the 2002 season, when it went to the Super Bowl, ended with a thud behind the struggles of third-string rookie Connor Cook in a 27-14 loss at Houston. Cook threw for 161 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions after becoming the first quarterback in NFL history to make his first start in a playoff game. That came after MVP contender Derek Carr broke his leg two weeks ago and Matt McGloin injured his shoulder last Sunday. Cook’s performance wasn’t helped by star left tackle Donald Penn missing the game with a knee injury, which ended a streak of 160 straight starts.

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SEAHAWKS’ BALLHAWK

Seattle’s Paul Richardson filled the highlight reel with a trio of catches in the Seahawks’ 26-6 win over Detroit. None was better than his 2-yard touchdown in the second quarter to give Seattle a 7-0 lead. Richardson went horizontal reaching out with his left hand to cradle the pass as he was being interfered with by Tavon Wilson. What wasn’t called on the play was Richardson’s right hand yanking on the facemask of Wilson as he reached to make the catch. Richardson had another one-handed catch in the fourth quarter.

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NOT SO FAST

Houston appeared to have scored a touchdown on a 57-yard punt return by Tyler Ervin late in the third quarter of its 27-14 win over Oakland. But the score was nullified because Whitney Mercilus ran into punter Marquette King on the play. King punted again and it almost turned bad for the Texans when Ervin muffed that one. Luckily for Houston, teammate Eddie Pleasant grabbed the ball after it bounced away from Ervin.

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SIDELINED

Oakland left tackle Donald Penn missed the Raiders’ 27-14 loss at Houston with a knee injury, which ended a streak of 160 straight starts.

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SPEAKING

“I’ve got all the faith in Connor or Matt — any backups we’ve got. But they know, at full strength, ain’t nobody in the league touching us, man. We’re going to take this loss on the chin, and we’re going to come back, for sure.” — Oakland cornerback David Amerson after the Raiders lost 27-14 at Houston. Connor Cook started at quarterback because Matt McGloin had a shoulder injury and starter Derek Carr broke a leg two weeks ago.

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“This felt like old times. This felt great.” — Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman after the Seahawks beat the Lions 26-6 in an NFC wild-card game for their 10th straight playoff victory at home.

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For more NFL coverage: www.pro32.ap.org and http://twitter.com/AP_NFL

NFL wild-card matchups to watch: Can Giants secondary tame Rodgers?

(PhatzRadio Sports / USA Today)   —   When the Oakland Raiders ended Connor Cook’s draft tumble in April, neither the franchise leaders nor the quarterback likely envisioned themselves in their present situation.

A fourth-round pick out of Michigan State, Cook was a depth addition and developmental option for a team already set with Derek Carr as its starter and Matt McGloin as its backup. But after a broken leg ended Carr’s season in Week 16 and McGloin was sidelined by a left shoulder injury in the regular-season finale, Cook now steps in as the first quarterback of the Super Bowl era to make his starting debut in a playoff game, one that ends a 14-year postseason drought for the Raiders.

And the Houston Texans’ top-ranked defense awaits the rookie.

“We’ll do the best we can to prepare him,” Raiders coach Jack Del Rio said in a conference call with reporters upon announcing Cook’s promotion. “The great thing about it is he’s been here, been in our system, mentally been engaged in what we do and how we do it all year.

“There’s only so much you can catch up all at once.”

Cook almost assuredly will be working with a limited version of the offense, but playing the caretaker role might be an adjustment. At Michigan State, he developed a reputation for forcing balls downfield into tight coverage.

The Texans might be counting on him to do just that in Saturday’s wild-card contest.

“I hope we blitz him all game,” Texans defensive end Jadveveon Clowney told reporters this week. “I don’t know, that’s up to the coaches. We just have to put a lot of pressure on him, make him throw some bad balls, force some turnovers and try to get our offense in good field position.”

The Raiders topped the Texans 27-20 earlier in the season in Mexico City, but they needed fourth-quarter rally sparked by Carr. With McGloin and Cook in last week, Oakland sputtered to just 221 yards in a 24-6 loss to the Denver Broncos.

Oakland could ramp up its already screen-heavy attack to ease Cook’s burden while trying to quickly get the ball into the hands of Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree. But leaning on a strong supporting cast might not be so simple against a Texans defense that boasts standouts at every level with Clowney, outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus and cornerback A.J. Bouye. Oakland’s stellar offensive line is also hurting, as left tackle Donald Penn and left guard Kelechi Osemele have both been hampered by knee injuries.

Here are four more matchups that will define wild-card weekend:

Packers receivers vs. Giants secondary

The New York Giants’ “NYPD” secondary handled its first assignment against Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers’ passing game in October, but policing them again could make for a difficult reprisal.

Rodgers threw two interceptions and completed a season-low 51.1% of his passes in Green Bay’s 23-16 win earlier this season. That offense, however, is far removed from the one that ended the season with Rodgers completing 71% of his passes with 15 touchdowns and no interceptions in six straight wins.

The Giants’ secondary might have to hold its coverage longer than usual if Rodgers isn’t corralled by defensive end Olivier Vernon and the pass rush. New York ranked just 23rd in total pass defense, but Pro Bowl selections Janoris Jenkins and Landon Collins highlight a deep group. Tight end Jared Cook looms as a threat for the unit after emerging late in the year.

Seahawks QB Russell Wilson vs. Lions pass rush

While managing high-ankle and knee sprains he suffered in September, Wilson has slogged to career lows in rushing with just 72 carries for 259 yards. That facet of his game may remain on the backburner as he continues to heal, but Saturday could provide an opportunity for a return to form by the Seattle Seahawks star quarterback.

The Detroit Lions have struggled both to pressure opposing quarterbacks and contain them from extending plays. Rodgers took off 10 times for 42 yards in the Packers’ win last week, and Wilson is a bigger threat as an open-field runner. Seattle’s 25th-ranked rushing attack may need him to provide a boost.

Selling out for the rush may not be optimal given Wilson’s evasiveness, but his patience could be problematic, too. The Lions allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete an NFL record 72.7% of their passes, and Wilson could be content to pick apart the defense from the pocket.

Dolphins RB Jay Ajayi vs. Steelers front seven

The Miami Dolphins’ breakout back took the NFL by surprise with his 204-yard, two-touchdown outburst in a 30-15 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers earlier this season. But coach Mike Tomin said this week that game was no “lightning strike,” and Pittsburgh is on alert to prevent another big outing from Ajayi.

The Steelers have reason for confidence after allowing just 64.6 rushing yards per game in the first five wins of its seven-game streak to end the year. Defensive end Stephon Tuitt and nose tackle Javon Hargrave will be counted on to control the line of scrimmage, and the defense may load the box with Ryan Tannehill out and Matt Moore in at quarterback for the Dolphins.

Ajayi’s ability to keep the offense moving and on the field will be all the more important for a Miami team looking to limit an explosive Pittsburgh offense. This will be the first time the Steelers will have Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown all starting together in a playoff game.

Texans LT Duane Brown vs. Raiders DE Khalil Mack

The Houston Texans’ problems with quarterback Brock Osweiler at the helm were evident throughout the season. Now with their once-benched starter returning to his starting role after Tom Savage’s concussion, a jolt is needed for an offense that ranks as the worst of any playoff team.

Protecting Osweiler will be critical after the line allowed eight sacks and 15 quarterback hits in the last two weeks. The clear priority will be stopping Mack, the main force on a sub-par Oakland Raiders defense, from creating havoc up front. The potential defensive player of the year had 11 sacks, though none in the last three games, and five forced fumbles.

If Mack and linebacker Bruce Irvin are unable to generate pressure, Oakland’s defense could be at serious risk. The unit finished with an NFL-low 25 sacks despite the duo’s combined 18, and Del Rio bemoaned the 20 missed tackles in the regular-season finale. The Raiders ranked second with 30 takeaways this season, so a strong pass rush could help force Osweiler into errors for easy scoring opportunities.

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NFL Wild Card Roundup: Lions drop 9th straight in playoffs, fall 26-6 to Seahawks

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SEATTLE (AP) — A season that appeared so promising a month ago ended with an offensive whimper for the Detroit Lions and extended the franchise’s history of playoff futility.

Detroit, which lost its final three regular-season games and has not won a playoff game since the 1991 season, failed to score a touchdown in a mistake-filled 26-6 loss to the Seattle Seahawks on Saturday night in the wild-card round.

“You play against a team like Seattle, you’ve got to seize your opportunities,” Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford said. “They’re a really good defense. We had some opportunities and didn’t come away with any yards, first downs, points or whatever it was. It’s tough to win a game when you play that way.”

The Lions (9-8), whose two-game lead in the NFC North slipped away over the final three games, were unable to muster a consistent attack from the onset against the Seahawks.

Detroit also was penalized seven times for 68 yards, including two major infractions by veteran players that contributed to Seattle scores. The Lions also had several dropped passes in key third-down situations that stalled early possessions.

“Some things are inexplicable,” said Lions coach Jim Caldwell. “Our guys have usually been pretty sharp with catching the ball. We had some drops out there, we lost our poise a couple times. That’s a fact of the matter, and it was a couple of older guys.”

It was the ninth straight postseason loss for the Lions, whose last road playoff victory was in 1957 at San Francisco en route to winning the NFL championship. Detroit’s last playoff win was 38-6 at home over Dallas in the divisional round on Jan. 5, 1992.

Detroit’s first four possessions netted 77 yards, resulting in three punts and a pass on fourth-and-1 from the Seattle 38 that lost two yards, leading to Seattle’s first touchdown.

“It was designed to work, obviously, but they had it covered up and we didn’t get it,” Caldwell said. “But, you’ve got to go for it in that situation, I think, and we just didn’t get it. They did a better job of covering than we did executing.”

The Lions finally got on the board with 25 seconds left in the first half when Matt Prater’s 51-yard field goal capped a seven-play, 42-yard drive to cut the Seahawks’ lead to 10-3.

The Lions, who allowed 42 and 31 points in the previous two losses, forced a punt on the opening possession of the second half.

Detroit took over at its own 4 and marched to the Seattle 35, before Stafford’s pass for Golden Tate on third-and-2 sailed high.

The Lions settled for Prater’s 53-yarder to make it 10-6 with 4:08 left in the third quarter, but Seattle answered with a 10-play, 66-yard drive culminating in Steven Hauschka’s 27-yard field goal to push the lead to 13-6 early in the fourth quarter.

The Lions set an NFL record this season by coming from behind eight times in the fourth quarter to win, but couldn’t rally against the Seahawks defense.

Detroit punted on each of its next two possessions, and Seattle responded with touchdown drives of 82 and 84 yards, leaving old Kezar Stadium in San Francisco as the site of the Lions’ last playoff road win.

“It was 13-6 at one point in time as well, 10-3, 10-6, we’re still right there in it. Those are our kind of games,” Caldwell said. “What they did better, though, is they were able to make some plays, extend drives and get in position and finally stopped kicking field goals and made a couple touchdowns on us. We couldn’t answer. We did not answer, I should say.”

Stafford said he was concerned with this loss, rather than the Lions’ playoff history.

“To me, every team is different. Each year is totally different. How we got here is not like any other year that we’ve had,” Stafford said. “You can say that pretty much about every year. I don’t look at it collectively, I look at individually and we didn’t get it done today, we didn’t get it done this year.”

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Houston Texans defensive end Jadeveon Clowney jumps on Houston Texans tackle Duane Brown as they leave field during the second half of an AFC Wild Card NFL football game Saturday, Jan. 7, 2017, in Houston. The Houston Texans won 27-14. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)

TEXANS 27, RAIDERS 14

HOUSTON (AP) — Brock Osweiler redeemed himself after last month’s benching. Jadeveon Clowney established himself as a postseason force.

And the Houston Texans got their first playoff victory since the 2012 season Saturday against the Oakland Raiders.

Osweiler threw for a touchdown and ran for another to lead the Texans to a 27-14 wild-card playoff win over Oakland. Clowney, erasing any doubts he deserved to be the top pick in the 2014 draft, got his first career interception.

Osweiler, benched on Dec. 18, got his job back this week with Tom Savage out with a concussion, played his best game of the season. It was the first career playoff game for Osweiler, who was benched for Peyton Manning before the postseason last season with Denver, and coach Bill O’Brien said he’ll start again next week. Osweiler finished with 168 yards passing.

“It just goes back to having confidence in my teammates,” Osweiler said. “Believing in what you see and just rip it. Cut it loose and don’t have any hesitation. I trust that my teammates, the skill guys, they’re going to be where they’re supposed to be . and they’re going to make me look good in the end.”

Houston (10-7) and its top-ranked defense, led by Clowney and Whitney Mercilus, bounced back after an embarrassing 30-0 wild-card loss to Kansas City last season to advance to face either the Chiefs or New England in the divisional round next weekend. Clowney was roundly criticized in his first two injury-plagued seasons before starring this year to help make up for the loss of J.J. Watt.

“Those guys picked me No. 1; they (saw) something in me,” Clowney said. “Things didn’t go well earlier in my career, but I’m on the right track now. Things are coming together, I’m healthier. I’m playing good ball and we’re all coming together and playing good defense.”

The Raiders’ first trip to the playoffs since the 2002 season, when they went to the Super Bowl, ended with a thud behind the struggles of third-string rookie Connor Cook. He threw for 161 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions.

“It was his first start, on the road, in a playoff game, against the No. 1-ranked defense. It was a tough draw for him,” coach Jack Del Rio said. “We had hopes that we would be able to do enough around him so he wouldn’t have to do as much.”

He became the first quarterback in NFL history to make his first start in a playoff game after MVP contender Derek Carr broke his leg two weeks ago, and Matt McGloin injured his shoulder on Sunday. His performance wasn’t helped by star left tackle Donald Penn missing the game with a knee injury, which ended a streak of 160 straight starts.

“We missed Donald, he had a great year for us, ” Del Rio said. “Losing a Pro Bowl tackle was a blow.”

Houston led by 13 at halftime and made it 27-7 on a 1-yard run by Osweiler early in the fourth quarter.

The Raiders (12-5) cut the lead when Andre Holmes grabbed an 8-yard touchdown reception on their next possession. Oakland got a stop after that, but Corey Moore intercepted Cook on the next possession.

“I was trying to do too much out there, at times,” Cook said.

Oakland cornerback David Amerson believes things would have been different if not for the team’s injuries.

“I’ve got all the faith in Connor or Matt — any backups we’ve got,” he said. “But they know, at full strength, ain’t nobody in the league touching us, man. We’re going to take this loss on the chin, and we’re going to come back, for sure.”

DeAndre Hopkins had a touchdown reception for the Texans and Lamar Miller gave Houston a 10-0 lead in the first quarter on a TD run one play after Clowney’s interception.

Houston took a 3-0 lead with a 50-yard field goal by Nick Novak with about eight minutes left in the first quarter.

Clowney batted a pass by Cook with one hand, then tipped it with his other one before pulling it down for the interception later in the quarter. He probably would have scored on the play, but in the time it took him to grab the ball, Raiders running back Latavius Murray had latched on to one of his ankles and was pulling him down.

Miller scampered untouched on the next play for a 4-yard touchdown to make it 10-7.

The Raiders got a 2-yard TD run by Murray late in the first quarter.

Houston added a field goal in the second quarter before making it 20-7 on a 2-yard reception by Hopkins. That score was set up when Osweiler delivered a 38-yard pass to Hopkins just before the receiver stepped out of bounds two plays earlier.

THIRD-DOWN WOES

Oakland had trouble converting third downs Saturday. They failed to get a first down on their first 11 attempts. The Raiders finally converted one early in the fourth quarter and another came later in the drive that ended with the TD by Holmes. They ended 2 of 16 on third downs.

BRING IT BACK

Houston looked to have scored a touchdown on a 57-yard punt return by Tyler Ervin late in the third quarter. But the score was nullified because Mercilus ran into punter Marquette King on the play. He punted again and it almost turned bad for the Texans when Ervin muffed that one. Luckily for Houston, teammate Eddie Pleasant grabbed the ball after it bounced away from Ervin.

UP NEXT:

Raiders: Oakland is left to ponder what might have been had Carr not been injured.

Texans: Look to win a divisional playoff game for the first time in franchise history after losing in their first two games in that round.

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For more NFL coverage: www.pro32.ap.org and http://twitter.com/AP_NFL

NFL wild-card matchups to watch: Can Connor Cook revive Raiders?

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(PhatzRadio Sports / AP)    —   When the Oakland Raiders ended Connor Cook’s draft tumble in April, neither the franchise leaders nor the quarterback likely envisioned themselves in their present situation.

A fourth-round pick out of Michigan State, Cook was a depth addition and developmental option for a team already set with Derek Carr as its starter and Matt McGloin as its backup. But after a broken leg ended Carr’s season in Week 16 and McGloin was sidelined by a left shoulder injury in the regular-season finale, Cook now steps in as the first quarterback of the Super Bowl era to make his starting debut in a playoff game, one that ends a 14-year postseason drought for the Raiders.

And the Houston Texans’ top-ranked defense awaits the rookie.

“We’ll do the best we can to prepare him,” Raiders coach Jack Del Rio said in a conference call with reporters upon announcing Cook’s promotion. “The great thing about it is he’s been here, been in our system, mentally been engaged in what we do and how we do it all year.

“There’s only so much you can catch up all at once.”

Cook almost assuredly will be working with a limited version of the offense, but playing the caretaker role might be an adjustment. At Michigan State, he developed a reputation for forcing balls downfield into tight coverage.

The Texans might be counting on him to do just that in Saturday’s wild-card contest.

“I hope we blitz him all game,” Texans defensive end Jadveveon Clowney told reporters this week. “I don’t know, that’s up to the coaches. We just have to put a lot of pressure on him, make him throw some bad balls, force some turnovers and try to get our offense in good field position.”

The Raiders topped the Texans 27-20 earlier in the season in Mexico City, but they needed fourth-quarter rally sparked by Carr. With McGloin and Cook in last week, Oakland sputtered to just 221 yards in a 24-6 loss to the Denver Broncos.

Oakland could ramp up its already screen-heavy attack to ease Cook’s burden while trying to quickly get the ball into the hands of Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree. But leaning on a strong supporting cast might not be so simple against a Texans defense that boasts standouts at every level with Clowney, outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus and cornerback A.J. Bouye. Oakland’s stellar offensive line is also hurting, as left tackle Donald Penn and left guard Kelechi Osemele have both been hampered by knee injuries.

Here are four more matchups that will define wild-card weekend:

Packers receivers vs. Giants secondary

The New York Giants’ “NYPD” secondary handled its first assignment against Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bayy Packers’ passing game in October, but policing them again could make for a difficult reprisal.

Rogers threw two interceptions and completed a season-low 51.1% of his passes in Green Bay’s 23-16 win earlier this season. That offense, however, is far removed from the one that ended the season with Rodgers completing 71% of his passes with 15 touchdowns and no interceptions in six straight wins.

The Giants’ secondary might have to hold its coverage longer than usual if Rodgers isn’t corralled by defensive end Olivier Vernon and the pass rush. New York ranked just 23rd in total pass defense, but Pro Bowl selections Janoris Jenkins and Landon Collins highlight a deep group. Tight end Jared Cook looms as a threat for the unit after emerging late in the year.

Seahawks QB Russell Wilson vs. Lions pass rush

While managing high-ankle and knee sprains he suffered in September, Wilson has slogged to career lows in rushing with just 72 carries for 259 yards. That facet of his game may remain on the backburner as he continues to heal, but Saturday could provide an opportunity for a return to form by the Seattle Seahawks star quarterback.

The Detroit Lions have struggled both to pressure opposing quarterbacks and contain them from extending plays. Rodgers took off 10 times for 42 yards in the Packers’ win last week, and Wilson is a bigger threat as an open-field runner. Seattle’s 25th-ranked rushing attack may need him to provide a boost.

Selling out for the rush may not be optimal given Wilson’s evasiveness, but his patience could be problematic, too. The Lions allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete an NFL record 72.7% of their passes, and Wilson could be content to pick apart the defense from the pocket.

Dolphins RB Jay Ajayi vs. Steelers front seven

The Miami Dolphins’ breakout back took the NFL by surprise with his 204-yard, two-touchdown outburst in a 30-15 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers earlier this season. But coach Mike Tomin said this week that game was no “lightning strike,” and Pittsburgh is on alert to prevent another big outing from Ajayi.

The Steelers have reason for confidence after allowing just 64.6 rushing yards per game in the first five wins of its seven-game streak to end the year. Defensive end Stephon Tuitt and nose tackle Javon Hargrave will be counted on to control the line of scrimmage, and the defense may load the box with Ryan Tannehill out and Matt Moore in at quarterback for the Dolphins.

Ajayi’s ability to keep the offense moving and on the field will be all the more important for a Miami team looking to limit an explosive Pittsburgh offense. This will be the first time the Steelers will have Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown all starting together in a playoff game.

Texans LT Duane Brown vs. Raiders DE Khalil Mack

The Houston Texans’ problems with quarterback Brock Osweiler at the helm were evident throughout the season. Now with their once-benched starter returning to his starting role after Tom Savage’s concussion, a jolt is needed for an offense that ranks as the worst of any playoff team.

Protecting Osweiler will be critical after the line allowed eight sacks and 15 quarterback hits in the last two weeks. The clear priority will be stopping Mack, the main force on a sub-par Oakland Raiders defense, from creating havoc up front. The potential defensive player of the year had 11 sacks, though none in the last three games, and five forced fumbles.

If Mack and linebacker Bruce Irvin are unable to generate pressure, Oakland’s defense could be at serious risk. The unit finished with an NFL-low 25 sacks despite the duo’s combined 18, and Del Rio bemoaned the 20 missed tackles in the regular-season finale. The Raiders ranked second with 30 takeaways this season, so a strong pass rush could help force Osweiler into errors for easy scoring opportunities.

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NFL Analysis: Good, bad of each current NFL coaching vacancy

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(PhatzRadio Sports / AP)   —-   When Gary Kubiak resigned for health reasons less than a year removed from coaching the Denver Broncos to a Super Bowl championship, he left behind a great gig.

“There’s 32 of these jobs, and to think that you’re doing one of them is the greatest feeling in the world. I’ll say this: At this place, this is the best job in America,” Kubiak said this week, “because the people you’ve got helping you on a daily basis are second to none.”

Several factors can be considered when rating which of the six head-coaching vacancies around the league is the most — or least — worth wanting. Those include roster quality, especially at quarterback; how helpful and patient ownership is; competence of the general manager; competitiveness of the division.

Among the potential candidates for these positions are top offensive minds (Josh McDaniels, Kyle Shanahan, Sean McVay), defensive experts (Matt Patricia, Teryl Austin) and folks who’ve been around before (Tom Coughlin, Mike Smith).

If one had his choice of landing spots, which should he pick? Here is one analysis of the current NFL openings, in order of desirability:

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DENVER BRONCOS (2016 record: 9-7)

Why it’s a good gig: By far the best job available. One side of the ball is set, thanks to linebacker Von Miller and the rest of a topflight defense that led the club to the title not that long ago and was superb again this season. There’s considerable talent on the roster, a winning environment, a real home-field advantage, a GM (John Elway) who knows what he’s doing, and a willingness to do — and spend — what it takes to succeed.

Why it’s a bad gig: There is no established quarterback — Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch have a combined 16 pro starts — and the AFC West might just be the league’s toughest division.

What was said: “This is a great place to work, but the expectations are high. … Everybody that comes here, as a coach or as a player, understands that the standard is to have to be able to compete for world championships.” — Elway.

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JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS (3-13)

Why it’s a good gig: There’s a big drop-off from Denver to the rest of the bunch, but Jacksonville ranks No. 2, primarily because of an up-and-coming defense and relatively patient ownership, plus plenty of room under the cap to bring in help. Doesn’t hurt to be in the deeply flawed AFC South, either, meaning a playoff berth is never far out of reach.

Why it’s a bad gig: Not clear that Blake Bortles is a long-term solution at quarterback and, as of now, it appears the franchise could be stuck with him for at least another season.

What was said: “Whoever the new head coach is, I totally understand that he’s going to play at quarterback who he wants to play at quarterback, and I have no problem with that.” — Bortles.

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LOS ANGELES RAMS (4-12)

Why it’s a good gig: Thanks mainly to Aaron Donald, the defense is respectable. Sophomore slump aside, Todd Gurley looks like the real deal at running back. There’s also a young QB drafted No. 1 overall, Jared Goff, to work with. And if you’re a coach who wants to “go Hollywood,” well, here’s a place you truly can.

Why it’s a bad gig: Something’s amiss when a coach gets fired within days of word leaking out that he received an extension a while ago. Oh, and there’s the not-so-little matter of 12 consecutive seasons without making the playoffs.

What was said: “With the talent we’ve got, we shouldn’t be where we’re at, as far as the record and the way we’ve been losing.” — Donald.

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SAN DIEGO CHARGERS (5-11)

Why it’s a good gig: There’s quality at QB (in the short term, anyway, because Philip Rivers is 35), RB (Melvin Gordon) and DE (Joey Bosa). And, hey, can’t beat the weather, right?

Why it’s a bad gig: The uncertainty over whether the team will be in San Diego or LA is only one manifestation of the club’s long-standing lack of direction. Ownership is known for hiring coaches on the cheap, and the Chargers have made nine playoff appearances in 33 years.

What was said: “You’re looking for a leader. It’s not always just about the X’s and O’s.” — GM Tom Telesco, on what he wants in a coach.

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BUFFALO BILLS (7-9)

Why it’s a good gig: Some pieces of the puzzle are in place, including WR Sammy Watkins and RB LeSean McCoy. Not a lot else, though.

Why it’s a bad gig: Start with two names — Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. The Bills are basically playing for second place, at best, behind the New England Patriots in the AFC East, although even that doesn’t account for why they have gone 17 seasons without reaching the playoffs. That drought is unfathomable in today’s everyone-has-a-chance NFL. One example of the problems: GM Doug Whaley had no input in the decision to fire coach Rex Ryan.

What was said: “We’re searching for that coach that can be here for 10-15 years.” — Whaley.

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SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (2-14)

Why it’s a good gig: Hmmmm. San Francisco’s a terrific city? The new stadium? Nowhere to go but up?

Why it’s a bad gig: A lengthy list, from the lack of a QB, to a woeful defense, to general dysfunction and impatience of an organization that dismissed three head coaches and a GM over the past three seasons. Things are so bad that team CEO Jed York was asked at a news conference why he shouldn’t be dismissed or reassigned.

What was said: “I own this football team. You don’t dismiss owners. I’m sorry that that’s the facts and that’s the case, but that’s the fact.” — York.

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Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter at http://twitter.com/HowardFendrich

NFL Playoffs: Pro Picks takes a look at the wild-card round

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(PhatzRadio Sports / AP)   —-   Wild-card games can be so unpredictable because, at times, the visitors come in with a better record than the host.

That’s the case in two of this weekend’s matchups, and Pro Picks sees it as a mixed bag.

The Raiders (12-4), one of the AFC’s powers until, well, the past three weeks, travel to Houston (9-7) for Saturday’s late-afternoon contest. Then the Giants (11-5) head to Green Bay (10-6) in the capper to the four-game round on Sunday.

Pittsburgh and Seattle both have an edge on their opponents in record, and the betting lines show that. The Steelers (11-5), despite having lost to Miami (10-6) this season, are 10-point favorites. The Seahawks (10-5-1) are 8-point favorites over Detroit (9-7).

Regardless, all eight of these teams would prefer to be doing what New England, Dallas, Atlanta and Kansas City are doing: not playing. But they weren’t good enough for a bye.

“We want to be better than 9-7,” Texans coach Bill O’Brien said. “I think it’s a league, based on the rules and the way that the draft is set up and free agency — it’s like what I always say, it’s an 8-and-8 league.

“We’ve been a little bit better than that, but we’re not aiming for 9-7, but we’re AFC South champions. We’ve got a home playoff game. Great opportunity for our fans and for our players, especially, to go out and play well and try to win a playoff game. It’s going to be very difficult to do that, but I’m glad for the opportunity.”

No. 11 Detroit (plus 8) at No. 8 Seattle

Neither side has been inspiring down the stretch, with Detroit throwing away the NFC North crown with three straight closing defeats, and Seattle kicking away a bye by splitting its final six.

These are two of the worst running teams in football, but Seattle has gotten back Thomas Rawls, which could make for a distinct edge.

The Seahawks also have the better defense, even though it’s been spotty, at best, without injured star safety Earl Thomas.

One of the more intriguing angles here is Detroit’s clutch wideout, Golden Tate, who used to fill that same role in Seattle. Doug Baldwin has done much more than replacing Tate, though.

Seahawks win, Lions cover.

BEST BET: SEAHAWKS, 20-17

No. 9 Oakland (plus 3½) at No. 12 Houston

When the Raiders selected quarterback Connor Cook in the fourth round last April, the Cowboys were eyeing him. Dallas then went with Dak Prescott.

We all know Prescott’s 2016 story. It now looks as if third-stringer Cook will become the first QB to make his initial NFL start in a playoff game. If he can be anything close to Prescott … .

The Texans are headed back to the so-far-underwhelming Brock Osweiler after Tom Savage was concussed last week.

Pro Picks just can’t believe the Raiders’ turnaround season will end so ignominiously. We also can’t believe too much in Houston.

UPSET SPECIAL: RAIDERS, 17-16

No. 10 Miami (plus 10) at No. 5 Pittsburgh

The Dolphins turned around their season with a Week 6 victory over the Steelers. But Miami is yet another team using a backup QB, Matt Moore, although starter Ryan Tannehill has progressed nicely in his recovery from a knee injury. If Jay Ajayi can run wild again, Miami has a solid chance.

However, the Steelers are a tested bunch and got to rest several key players in the season finale — including Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell.

The line is kind of hefty, though.

STEELERS, 23-17

No. 6 (tie) New York Giants (plus 4) at No. 6 (tie) Green Bay

The showcase of the wild-card weekend; we could see either of these teams, despite their shortcomings, progressing to the conference title game and possibly the Super Bowl.

Aaron Rodgers probably has been the league’s top quarterback since Thanksgiving. He’s re-established that dynamic connection with Jordy Nelson, and Ty Montgomery’s emergence as a receiver-turned-running back has been a revelation. Green Bay’s defense also has come on, though the secondary is banged-up.

New York is showing elements of the torrid pass rush and opportunistic defense that lifted it to NFL championships for the 2007 and ’11 seasons. But the running game is so-so and Eli Manning only seems comfortable throwing to Odell Beckham Jr. Not that it’s a bad idea.

PACKERS, 26-21

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Last Week: Against spread (5-11). Straight up: (10-6)

Season Totals: Against spread (124-121-8). Straight up: (156-98-2)

Best Bet: 11-6 against spread, 12-5 straight up

Upset special: 6-10-1 against spread, 6-11 straight up

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For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP_NFL

AP Power Rankings: Pats finish regular season at No. 1 / HOF Finalists

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NEW YORK (AP) — Going into the playoffs, the New England Patriots are once again a strong favorite to reach the Super Bowl.

The Patriots finished the regular season with an NFL-best 14-2 record. Tom Brady and Bill Belichick have a first-round bye and home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs and will start their drive for their seventh Super Bowl appearance in Foxborough on Jan. 14.

The Patriots also finished the season as the unanimous choice for the top spot in the final AP Pro32 poll of the season, released Tuesday.

New England received all 12 first-place votes for 384 points from balloting by media members who regularly cover the NFL.

“The 14-2 Patriots own home-field advantage in the AFC,” said Rick Gosselin of The Dallas Morning News. “But does it really matter? New England was the only NFL team to go 8-0 on the road this season.”

Dallas and Kansas City remained at No. 2 and 3, respectively. Dallas has the top seed in the NFC.

“And now for the hard part. After a brilliant regular-season performance earns the Cowboys the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs, they try and become the first team to win a Super Bowl with a rookie quarterback,” Newsday’s Bob Glauber said.

“But Dak Prescott doesn’t seem overwhelmed by the moment, and wunderkind running back Ezekiel Elliott looks ready to build on a spectacular regular-season performance.”

The Chiefs wrapped up the AFC West title and a first-round bye.

“What the Chiefs have done in four seasons under Andy Reid and John Dorsey should serve as a model for teams starting the rebuild process this offseason,” said Jenny Vrentas of The Monday Morning Quarterback. “Reid trusted Dorsey to build a deep roster; Dorsey trusted Reid to coach and develop their players. The result was steady forward progress and sweeping the toughest division in football.”

NFC South champion Atlanta and AFC North winner Pittsburgh both inched up, to No. 4 and 5, respectively.

“No one is talking about Matt Ryan or the Atlanta Falcons,” said Charean Williams of the Fort Worth Star Telegram. “Something tells me that’s just the way they like it.”

The Giants and Packers, who will meet on Sunday afternoon in Lambeau Field, tied for No. 6.

“Very hot right now, but banged-up on defense,” NBC’s Tony Dungy said of the Packers. “If they can handle the Giants, I could see them winning in Dallas.”

NFC West champ Seattle was No. 8 and hosts Detroit on Saturday night.

“Should have an easy time with Lions,” Fox Sports’ John Czarnecki said of the Seahawks.

The Raiders dropped five spots to No. 9 and may have to use Connor Cook at quarterback in their wild-card game against the Texans on Saturday.

Miami remained at No. 10 as the Dolphins go to Heinz Field and face the Steelers on Sunday.

Denver, which missed the playoffs and needs a coach after Gary Kubiak resigned for health reasons, finished No. 13.

“Went from 7-3 on their bye week to 9-7 and out of the playoffs,” ESPN.com’s Jeff Legwold said. “They lost an eight-point lead with three minutes to play in Denver against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 12 and weren’t the same since.

“Now Gary Kubiak has retired and they enter the offseason with huge questions in the offensive line and in need of a head coach.”

Carolina, the Broncos’ opponent in Super Bowl 50, finished No. 24.

“Cam Newton and the shell-shocked Panthers looked like they never recovered from that Super Bowl loss to Denver,” said Ira Kaufman of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Cincinnati, which won the AFC North last season, failed to qualify for the first time in six seasons and was at No. 25. And the Bengals’ division rival, the Browns, were 1-15 and last in the poll.

But the Browns finished first for the NFL draft, where they will have the No. 1 overall pick in the spring.

“Have enough draft picks and cap space to acquire some talented young players,” Dungy said. “But if they don’t find a QB it won’t help.”

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Tomlinson, J. Taylor, Dawkins are Hall of Fame finalists

First-year eligibles LaDainian Tomlinson, Jason Taylor and Brian Dawkins are among 15 modern-era finalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Also making the finals are Morten Andersen, Tony Boselli, Isaac Bruce, Don Coryell, Terrell Davis, Alan Faneca, Joe Jacoby, Ty Law, John Lynch, Kevin Mawae, Terrell Owens and Kurt Warner.

Previously selected as a finalist by the veterans committee is former Seattle safety Kenny Easley.

In the contributors’ category, the nominees are former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue and Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.

The class of 2017 will be elected on Feb. 4, the day before the Super Bowl in Houston. Inductions will be Aug. 5 in Canton, Ohio.

Other than Tomlinson, Taylor and Dawkins, first-time finalists are Boselli, Bruce, Law, Mawae, Easley and Jones.

Most-frequent finalists are Lynch, Tagliabue and Coryell, four apiece. Davis and Warner are three-time finalists.

Coryell, an offensive mastermind with the Cardinals and Chargers, is in his 30th year of eligibility. Easley is in his 25th, while Jacoby, the left tackle on the Redskins’ offensive line known as the “Hogs”, is in his 19th.

Tomlinson played 11 NFL seasons, nine with San Diego, winning league MVP honors in 2006 when he set a record with 28 rushing touchdowns. He won two rushing titles.

Dawkins spent 16 seasons in the NFL, 13 with Philadelphia, and was considered a prototype modern safety. He made four All-Pro teams and was the first player with a sack, interception, fumble recovery and touchdown catch in the same game (vs. Houston in 2002).

Taylor was one of the NFL’s top pass rushers for 15 seasons, mostly with Miami. The 2006 Defensive Player of the Year with 13½ sacks, he had 139½ sacks for his career.

Among the other modern-era finalists, Andersen is the NFL’s career scoring leader with 2,544 points, has the most field goals (565) and games (382) playing for five franchises. He made two all-decade teams (1980s and ’90s).

Bruce, Davis, Faneca, Jacoby, Law, Lynch and Warner all won Super Bowls.

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For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP_NFL

NFL Playoffs: Rodgers-Manning headlines NFL’s wild-card weekend

(PhatzRadio Sports / AP)    —-    Aaron Rodgers vs. Eli Manning will headline the NFL’s wild-card weekend.

Rodgers tossed four touchdown passes to help the Green Bay Packers capture the NFC North title with a 31-24 victory over the Detroit Lions on Sunday night. The Packers (10-6) will host the Giants (11-5) next Sunday while the Lions (9-7) visit Seattle (10-5-1) on Saturday night.

New York’s 19-10 win at Washington eliminated the Redskins (8-7-1) and allowed the Packers and Lions to secure playoff spots before their game kicked off. But the teams are heading in opposite directions. The Packers have won six in a row while the Lions lost three straight.

Earlier in the day, Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons (11-5) secured a first-round bye with a 38-32 win over New Orleans. The Seahawks beat San Francisco 25-23 and earned the No. 3 seed.

The Cowboys (13-3) already locked up the NFC’s No. 1 seed before they played last week.

In the AFC, Tom Brady and the Patriots (14-2) beat Miami 35-14 to secure the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. The Chiefs (12-4) clinched a first-round bye thanks to Denver’s win over Oakland coupled with their victory over San Diego.

The Raiders (12-4) fell from No. 2 to the fifth spot and will open the playoffs on the road at Houston (9-7). That matchup could feature rookie quarterback Connor Cook making his first career start for the Raiders after they lost Derek Carr last week and backup Matt McGloin went down in the second quarter against the Broncos.

The Texans also have uncertainty at quarterback. Tom Savage sustained a concussion in a loss at Tennessee and was replaced by former starter Brock Osweiler.

The Steelers (11-5) will host the Dolphins (10-6) in the AFC’s other wild-card game.

Here’s a look at the playoff teams by seed:

AFC

1. NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS: Brady and coach Bill Belichick will begin their quest for a fifth Super Bowl championship against either Houston, Oakland or Miami on Jan. 14 at 8:15 p.m.

2. KANSAS CITY CHIEFS: Coach Andy Reid is 3-0 in divisional playoff games when his team has a bye. All three wins came with the Eagles. The Chiefs open against Pittsburgh, Houston or Oakland on Jan. 15 at 1:05 p.m.

3. PITTSBURGH STEELERS: Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown had an early bye. They sat out an overtime win over Cleveland in preparation for the Dolphins next Sunday at 1:05 p.m.

4. HOUSTON TEXANS: They need to sort out their quarterback issues before the Raiders visit next Saturday at 4:35 p.m. Oakland beat Houston 27-20 in Mexico City on Nov. 21.

5. OAKLAND RAIDERS: Carr’s season-ending injury deflated a team making its first playoff appearance since losing the 2003 Super Bowl to Tampa Bay.

6. MIAMI DOLPHINS: It’s unknown whether QB Ryan Tannehill will return from injury when the Dolphins play their first playoff game in eight years. Matt Moore was 2-1 in Tannehill’s absence.

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NFC

1. DALLAS COWBOYS: Dak Prescott only played two series and Ezekiel Elliott sat out a loss at Philadelphia to get ready for the playoffs. The Cowboys will open against Green Bay, New York or Detroit on Jan. 15 at 4:40 p.m.

2. ATLANTA FALCONS: They will host Seattle, Green Bay or New York on Jan. 14 at 4:35 p.m.

3. SEATTLE SEAHAWKS: Russell Wilson and the Seahawks start their drive for a third NFC championship title in four seasons against the Lions next Saturday at 8:15 p.m.

4. GREEN BAY PACKERS: Rodgers has the Packers riding high into the playoffs. They were a No. 6 seed in 2010 when the last won a Super Bowl. Green Bay plays the Giants in this season’s final wild-card game next Sunday at 4:40 p.m.

5. NEW YORK GIANTS: Were locked into the No. 5 seed, but Manning played the entire game and the Giants knocked out the Redskins. Manning has won two playoff games at Lambeau Field, beating Brett Favre and the Packers in a frigid NFC championship game following the 2007 season.

6. DETROIT LIONS: Wilson, Richard Sherman and The 12s stand in the way of Detroit’s first playoff win since the 1991 season.

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Here’s the finalized NFL playoff picture

AFC
y*-1. New England Patriots (14-2): AFC East champions. They have home field for the fourth time in the past seven seasons.
yz-2. Kansas City Chiefs (12-4): AFC West champions. They began Sunday in wild-card position and ended it with a division crown and bye thanks to Oakland’s struggles.
y-3. Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5): AFC North champions. They’ll open the playoffs hosting the Dolphins.
y-4. Houston Texans (9-7): AFC South champions. They’ll open the playoffs hosting the Raiders.
x-5. Oakland Raiders (12-4): Wild card No. 1. Their loss combined with Kansas City’s win drops them from second seed to fifth. They’ll be in Houston next weekend.
x-6. Miami Dolphins (10-6): Wild card No. 2. They’ll open the playoffs at Pittsburgh next weekend.

NFC
y*-1. Dallas Cowboys (13-3): NFC East champions. They’ll open the playoffs against the lowest-seeded team that wins on wild-card weekend. Dallas’ loss to Philadelphia on Sunday officially eliminated the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
yz-2. Atlanta Falcons (11-5): NFC South champions. Their victory Sunday clinched a first-round bye.
y-3. Seattle Seahawks (10-5-1): NFC West champions. They’ll open the playoffs hosting the Lions.
y-4. Green Bay Packers (10-6): NFC North champions. They reclaimed division crown they lost in 2015. They’ll open the playoffs hosting the Giants.
x-5. New York Giants (11-5): Wild card No. 1. They were locked into this spot before Sunday’s kickoff but still played their starters and knocked the Washington Redskins out of the playoff picture. They go to Green Bay next weekend.
x-6. Detroit Lions (9-7): Wild card No. 2. Their loss to the Packers puts them on the road to Seattle.

x — clinched playoff spot
y — clinched division
z — clinched first-round bye
* — clinched home-field advantage

For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP_NFL

CFB Bowls Roundup: USC rallies to edge Penn State in wild Rose Bowl

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PASADENA, Calif. (AP) — After 98 combined points and 1,040 yards of spectacular offensive play, the highest-scoring Rose Bowl in history rested on the left foot of a Southern California kicker who had already missed two field goals.

Matt Boermeester somehow blocked out the cacophonous tension in the chilly air. He focused only on securing a perfect ending to an epic evening.

“Game was on the line, but you’ve got to keep true to your technique and trust it,” Boermeester said.

His technique was sound. His kick was true. And the Trojans got their storybook finish in Pasadena.

Boermeester hit a 46-yard field goal as time expired , and No. 9 USC rallied from a 14-point deficit in the fourth quarter for a 52-49 victory over No. 5 Penn State on Monday night in the 103rd edition of the Granddaddy of Them All.

Freshman Sam Darnold passed for 453 yards and five touchdowns while leading a stirring comeback by the Trojans (10-3), who won their ninth consecutive game and triumphed in their first Rose Bowl since 2009. USC trailed 49-35 with nine minutes to play, but persevered to win one of the greatest Rose Bowls ever played.

“It was just two really good football teams playing at the highest level and competing until the absolute, very end,” USC coach Clay Helton said. “The greatest players shined brightest on the biggest stage. It’s what fairy tales are made of.”

Deontay Burnett, who had three TD receptions, caught a tying 27-yard scoring pass from Darnold with 1:20 left to cap an 80-yard drive in 38 seconds with no timeouts available.

Leon McQuay III then intercepted an ill-advised long pass by Trace McSorley and returned it 32 yards to the Penn State 33 with 27 seconds left. In an instant, the Trojans went from preparing for overtime to having a chance to win.

“I didn’t know whether to block or celebrate” after McQuay’s interception, USC defensive lineman Stevie Tu’ikolovatu said. “I kind of did both.”

The Trojans set up Boermeester, and the junior confidently drilled the Rose Bowl winner , sprinting away as it went through the south uprights and set off pandemonium on the hallowed field.

“It’s beautiful,” McQuay said. “This is a special group of guys. Oh man, this is the time to step up. This is the time to make plays.”

McSorley passed for 254 yards and threw two of his four touchdown passes to Chris Godwin for the Nittany Lions (11-3), whose nine-game winning streak ended in heartbreaking fashion.

Saquon Barkley rushed for 194 yards and two TDs as the Nittany Lions (12-2) followed up their 21-point comeback in the Big Ten title game with another ferocious rally, only to watch the Trojans rally back.

“That game doesn’t really define us,” Penn State coach James Franklin said. “I wouldn’t be any more proud tonight sitting here with a win … after what might have been the most exciting Rose Bowl game ever.”

With one jaw-dropping play after another from two talent-laden offenses, the teams obliterated the combined Rose Bowl scoring record in the third quarter, surpassing Oregon’s 45-38 victory over Wisconsin in the 2012 game.

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WISCONSIN 24, WESTERN MICHIGAN 16

ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — Troy Fumagalli had highlight catches for Wisconsin even before the big tight end’s leaping 8-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter and his 26-yard gain on third down that effectively wrapped up the Cotton Bowl victory.

The game’s offensive MVP also had a nifty one-handed grab on third down with his left hand — the one missing an index finger since right after his birth — to extend the eighth-ranked Badgers’ opening touchdown drive. There was another leaping two-handed catch in the first half of a 24-16 victory Monday that denied Western Michigan a perfect season.

“It’s special,” said Fumagalli, a junior. “It’s a great feeling to come out on top.”

Fumagalli had seven passes thrown his way, and the 6-foot-6 junior caught six of them. The last two clinched the third consecutive bowl victory for the Big Ten runner-up Badgers (11-3).

After his TD catch between two defenders in the back of the end zone with 12:26 left made it 24-10, Western Michigan (13-1) took 9 minutes to score. Wisconsin was able to run out the clock after Fumagalli’s big play on third-and-8.

“He’s unbelievable,” Western Michigan coach P.J. Fleck said.

With their “Row The Boat” mentality inspired by Fleck, the 12th-ranked Broncos (13-1) went from one win during his first season in Kalamazoo three years ago to the last FBS team other than No. 1 Alabama this season with a chance to be undefeated.

“Told them I was very proud of them, how much I love them, and the effort they gave,” Fleck said about what he told his team on the sideline just before the end of the game. “We will continue to learn from this. We will embrace our past to create our future, and it just wasn’t enough tonight.”

The Badgers, who finished with 11 wins for the fourth time in seven seasons, were clearly bigger and stronger — especially up front. Their offensive line averaged about three inches and 45 pounds more than the WMU defensive front.

Wisconsin set the tone early, with rushing touchdowns on its first two drives to lead 14-0 against the Group of Five team.

Fumagalli’s TD came three plays after a rare interception by senior Zach Terrell, who finished with 33 touchdowns and four picks — the last by Wisconsin linebacker T.J. Edwards.

“It kind of left a bad taste in our mouth after the Big Ten championship game,” Edwards said. “We just wanted to get back out there and prove ourselves again.”

Terrell combined with All-America receiver Corey Davis for 51 career touchdowns, tying the FBS record on an 11-yarder on fourth down with 3:27 left . Even with cornerback Sojourn Shelton’s arms wrapped around him in the back of the end zone, Davis broke free to make the catch.

“It doesn’t matter if the defender is grabbing you or whatever it is. Go make a play on the ball if it’s in the air, and go attack it,” Davis said. “My four years at Western have been phenomenal. We’ve been through so much and I’ve learned so many lessons on the field, and off the field.”

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FLORIDA 30, IOWA 3

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — No. 20 Florida dominated the Outback with stingy defense and a persistent offense that did its job, too.

Chauncey Gardner, Jr., returned one of his two fourth-quarter interceptions 58 yards for a touchdown, and graduate transfer Austin Appleby threw for 222 yards and two TDs to pace Monday’s 30-3 rout of No. 21 Iowa.

With Gardner grabbing game MVP honors, the Gators (9-4) held up their end of what many expected to be a day defense ruled , especially considering Florida entered ranked 115th in the nation in total offense — five spots ahead of the sputtering Hawkeyes.

Conversely, the teams were sixth and 24th, respectively, in total defense.

“The MVP, it goes to our guys up front, the linebackers and the coaching staff because they put me in good position to make plays. … It should be a team MVP,” Gardner said. “Our motto is just go out there and have fun, and play our game.”

Mark Thompson scored on an 85-yard pass play in the first half and Appleby, who spent the past four seasons at Purdue, tossed a 6-yard TD pass to DeAndre Goolsby to break the game open late in the third quarter.

Florida (9-4) rebounded from lopsided losses to archrival Florida State and No. 1 Alabama, scoring more points on Iowa (8-5) than the Hawkeyes allowed to Michigan, Illinois and Nebraska combined while ending the regular season on a three-game winning streak.

“It was a tough day for our football team,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “Our team really had a good month, they practiced and prepared well. I’m not sure there’s a thing I’d go back and change. Ultimately, we didn’t play well enough to come up with a victory.”

Iowa’s C.J. Beathard led an early field goal drive and managed to get his team close to the end zone on two other occasions. Florida’s defense stiffened both times, stopping the Hawkeyes on downs at the Gator 3 in the second quarter and forcing them to settle for a 30-yard field goal that sailed wide right midway through the third quarter.

Appleby, who actually began his career at Purdue against Iowa, shrugged off throwing interceptions on Florida’s first two drives of the day to finish 14 of 25 passing.

“We didn’t panic early. We knew Iowa would come out swinging and make some plays on us early,” Appleby said. “We had some bad luck, but didn’t panic, and the defense made some stops and we got on a roll.”

Akrum Wadley ran for 115 yards, giving Iowa a pair of 1,000-yard rushers in the same season for the first time. The junior finished with 1,081, and LeShun Daniels wound up with 1,058 after gaining 45 Monday.

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OKLAHOMA 35, AUBURN 19

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Heisman Trophy finalists Baker Mayfield and Dede Westbrook connected one last time for a touchdown. Joe Mixon emerged from his recent controversy with big plays that had teammates lifting him off his feet in celebration. Samaje Perine put his name in Oklahoma’s record books.

Seventh-ranked Oklahoma had plenty to celebrate after a 35-19 triumph over No. 17 Auburn in the Sugar Bowl on Monday night, including a 10th-straight victory.

“We’re a prideful team,” Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said. “And we’re confident, regardless of the people that try to rattle the cage and shake your confidence. … We improved as we went through the end and we fought through the outside noise.”

Mayfield passed for 296 yards and two touchdowns. Mixon heard boos from Auburn fans, who also shouted derisive comments regarding a recently publicized video of him punching a woman in the face in 2014. Mixon, who served a season-long suspension in 2014 and has apologized for the assault, also drew cheers from crimson-clad Oklahoma fans with his play. His two short touchdown runs were among the highlights of a performance in which he gained 180 yards from scrimmage — 91 rushing on 19 carries and 89 receiving on five catches.

“He has a second chance and making the most of it,” Stoops said. “He is a great teammate to these guys and one of the most popular guys in the locker room.”

Mixon didn’t answer questions about the boos or the reasons for them, saying only he wanted to celebrate with his teammates.

Perine rushed for 86 yards, three more than he needed to set Oklahoma’s career rushing record.

“Our backs pound people and it wears on people,” Mayfield said.

Auburn (8-5), which wound up in the Sugar Bowl despite dropping its last two Southeastern Conference games to Georgia and Alabama, entered the game hopeful that it would be buoyed by the return of quarterback Sean White, who’d missed the Tigers’ final two games with a throwing shoulder injury. White led Auburn to a touchdown on its first series — Chandler Cox’s 3-yard run on fourth down — but the quarterback left the game for good in the first half with a broken right forearm.

“Obviously, it’s a big blow. We were excited he was back” for the bowl game, Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. “Overall it was a tough night at the quarterback position.”

John Franklin III backed up White but also hurt his throwing arm, Malzahn said, so Jeremy Johnson got into the game. The Tigers’ offense was inconsistent, increasing pressure on Auburn’s 20th-ranked defense to keep the Sooners’ fast-paced, high-powered attack in check.

“That’s tough. They’re (among the best) in the nation,” Auburn defensive back Josh Holsey said of Oklahoma’s offense, which came in averaging 557.3 yards and 44.7 points per game. “They came out and showed that tonight.”

Mixon broke loose for a 35-yard run in the third quarter that set up his second TD, which he scored from 4 yards out by diving for the pylon. Early in the fourth quarter, Perine took a direct snap for a 2-yard TD that made it 35-13.

With the Sooners (11-2) pulling away for their second Sugar Bowl triumph in four years, Auburn fans started filing out.

NFL Highlight: News and Notes

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STARS

Passing

—Matt Ryan, Falcons, was 27 for 36 for 331 yards and four touchdown passes in Atlanta’s 38-32 win over New Orleans.

—Tom Brady, Patriots, finished 25for 33 for 276 yards and three touchdowns in New England’s 35-14 win over Miami. Brady finished the regular season with 28 touchdown passes and two interceptions, the best touchdown/interception ratio in NFL history. Brady has 51 games with at least three touchdown passes and no interceptions, tying Peyton Manning for the most in league history. Brady increased his total to 61,582 to surpass Hall of Famer Dan Marino for fourth place on the NFL’s career list.

—Landry Jones, Steelers, was 24 for 37 for 277 yards with three touchdown passes and an interception in Pittsburgh’s 27-24 overtime win over Cleveland.

—Sam Bradford, Vikings, finished 25 for 33 for 250 yards and three touchdowns and an interception. Bradford completed 395 of 552 passes for a 71.6 percent completion rate this season, the highest single-season mark in NFL history, surpassing Drew Brees’ mark of 71.2 percent in 2011.

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Rushing

—Isaiah Crowell, Browns, had 19 carries for a career-high 152 yards in Cleveland’s 27-24 overtime loss to Pittsburgh.

—Jordan Howard, Bears, had 23 carries for 135 yards in Chicago’s 38-10 loss to Minnesota.

—Corey Grant, Jaguars, had 18 carries for 122 yards and a touchdown in Jacksonville’s 24-20 loss to Indianapolis.

—Bilal Powell, Jets, had 22 carries for 122 yards in New York’s 30-10 win over Buffalo.

—Rex Burkhead, Bengals, had 27 carries for 119 yards and two touchdowns in Cincinnati’s 27-10 win over Baltimore.

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Receiving

—Michael Thomas, Saints, had 10 receptions for 156 yards and a touchdown in New Orleans’ 38-32 loss to Atlanta.

—Julian Edelman, Patriots, had eight catches for 151 yards, including a 77-yard touchdown, in New England’s 35-14 win over Miami.

—Zach Ertz, Eagles, had 13 catches for 139 yards and two touchdowns in Philadelphia’s 27-13 win over Dallas.

—DeAndre Hopkins, Texans, finished with seven receptions for 123 yards in Houston’s 24-17 loss to Tennessee.

—Kyle Rudolph, Vikings, had 11 catches for 117 yards and a touchdown in Minnesota’s 38-10 win over Chicago.

—Dennis Pitta, Ravens, had 11 catches for 91 yards in Baltimore’s 27-10 loss to Cincinnati.

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Special Teams

—Tyreek Hill, Chiefs, returned a punt 95 yards for a touchdown in Kansas City’s 37-27 win over San Diego.

—Doug Middleton, Jets, recovered a kickoff in the end zone for a touchdown in New York’s 30-10 win over Buffalo.

—Steven Hauschka, Seahawks, was 4 for 4 on field goals in Seattle’s 25-23 win over San Francisco.

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Defense

—Justin Bethel and Markus Golden, Cardinals. Bethel returned an interception 66 yards for a touchdown and Golden had 2½ sacks and a forced fumble in Arizona’s 44-6 win over Los Angeles.

—DaQuan Jones and Jurrell Casey, Titans. Jones recovered a fumble for a touchdown and Casey had two sacks in Tennessee’s 24-17 win over Houston.

—Brent Grimes and Lavonte David, Buccaneers. Grimes returned an interception 31 yards for a touchdown and David had two sacks in Tampa Bay’s 17-16 win over Carolina.

—Jahleel Addae, Chargers, returned an interception 90 yards for a touchdown in San Diego’s 37-27 loss to Kansas City.

—Everson Griffen, Vikings, returned a fumble 20 yards for a touchdown in Minnesota’s 38-10 win over Chicago.

—Joel Heath, Texans, had two sacks in Houston’s 24-17 loss to Tennessee.

—Malik Jackson, Jaguars, had two sacks in Jacksonville’s 24-20 loss to Indianapolis.

—Bobby Wagner, Seahawks, had two sacks in Seattle’s 25-23 win over San Francisco.

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ROUGH DAY FOR COACHES

Three more teams are dealing with coaching changes after Sunday’s games. The San Diego Chargers fired coach Mike McCoy. He was 27-37 in four seasons, with the Chargers having lost 23 of their past 32 games. They’ve also lost 13 of their past 14 AFC West games going back to late in the 2014 season. Also in the AFC West, Gary Kubiak informed his players in an emotional postgame locker room after the Broncos’ 24-6 win over the Raiders that he’s stepping away for health reasons. And the San Francisco 49ers fired coach Chip Kelly and general manager Trent Baalke in the latest overhaul for a franchise that has fallen from perennial Super Bowl contender to the bottom of the standings in three seasons.

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STREAKS & STATS

Bills running back Reggie Bush finished the season with 12 carries for minus-3 yards, becoming the first NFL running back to have negative yards rushing with 10 or more carries. He had no carries against the Jets. … The Chicago Bears (3-13) finished the season with a 38-10 loss to the Vikings. It was their most losses in a season since 1969. … The 49ers lost the Seahawks 25-23. The defeat capped a an awful season for the 49ers (2-14), who matched the franchise record for losses in a season previously reached in 1978, ’79 and 2004. … The Rams ended their return season in LA with a seven-game losing streak and a 4-12 record. … The Bucs snapped a two-game losing streak with a 17-16 win over Carolina to finish with their first winning record since 2010. … The Titans beat the Texans 24-17 to finish 9-7, their first winning season since 2011. With their six-win improvement from going 3-13 in 2015, the Titans matched the biggest one-year turnaround in franchise history, previously set in 1967 and 1974. … New Orleans’ Drew Brees passed for 350 yards and two touchdowns against Atlanta. Brees has 5,208 passing yards this season, the fourth-highest single-season passing total in NFL history. Brees, who also had 5,000 passing yards in 2008, 2011, 2012 and 2013, has five of the NFL’s nine all-time 5,000-yard passing seasons and is the only quarterback in NFL history to pass for at least 5,000 yards in multiple seasons. Brees’ 471 completions this season also set an NFL record. … Atlanta’s Matt Ryan completed 373 of 534 passes (69.9 percent) for 4,944 yards with 38 touchdowns and seven interceptions for a 117.1 passer rating, the fifth-highest single-season passer rating in NFL history. … Tampa Bay quarterback Jameis Winston passed for 202 yards and a touchdown in the Buccaneers’ 17-16 win over Carolina. Winston, who passed for 4,042 yards as a rookie last season, finished this season with a career-high 4,090 passing yards. He is the first player in NFL history to have at least 4,000 passing yards in each of his first two seasons. Winston has 50 touchdown passes and is the fifth player in league history to throw at least 50 touchdown passes in his first two seasons.

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MILESTONES

Chargers tight end Antonio Gates tied Tony Gonzalez for the most touchdown catches in NFL history by a tight end with 111 after a 2-yard TD catch in San Diego’s 37-27 loss to Kansas City. … Dallas rookie quarterback Dak Prescott finished the regular season with a 104.9 passer rating and surpassed Robert Griffin III (102.4 in 2012) for the highest single-season passer rating by a rookie quarterback in NFL history. … Cowboys rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott leads the league with 1,631 rushing yards. Elliott, who has the third-highest rushing total by a rookie in NFL history, would be the fifth rookie since 1970 to lead the league in rushing yards and the first since Edgerrin James (1,553 yards) in 1999. … Colts running back Frank Gore added to his stellar season by running 16 times for 62 yards, giving him 1,026 this season. He became the fourth player in league history to rush for 1,000 yards at age 33 or older and the oldest since 35-year-old John Riggins did it in 1984. Gore is 33. Gore also joins Hall of Famers Emmitt Smith, Curtis Martin, Walter Payton and Barry Sanders as the only players in NFL history with nine or more 1,000-yard seasons. He ended the Colts’ eight-year drought without a 1,000-yard rusher. Joseph Addai was the most recent Colts’ player to achieve it in 2007. .. Jordan Howard, the lone bright spot for the Bears, rushed for 135 yards on 23 carries to break Matt Forte’s franchise rookie record and finish with 1,313 yards for the season. … New England became the ninth team since 1972 to go undefeated on the road during the regular season after its 35-14 win over Miami. … The Bengals’ Andy Dalton topped 4,000 yards passing for the second time in his career, finishing with 4,206. The other time was 2013, when he set a club record with 4,293 yards. … Baltimore’s Justin Tucker had a 30-yard field goal, his 38th of the season, matching his club record. Only two kickers have made 40 field goals in a season: David Akers and Neil Rackers. … Baltimore’s Joe Flacco finished with 4,276 yards, topping Vinny Testaverde’s club record of 4,177 yards in 1996.

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SIDELINED

Houston quarterback Tom Savage was sidelined with a concussion in a 24-17 loss at Tennessee, forcing Brock Osweiler back onto the field for the AFC South champions. Savage started the regular-season finale, left in the second quarter to be evaluated for a concussion and was cleared. He took the final snap of the first half, and O’Brien told team radio that Savage would play in the second half. But Savage was diagnosed with a concussion after being re-evaluated at halftime. … QB Matt McGloin left Oakland’s 24-6 loss at Denver because of a left shoulder injury. The Raiders also lost safety Nate Allen, who left the game and was evaluated for a concussion. … Broncos receiver Emmanuel Sanders hurt his foot in the first quarter and didn’t return. More concerning, special teamer Zaire Anderson was strapped to a backboard and carted off the field after being injured on punt coverage in the third quarter. Team officials said Anderson was taken to a local hospital for evaluation and has movement in his arms and legs. … Arizona running back David Johnson ended his season finale on the sideline and with a brace on his left knee. … Atlanta Falcons rookie safety Keanu Neal and New Orleans Saints receiver Willie Snead both left with possible concussions after a collision in the fourth quarter.

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SPEAKING

“You don’t come out and lose and like that. That right there was just disgusting, it was despicable. … That right there, it’s not football.” — Redskins cornerback Josh Norman after his team was eliminated from the playoffs with a 19-10 loss to the Giants.

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“You just don’t want it to end, but to be in position to say goodbye to the fans and the teammates the way they did, I can’t ask for anything more. I was extremely nervous, like more than usual for some reason. I guess for obvious reasons.” — Colts linebacker Robert Mathis said after playing his last game.

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NFL playoff picture: Field finalized with NFC North settled

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(PhatzRadio Sports / USA Today)    —-   Here’s the finalized NFL playoff picture

AFC
y*-1. New England Patriots (14-2): AFC East champions. They have home field for the fourth time in the past seven seasons.
yz-2. Kansas City Chiefs (12-4): AFC West champions. They began Sunday in wild-card position and ended it with a division crown and bye thanks to Oakland’s struggles.
y-3. Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5): AFC North champions. They’ll open the playoffs hosting the Dolphins.
y-4. Houston Texans (9-7): AFC South champions. They’ll open the playoffs hosting the Raiders.
x-5. Oakland Raiders (12-4): Wild card No. 1. Their loss combined with Kansas City’s win drops them from second seed to fifth. They’ll be in Houston next weekend.
x-6. Miami Dolphins (10-6): Wild card No. 2. They’ll open the playoffs at Pittsburgh next weekend.

NFC
y*-1. Dallas Cowboys (13-3): NFC East champions. They’ll open the playoffs against the lowest-seeded team that wins on wild-card weekend. Dallas’ loss to Philadelphia on Sunday officially eliminated the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
yz-2. Atlanta Falcons (11-5): NFC South champions. Their victory Sunday clinched a first-round bye.
y-3. Seattle Seahawks (10-5-1): NFC West champions. They’ll open the playoffs hosting the Lions.
y-4. Green Bay Packers (10-6): NFC North champions. They reclaimed division crown they lost in 2015. They’ll open the playoffs hosting the Giants.
x-5. New York Giants (11-5): Wild card No. 1. They were locked into this spot before Sunday’s kickoff but still played their starters and knocked the Washington Redskins out of the playoff picture. They go to Green Bay next weekend.
x-6. Detroit Lions (9-7): Wild card No. 2. Their loss to the Packers puts them on the road to Seattle.

x — clinched playoff spot
y — clinched division
z — clinched first-round bye
* — clinched home-field advantage

 

Wild-card weekend

SATURDAY, JAN. 7

*Oakland Raiders at Houston Texans*

Time::  4:35 p.m. ET, TV: (ESPN/ABC)

Betting Line: Texans favored by 2.5

*Detroit Lions at Seattle Seahawks*

Time:  8:15 p.m. ET, TV: (NBC)

Betting Line: Seahawks favored by 7.5

SUNDAY, JAN. 8

*Miami Dolphins at Pittsburgh Steelers*

 Time: 1:05 p.m. ET. TV: (CBS)

Betting Line: Steelers favored by 10

*New York Giants at Green Bay Packers*

TIME: 4:40 p.m. ET,. TV: (Fox)

Betting Line: Packers favored by 4.5

Divisional weekend

Saturday, Jan. 14

Highest NFC seed at Atlanta Falcons – 4:35 p.m. ET, (Fox)

Lowest AFC seed at New England Patriots – 8:15 p.m. ET, (CBS)

Sunday, Jan. 15

Highest AFC seed at Kansas City Chiefs – 1:05 p.m. ET, (NBC)

Lowest NFC seed at Dallas Cowboys – 4:40 p.m. ET (Fox)

Conference championship weekend

Sunday, Jan. 22

NFC Championship Game – 3:05 p.m. ET, Fox

AFC Championship Game – 6:40 p.m. ET, CBS

Super Bowl 

Sunday, Feb. 5

Super Bowl LI (NRG Stadium, Houston) – 6:30 p.m. ET, Fox

NFL Roundup: Packers surge to postseason, Lions back in

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LANDOVER, Md. (AP) — Facing an opponent with nothing to play for, the Washington Redskins blew their chance to make the playoffs with an uninspired 19-10 loss to the New York Giants on Sunday.

The Redskins would have made the playoffs with a win as long as the Green Bay Packers-Detroit Lions night game didn’t end in a tie. Instead, Kirk Cousins was intercepted twice in the second half by Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Washington (8-7-1) goes into an offseason filled with questions.

The Packers and Lions each qualified as a result of the Redskins’ loss to New York (11-5), which will be the first wild card and play at Green Bay on Sunday. Eli Manning played the entire game, going 17 of 27 for 180 yards despite the Giants opting for a conservative approach for much of the second half.

Cousins finished 22 of 35 for 285 yards and a touchdown, but more importantly the interceptions in the third and fourth quarters. Fittingly the game ended with another Washington turnover when tight end Jordan Reed’s attempted lateral turned into a Giants touchdown.

PACKERS 31, LIONS 24

DETROIT (AP) — Aaron Rodgers threw three of his four touchdown passes in the second half, lifting the Packers to an NFC North clincher.

Detroit’s Matthew Stafford connected with Anquan Boldin for a 35-yard touchdown pass with 13 seconds left, but the Packers recovered the onside kick.,

The Packers (10-6) closed the regular season with six straight wins, running the table as Rodgers said they could after losing four straight midway through the season. They won the division for the fifth time in six years. Like his team, Rodgers has been perfect during the streak with 15 TD passes and no interceptions.

He will lead fourth-seeded Green Bay at home Sunday against the fifth-seeded New York Giants in an NFC wild-card game.

Detroit (9-7) dropped its last three games after it had a two-game lead in the NFC North. The Lions, though, will be in the playoffs at Seattle on Saturday night.

CHIEFS 37, CHARGERS 27

SAN DIEGO (AP) — Alex Smith threw for two touchdowns and ran for another, and the Chiefs clinched the AFC West title and a first-round playoff bye in perhaps the final NFL game in San Diego.

The Chiefs (12-4) took the division with the win and Oakland’s loss at Denver.

San Diego fired coach Mike McCoy after the game.

Smith, who went to nearby Helix High in La Mesa, scored on a 5-yard scramble early in the second quarter to tie the game at 10. He threw a 4-yard touchdown pass to wide-open Charcandrick West later in the quarter to put the Chiefs ahead for good. That followed the first of two interceptions of Philip Rivers that led to 10 points for the Chiefs.

Smith was intercepted once, on a deflected pass that Jahleel Addae returned 90 yards for a touchdown to pull the Chargers (5-11) to 20-17 in the third quarter.

Smith came right back and threw a 2-yard scoring pass to West, who again was wide open.

Chargers chairman Dean Spanos has until Jan. 15 to decide whether to move the team to the Los Angeles area and join the Rams in a stadium scheduled to open in Inglewood in 2019.

BRONCOS 24, RAIDERS 6

DENVER (AP) — In a game that couldn’t have gone much worse, Oakland lost its latest starting quarterback, Matt McGloin, to a shoulder injury, then fell to a team with nothing to play for.

Broncos coach Gary Kubiak will be stepping down for health reasons.

Combined with Kansas City’s win over San Diego, the Raiders (12-4) squandered the AFC West title and the first-round bye that went with it — and instead fell to the No. 5 seed. They will play at Houston on Saturday.

Now, they are a wild card with a rookie third-stringer, Connor Cook, as their only fully healthy quarterback.

McGloin, who got the start when Derek Carr broke his leg last week, left late in the second quarter. He completed six passes for 21 yards, missing virtually every throw downfield.

Cook was 14 of 21 with a touchdown to Cooper, an interception and a lost fumble against the defending Super Bowl champion Broncos (9-7), who ended a three-game slide.

FALCONS 38, SAINTS 32

ATLANTA (AP) — Matt Ryan bolstered his MVP credentials with a brilliant first half, throwing four touchdown passes to secure a first-round playoff bye.

Ryan was 17 of 19 for 235 yards by halftime, directing the Falcons (11-5) to touchdowns on all five possessions and a commanding 35-13 lead. He finished 27 of 36 for 331 yards, leaving him with a franchise-record 4,944 yards, 38 touchdowns and just seven interceptions this season.

Atlanta is seeded second in the NFC to Dallas.

The Saints (7-9) came into the regular-season finale looking to finish another disappointing season with a three-game winning streak and avoid a third straight losing mark. But they were blitzed early and often by the league’s highest-scoring offense.

One consolation for New Orleans: Drew Brees became the first quarterback in league history to throw for 5,000 yards five times. He was 29 of 50 for 350 yards, giving him 5,208 on the season.

His 471 completions this season set an NFL record.

SEAHAWKS 25, 49ERS 23

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — Russell Wilson threw for 258 yards and a touchdown and the Seahawks rallied from an early 11-point deficit in what could be coach Chip Kelly’s final game with the 49ers.

The NFC West champion Seahawks (10-5-1) head to the playoffs as the third seed in the NFC. The Seahawks will host Detroit on Saturday night.

The loss capped an awful season for the 49ers (2-14), who matched the franchise record for losses in a season previously reached in 1978, ’79 and 2004. San Francisco fired general manager Trent Baalke and coach Chip Kelly.

Seattle receiver Doug Baldwin caught two passes for 44 yards, tying the franchise record for catches in a season with 94. Baldwin tied Bobby Engram’s mark set in 2007 with an acrobatic 41-yard catch in the second quarter.

PATRIOTS 35, DOLPHINS 14

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. (AP) —Tom Brady threw for 276 yards and three scores, and the Patriots clinched home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.

New England took a 20-0 lead in the first half, and turned away Miami’s comeback bid with the help of a 77-yard touchdown catch-and-run by Julian Edelman and a 69-yard fumble return by linebacker Shea McClellin.

The Patriots (14-2), already assured of a first-round bye, became the ninth team since 1972 to go undefeated on the road during the regular season.

The Dolphins (10-6), beaten for only the second time in the past 11 games, had already earned an AFC wild-card berth. They play their first postseason game since 2008 next Sunday at Pittsburgh.

The Patriots had lost their past three games in Miami, and appeared intent from the outset on snapping that streak. By the time they led 20-0, they had advantages of 238 to 30 in yards, and 17 to one in first downs.

STEELERS 27, BROWNS 24

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Steelers backups assured the Browns of the top pick in the 2017 draft.

Landry Jones hit Cobi Hamilton with a 26-yard touchdown with 2:57 left in overtime. The Browns took a lead on Cody Parkey’s 34-yard field goal with 7:17 remaining in the extra session.

Jones, who started while the playoff-bound Steelers rested Ben Roethlisberger, took the Steelers 75 yards in nine plays. The last was a pretty lob to the end zone that Hamilton hauled in to give Pittsburgh (11-5) its seventh straight victory.

Jones finished with 277 yards passing and three touchdowns and one interception.

The Steelers will host Miami on Sunday in the wild-card round next weekend. The Dolphins thumped Pittsburgh 30-15 on Oct. 16.

Isaiah Crowell ran for a career-high 152 yards for the Browns (1-15), who finished with the worst record in franchise history.

The Browns said coach Hue Jackson will return next season.

JETS 30, BILLS 10

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — Ryan Fitzpatrick threw two touchdown passes in what was likely his final game for the Jets.

Despite a 5-11 record, the Jets are making no changes in leadership, meaning both coach Todd Bowles and general manager Mike Maccagnan will remain with the team next season. The team announced the moves after the game.

Bowles is 15-17 in his two-year tenure with New York, which hired him in January 2015 after firing Rex Ryan. Maccagnan is also in his second season with the Jets, and had also been criticized for the team’s roster, which likely faces an overhaul this offseason.

The Bills (7-9) also face some uncertainty this offseason after firing coach Rex Ryan earlier in the week and elevating offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn to the interim role. Two other people with direct knowledge of the situation told the AP before the game that Lynn is the clear favorite to take over the job permanently.

TITANS 24, TEXANS 17

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A concussion that sidelined quarterback Tom Savage could have the biggest impact coming out of the Texans’ loss.

Savage started for the AFC South champions, left in the second quarter to be evaluated for a concussion and was cleared. He took a snap to kneel down on the final play of the first half and was diagnosed with a concussion after being re-evaluated at halftime.

That left Brock Osweiler, benched for Savage last month, running the offense. He threw for 253 yards and a touchdown and also ran for a 1-yard TD on fourth-and-goal in the fourth quarter.

Houston (9-7) will host an AFC wild-card game next Saturday against Oakland, possibly with uncertainty at quarterback.

DaQuan Jones recovered a fumble for a touchdown in the first quarter, and the Titans never trailed to finish with their first winning season since 2011.

The Titans (9-7) also ended a five-game skid to the two-time AFC South champs, who had beaten Tennessee eight of the previous nine games in this series. With their six-win improvement from going 3-13 in 2015, the Titans matched the biggest one-year turnaround in franchise history, previously set in 1967 and 1974.

EAGLES 27, COWBOYS 13

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Tony Romo threw his first touchdown pass in nearly 14 months and the playoff-bound Cowboys played it safe.

The Cowboys (13-3) locked up the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs when the Eagles (7-9) beat the Giants on Dec. 22. So Dak Prescott played only two series and Ezekiel Elliott watched from the sideline.

Carson Wentz tossed two TD passes to Zach Ertz to help Philadelphia finish with a two-game winning streak.

Prescott was 4 for 8 for 37 yards before giving way to Romo, who hadn’t played in a regular-season game since Thanksgiving 2015 when he broke his left collarbone for the second time in less than three months. Romo broke a bone in his back in the third preseason game against Seattle this season, paving the way for Prescott to have one of the best years by a rookie quarterback in NFL history.

Romo overthrew Terrance Williams on a deep pass on his first play. His first completion was a 16-yarder to Williams on third-and-12. After Dez Bryant drew a pass interference penalty on a deep pass at the Eagles 3, Romo connected with Williams for his first TD pass since Nov. 22, 2015 against Miami.

Romo finished 3 for 4 for 29 yards.

BUCCANEERS 17, PANTHERS 16

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Jameis Winston threw for 202 yards and one touchdown And the Buccaneers broke up Cam Newton’s 2-point conversion throw in the closing seconds for their first winning season in six years.

Winston threw a 10-yard pass to Mike Evans to snap a fourth-quarter tie and became the first player in NFL history to start his career with consecutive 4,000-yard seasons.

But the Bucs (9-7) were eliminated from playoff contention, not getting the help they needed in other games for their first berth since 2007.

Winston’s franchise record-setting 28th TD pass put the Bucs ahead 17-10 with 3:10 remaining. Newton, however, moved the Panthers (6-10) right down the field, with help of a 47-yard pass to Kelvin Benjamin and two fourth-down completions to set up a 5-yard scoring pass to trim Carolina’s deficit to one with 17 seconds left.

The defending NFC champions went for 2 points. Newton’s pass intended for tight end Greg Olsen was batted away by safety Bradley McDougald.

VIKINGS 38, BEARS 10

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Sam Bradford concluded his first season with Minnesota with three first-half touchdown passes. Bradford went 25 for 33 for 250 yards and one interception, finishing with a 71.6 percent completion rate to set an NFL single-season record. Drew Brees (71.2 for New Orleans) set the league mark in 2011.

Kyle Rudolph caught 11 passes for 117 yards and a score for the Vikings (8-8), who started 5-0 before stumbling out of their bye week and never recovering.

The Bears (3-13) wound up with their fewest wins in a non-strike year since 1973 after turning the ball over five times. Everson Griffen returned one of their three lost fumbles for a touchdown.

Jordan Howard, the lone bright spot, rushed for 135 yards on 23 carries to break Matt Forte’s franchise rookie record and finish with 1,313 yards for the season for Chicago.

COLTS 24, JAGUARS 20

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Andrew Luck threw a 1-yard touchdown pass to Jack Doyle with 9 seconds left. Indy (8-8) went 75 yards in 84 seconds with no timeouts to avoid its first losing season since 2011, sending retiring linebacker Robert Mathis out with a win in his final NFL game.

Jacksonville (3-13) matched the second-worst record in franchise history after blocking a punt with 1:54 to go and breaking a 17-17 tie with 1:33 left.

Instead, Luck took the Colts right downfield for the score.

Mathis extended his league record of strip-sacks to 41 in the fourth quarter, two days after announcing he would retire.

Frank Gore ran 16 times for 62 yards, becoming the fourth player in league history to top 1,000 yards at age 33 or older. He’s also the oldest to achieve the milestone since John Riggins in 1984 at age 35, and he’s the first Colts to run for 1,000 since Joseph Addai in 2007 — ending the second-longest active streak in the NFL.

BENGALS 27, RAVENS 10

CINCINNATI (AP) — Andy Dalton completed his first 10 passes, one for a touchdown, and Rex Burkhead ran for a pair of scores in the Bengals’ fifth straight win at home over the Ravens.

The Bengals (6-9-1) missed the playoffs for the first time in six years, and haven’t won a playoff game in 26 years, the sixth-longest streak in NFL history. Coach Marvin Lewis, 0-7 in the postseason, says he’ll return in 2017.

Baltimore (8-8) failed to reach the playoffs for the third time in four years. The Ravens played their final game as if they were emotionally hung over from a last-minute loss at Pittsburgh last Sunday that eliminated them.

Ravens receiver Steve Smith caught three passes for 34 yards in what was probably the final game of his remarkable career. The 37-year-old receiver reiterated last week that he’s likely retiring. He has 51 games with 100 yards receiving, tied for fourth most in NFL history.

CARDINALS 44, RAMS 6

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Carson Palmer threw touchdown passes to Jeremy Ross, Darren Fells and Larry Fitzgerald, and the Cardinals wrapped up a frustrating season.

Fitzgerald caught five passes and took the overall NFL lead with 107 catches in perhaps his final game for the Cardinals (7-8-1). Arizona missed the playoffs one year after reaching the NFC championship game despite an offense and a defense ranked in the top quarter of the league.

Arizona still finished the year strong with wins over NFC West champion Seattle and Los Angeles (4-12), which has lost seven straight.

The Cardinals’ defense sacked Jared Goff seven times and allowed just 122 yards by the Rams, who wrapped up their homecoming season with their worst record since 2011.

David Johnson left the field on a cart in the first quarter with an injured left knee, but Arizona’s star running back appeared to be able to put weight on his leg when he returned to watch the second half from the sidelines. Johnson failed to gain 100 yards from scrimmage for the first time in his spectacular season.

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NFL Week 17: Can Rodgers complete Packers’ push?

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(PhatzRadio Sports /USA Today)    —-   Aaron Rodgers’ midseason remark that the Green Bay Packers could still “run the table” might not have been a fully formed prediction, but the quarterback has his team in position to make good on his words.

Green Bay has rallied back from a 4-6 start to win its last five games and set itself up for a Week 17 showdown against the Detroit Lions for the NFC North. A win would give the Packers their fifth division title in six years, and perhaps their most unlikely one in some time.

But Green Bay also could drop from the postseason entirely, as a win by the Washington Redskins earlier in the day would leave the loser of Sunday’s prime time clash out of the playoffs.

Rodgers has been the Packers’ clear catalyst, completing 71.4% of his passes and throwing 11 touchdowns with no interceptions during the five-game win streak. Detroit is well-versed in how quickly he can dissect a defense after his four-touchdown first half guided Green Bay to a 34-27 win earlier this season.

For the Lions to capture their first division title since 1993, generating pressure will be paramount. Detroit ranks just 29th in the NFL with 25 sacks. Rodgers’ ability to evade the rush can be lethal for opposing defenses, but he’s still recovering from left hamstring and right calf injuries.

Denying big plays is a priority for coordinator Teryl Austin’s bend-but-don’t-break defense. Though Rodgers is an opportunist with big plays, he’s also patient enough to slice a defense with small plays. At some point, the defense will need a breakthrough or two in the form of a big play or key stand.

Cornerback Darius Slay could have a key role in his potential return from a hamstring injury. Detroit might lean on him to slow Packers wide receiver Jordy Nelson, who had 101 yards and two touchdowns in the first meeting between the teams this season.

Here are four other matchups that could define Week 17 in the NFL:

Dolphins RB Jay Ajayi vs. Patriots’ front seven

Ajayi might not have a full day of work against New England given that he is listed as questionable with a shoulder injury. The breakout running back, however, represents Miami’s best chance at moving up to the first wild-card slot and denying New England home-field advantage.

Ajayi quelled concerns about his late-season play last week by rushing for 206 yards against the Buffalo Bills, breaking the 200-yard barrier for the third time this season. With Matt Moore in for the injured Ryan Tannehill at quarterback, the second-year back likely becomes the focal point of the offense for the foreseeable future. New England hasn’t given up a touchdown in two games and has allowed a league-low six rushing scores this season.

Giants WR Odell Beckham Jr. vs. Redskins CB Josh Norman

Arguably the most heated wide receiver-cornerback matchup in the NFL might lack its usual fanfare heading into Week 17. But in order to position themselves for the final NFC wild-card berth, the Redskins still must handle an offense propped by Beckham.

Both stars shrugged off questions about their history this week, suggesting that the charged confrontations that ignited the rivalry would be left in the past. Beckham had seven catches for 121 yards in a game that became known for his outburst against a kicking net. With the Giants settled into the No. 5 seed and Beckham finding his comfort zone, Sunday could make for a more reserved showdown.

Raiders QB Matt McGloin vs. Broncos’ secondary

With Derek Carr sidelined by a broken fibula, McGloin now has the keys to Oakland’s first playoff season since 2002. His performance could be the key decider in the Raiders’ playoff seeding – as well as a harbinger of how the team will fare after the loss of its leader.

McGloin hasn’t started a game since his rookie season in 2013, but Oakland invested in him this offseason for situations such as this. Facing the top-ranked passing defense with the AFC West title – and possible home-field advantage – potentially on the line, Raiders coach Jack Del Rio isn’t likely to task the former Penn State walk-on with the same role as Carr on Sunday. But McGloin will need to get up to speed for the playoffs, and how the offense fares against the Broncos could reveal how the offense is faring after this major shift.

Chargers QB Philip Rivers vs. Chiefs’ secondary

Sunday’s AFC West showdown has playoff implications for Kansas City, but it could be more notable as the possible end of an era. With potential Los Angeles relocation looming, the Chargers could be playing their last game in San Diego.

San Diego has struggled to close out games (1-7 in contests decided by seven points or less) but has been resilient despite having 19 players on injured reserve. Rivers leads the league in interceptions with 19, but he and the rest of the Chargers are eager to play spoiler after giving up a 21-point lead in a 33-27 overtime loss to the Chiefs in Week 1.

 

NFL Playoff Picture: AFC has its 6 playoff teams. Who will fill out NFC bracket?

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(PhatzRadio Sports / USA Today / AP)    —-   Here’s how the NFL playoff picture looks heading into the season’s final Sunday.

AFC
yz-1. New England Patriots (13-2): AFC East champions. A win or Raiders loss would give Pats home field. [Remaining game: at Dolphins]
x-2. Oakland Raiders (12-3): AFC West leader. They take division and first-round bye with a victory. If New England also loses, Oakland would earn No. 1 seed. However a Raiders loss combined with a Chiefs win gives Kansas City the AFC West and second seed. [Remaining game: at Broncos]
y-3. Pittsburgh Steelers (10-5): AFC North champions. They’re locked into this spot and will open the playoffs against the No. 6 seed. [Remaining game: vs. Browns]
y-4. Houston Texans (9-6): AFC South champions. They’re locked into this spot and will open the playoffs against the No. 5 seed. [Remaining game: at Titans]
x-5. Kansas City Chiefs (11-4): Wild card No. 1. They can still win the AFC West with a win and a loss by the Raiders . [Remaining game: at Chargers]
x-6. Miami Dolphins (10-5): Wild card No. 2. The Fins could jump up to the fifth seed (and a more favorable matchup with Houston) if they and the Chiefs finish tied at 11-5. [Remaining game: vs. Patriots]

NFC
y*-1. Dallas Cowboys (13-2): NFC East champions. They’re locked into the top spot and will open the playoffs against the lowest-seeded team that wins on wild-card weekend. [Remaining game: at Eagles]
y-2. Atlanta Falcons (10-5): NFC South champions. They’ll claim the other first-round bye with a win in Week 17. [Remaining game: vs. Saints]
y-3. Seattle Seahawks (9-5-1): NFC West champions. They must win and hope the Falcons lose in order to get the No. 2 seed and the bye. [Remaining game: at 49ers]
4. Green Bay Packers (9-6): NFC North leader. If they beat Detroit on Sunday night, the Pack reclaim division crown they lost in 2015. They cannot earn a bye, though. [Remaining game: at Lions]
x-5. New York Giants (10-5): Wild card No. 1. They’re locked into this spot and will open the playoffs at the No. 4 seed. [Remaining game: at Redskins]
6. Detroit Lions (9-6): Wild card No. 2. If they beat the Packers at home, they win the NFC North. But the loser of that games goes home if the Redskins triumph Sunday afternoon. [Remaining game: vs. Packers]

In the hunt
7. Washington Redskins (8-6-1): If they win their final game, they can watch the Packers-Lions game knowing they’ll bypass the loser for the final wild-card berth — assuming the NFC North clash does not end in a tie. [Remaining game: vs. Giants]
8. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-7): Extreme long shots, but they’re still alive after Detroit’s loss Monday. The Bucs need to finish tied with Green Bay for the sixth seed and get a lot of tiebreaker assistance, including a tie between the Redskins and Giants, in order to advance. Tampa Bay can no longer pass the Lions after losing the common opponent tiebreaker. [Remaining game: vs. Panthers]

x — clinched playoff spot
y — clinched division
z — clinched first-round bye
* — clinched home-field advantage

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NFL playoff picture: Packers-Lions showdown could be play-in game

Bad form for the AFC, which has all six of its playoff qualifiers determined heading into the final Sunday of the schedule.

While there are still some things to be decided there (seeding, matchups), the drama is center stage in the NFC.

The sharpest spotlights will be in the nation’s capital in the afternoon, then in the Motor City at night.

If the Redskins beat the Giants, then the loser between the Packers and Lions won’t get into the postseason.

If New York prevails, both Green Bay and Detroit are in — same thing if they tie regardless of what the Redskins do — and will be playing for who earns the NFC North title and who becomes a wild card.

“Obviously the last game of the regular season you can look at it for what it is, it’s a big game,” Lions coach Jim Caldwell says. “But nothing changes between those white lines, you’re still going to have to be effective.

“Still going to play the same and not adding different rules to the game because of the magnitude of the game, or anything of that nature. You’ve still got to play and we’ve got to play well.”

Ditto for Green Bay (9-5), which has played very well in winning five straight to tie Detroit for the division lead.

“It’s just an extra playoff game to play, and those are the best,” says Packers receiver Jordy Nelson, who has had a spectacular return season after missing 2015 with an injured knee.

“The atmosphere will be incredible. The energy of the game, the speed of the game, everything will be full tilt. These are the games that you enjoy, you want to play in. You want to experience these and these are the ones you’ll remember.”

Tampa Bay remains on the fringes, but needs a ridiculous combination that includes a win against Carolina, a Giants-Redskins tie and a strength of victory tiebreaker over the Packers, who must lose.

New York Giants (10-5) at Washington (8-6-1)

Owning a wild card, the Giants could relax, except that their offense, other than Odell Beckham Jr., has been in a funk. So look for them to play hard and with the starters against up-and-down Washington.

Big and potentially inflammatory matchup between Beckham and Redskins cornerback Josh Norman could determine this one. So could New York finding a way to slow Washington’s second-ranked passing offense.

“We understand what’s at stake, we’re all professionals,” Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins says. “We want to be a mature football team and we know to do that we’ve just got to focus and take care of our business and let the chips fall where they may.”

New Orleans (7-8) at Atlanta (10-5)

The Falcons’ reward for a victory is a bye in the wild-card round. They could earn it with Detroit and Seattle losses, and with some ties involved.

This could be a shootout; Atlanta won 45-32 in September, the Falcons lead the NFL in scoring and are second in total yards. The Saints lead in yards and rank second in scoring. Saints RB Mark Ingram (940) and Falcons RB Devonta Freeman (983) can reach 1,000 yards rushing.

Carolina (6-9) at Tampa Bay (8-7)

Regardless of what happens Sunday, the Buccaneers have had a nice turnaround under new coach Dirk Koetter. Jameis Winston is 112 yards shy of throwing for 4,000 yards in consecutive seasons. He has 27 TD passes, tied for a club single-season record, but he also has thrown an NFC-leading 17 interceptions.

It has been the wrong kind of turnaround for 2015 NFC champion Carolina. But with 1,051 yards receiving, Panthers tight end Greg Olsen is the first at the position in league history with three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons.

New England (13-2) at Miami (10-5)

Both are in the playoffs, with the Patriots needing a win or an Oakland loss to get AFC home-field advantage yet again. But they have lost three straight at Miami.

Both also have gotten huge contributions from running backs. LeGarrette Blount could have a big game against the Dolphins’ shaky run defense; he already leads the NFL with 17 TDs rushing and has 1,110 yards rushing. The Dolphins have given up 5,726 yards and could break the franchise record of 6,050 set in 1986.

But they also have highly productive Jay Ajayi, who last week became the fourth NFL player to have three 200-yard rushing games in a season. Ajayi is averaging 7.1 yards per carry after third quarter, best in league.

Oakland (12-3) at Denver (8-7)

An Oakland victory over the spiraling defending Super Bowl champs gives the Raiders the AFC West. A loss opens a chance for Kansas City, which would drop the Raiders to the fifth seed.

With Derek Carr (broken leg) sidelined, Matt McGloin steps in at QB. McGloin’s last start came in 2013 as a rookie.

Denver’s defense has stagnated, leading to its slump despite another strong defense. LB Von Miller is second in the league with 13 1-2 sacks.

Kansas City (11-4) at San Diego (5-10)

Already in the playoffs, the Chiefs must take care of the Chargers in what could be the last NFL game at Qualcomm Stadium. Then Kansas City needs a Broncos win. The Chiefs lead the NFL with 31 takeaways and San Diego has 33 turnovers.

Chargers Chairman Dean Spanos is threatening to relocate to Los Angeles and has until Jan. 15 to decide to join the Rams as a tenant in a new stadium being built in Inglewood.

Houston (9-6) at Tennessee (8-7)

What could have been a faceoff for the AFC South fizzled when the Titans saw quarterback Marcus Mariota break his leg in last week’s upset loss to Jacksonville.

Houston, the site of the Super Bowl, won three in a row to take the division. Its defense is ranked No. 1 in yardage allowed, which it probably needs with the inconsistent offense. That’s now in the hands of QB Tom Savage after expensive free agent Brock Osweiler was benched.

Dallas (13-2) at Philadelphia (6-9)

Of note in this one as the top-seeded Cowboys head toward a bye, QB Dak Prescott’s 13 wins are tied for most by a rookie in NFL history set by Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger. Fellow rookie Ezekiel Elliott leads the NFL with 1,631 yards rushing and is third with 15 TDs on the ground. He needs 178 yards to break Eric Dickerson’s rookie record (1,808).

Eagles kicker Caleb Sturgis (33 for 38) needs one field goal to set a single-season team record.

Seattle (9-5-1) at San Francisco (2-13)

In losing three of the past five, the Seahawks might have blown a first-round playoff bye. The NFC West winners must win and have Atlanta lose for the easiest way to grab that week off.

The Seahawks have won six straight in the series, including the 2013 NFC title game. San Francisco, which snapped a 13-game slide last week, can only dream of title games right now.

Cleveland (1-14) at Pittsburgh (10-5)

Pittsburgh clinched the AFC North with a win over Baltimore last week. Settled in as the No. 3 seed, the Steelers will rest Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown.

They still might have too much for Cleveland, though the Browns are hot: They avoided a winless season by holding off San Diego last weekend.

Baltimore (8-7) at Cincinnati (5-9-1)

Personal achievements are all the Ravens have left. Justin Tucker needs one more 50-yard field goal to move ahead of Blair Walsh for an NFL seasonal record with 11. Tucker has 37 FGs overall, one shy of his club record, and needs three to become the third kicker in NFL history with 40. Mike Wallace (984 yards, 68 catches) needs 16 yards for a third career 1,000-yard season. Entering what could be his finale, WR Steve Smith has 51 games with at least 100 yards, tied with Andre Johnson and Terrell Owens for fourth in NFL history.

Bengals QB Andy Dalton needs 314 yards passing to top his club season record of 4,293 in 2013.

Jacksonville (3-12) at Indianapolis (7-8)

Can interim coach Doug Marrone finish 2-0? He led the Jags to a win over Tennessee in his first game replacing the fired Gus Bradley. Jacksonville has lost nine of its past 10 road games, but seeks three straight wins over the Colts.

Colts RB Frank Gore, 33, needs 36 yards to become Indy’s first 1,000-yard rusher since 2007 and the oldest NFL player to achieve it since 35-year-old John Riggins in 1984. Gore would join Hall of Famers Emmitt Smith (11), Curtis Martin (10), Walter Payton (10) and Barry Sanders (10) as only NFL players with nine or more 1,000-yard seasons.

Chicago (3-12) at Minnesota (7-8)

The Vikings began 5-0 and look where they are now. But Sam Bradford leads the league with a 71.3 percent completion rate, which would be an all-time NFL record. Unheralded WR Adam Thielen has 960 yards receiving, seeking to become first Vikings player with 1,000 yards through the air since Sidney Rice in 2009.

This will be the worst finish by the Bears since 2002, when they went 4-12.

Arizona (6-8-1) at Los Angeles (4-11)

Few teams were more disappointing this season than Arizona, an NFC championship game loser last January.

Cardinals QB Carson Palmer returns to LA Coliseum, where he won Heisman Trophy for Southern California.

The Rams have lost six straight and 10 of 11 in homecoming season. They are 1-5 at the Coliseum, losing five straight.

Buffalo (7-8) at New York Jets (4-11)

With the Rex Ryan revenge factor gone because he was fired on Tuesday, not much to recommend in this one. Jets coach Todd Bowles, the guy who succeeded Ryan last in 2015 and went 10-6, could be on the hot seat because his team has seemed to lack effort in several recent losses.

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AP Power Rankings: Pats stay No. 1 going into season finale

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NEW YORK (AP) — Going into the last week of the regular season, Tom Brady and the New England Patriots are trying to wrap up home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.

The Patriots (13-2) have won six games in a row going into the regular-season finale at Miami and will be a strong favorite to reach the Super Bowl.

The Patriots are also the overwhelming choice for the top spot in the AP Pro32 poll released on Tuesday.

New England received 11 first-place votes for 383 points from balloting by media members who regularly cover the NFL.

“Malcolm Butler and LeGarrette Blount were overlooked for the Pro Bowl, but they’ll be content with the more important bowl: the Super Bowl,” Newsday’s Bob Glauber said.

“Butler’s two interceptions and a fumble recovery and Blount’s two rushing TDs key the Patriots’ embarrassment of the Jets in moving New England one step closer to Houston in February.”

The Cowboys (13-2) received the other first-place vote to remain No. 2 with 373 points.

“But who is MVP? Dak (Prescott) or Zeke (Ezekiel Elliott)?” asked John Fox Sports’ Czarnecki about Dallas’ star rookies.

Despite being in second place in the AFC West, the Chiefs (11-4) switched spots with the Raiders and moved up to No. 3.

The Raiders (12-3) slipped to No. 4 and will enter the playoffs without quarterback Derek Carr, who broke his right leg in Saturday’s win over Indianapolis.

NFC South champion Atlanta (10-5) jumped three spots to No. 5. The Falcons can clinch a first-round bye with a win over the Saints.

AFC North champion Pittsburgh (10-5) inched up to No. 6 in the poll. The surging Steelers, who have won six in a row, are the No. 3 seed in the AFC playoffs.

“Terry Bradshaw’s disrespect toward (coach) Mike Tomlin could be a rallying cry for a proud franchise that looks dangerous entering the postseason,” said Ira Kaufman of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The Giants slipped two spots to No. 7 after their loss to the Eagles. The clinched a wild-card spot and will be the No. 5 seed in the playoffs.

Green Bay (9-6) moved up two spots to No. 8. The Packers face the Lions on Sunday night for the NFC North title.

Seattle dropped three spots to No. 9 after its 34-31 loss to Arizona.

Miami rounded out the top 10 after its 34-31 overtime win over Buffalo, which fired Rex Ryan as coach on Tuesday.

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Poll Release: Dec 27
(###) Number of first place votes
 
Rank team Record Points PV Rank
1 New England Patriots (11) 13-2 383 1
2 Dallas Cowboys (1) 13-2 373 2
3 Kansas City Chiefs 11-4 348 4
4 Oakland Raiders 12-3 335 3
5 Atlanta Falcons 10-5 334 8
6 Pittsburgh Steelers 10-5 329 7
7 New York Giants 10-5 305 5
8 Green Bay Packers 9-6 304 10
9 Seattle Seahawks 9-5-1 299 6
10 Miami Dolphins 10-5 278 11
11 Detroit Lions 9-6 269 9
12 Houston Texans 9-6 235 16
12 Baltimore Ravens 8-7 235 13
14 Washington Redskins 8-6-1 227 17
15 Denver Broncos 8-7 222 11
16 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 8-7 212 14
17 Tennessee Titans 8-7 203 15
18 Indianapolis Colts 7-8 168 18
19 New Orleans Saints 7-8 163 22
20 Buffalo Bills 7-8 152 19
21 Arizona Cardinals 6-8-1 146 24
22 Minnesota Vikings 7-8 131 19
23 Carolina Panthers 6-9 129 21
24 Philadelphia Eagles 6-9 117 26
25 Cincinnati Bengals 5-9-1 102 22
26 San Diego Chargers 5-10 84 25
27 Jacksonville Jaguars 3-12 58 30
28 New York Jets 4-11 56 27
29 Chicago Bears 3-12 53 28
30 Los Angeles Rams 4-11 46 29
31 San Francisco 49ers 2-13 26 31
32 Cleveland Browns 1-14 14 32

 

NFL playoff picture: Packers-Lions showdown could be play-in game

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(PhatzRadio Sports / USA Today / AP)   —-    Here’s how the NFL playoff picture looks heading into the season’s final Sunday.

AFC
yz-1. New England Patriots (13-2): AFC East champions. A win or Raiders loss would give Pats home field. [Remaining game: at Dolphins]
x-2. Oakland Raiders (12-3): AFC West leader. They take division and first-round bye with a victory. If New England also loses, Oakland would earn No. 1 seed. However a Raiders loss combined with a Chiefs win gives Kansas City the AFC West and second seed. [Remaining game: at Broncos]
y-3. Pittsburgh Steelers (10-5): AFC North champions. They’re locked into this spot and will open the playoffs against the No. 6 seed. [Remaining game: vs. Browns]
y-4. Houston Texans (9-6): AFC South champions. They’re locked into this spot and will open the playoffs against the No. 5 seed. [Remaining game: at Titans]
x-5. Kansas City Chiefs (11-4): Wild card No. 1. They can still win the AFC West with a win and a loss by the Raiders . [Remaining game: at Chargers]
x-6. Miami Dolphins (10-5): Wild card No. 2. The Fins could jump up to the fifth seed (and a more favorable matchup with Houston) if they and the Chiefs finish tied at 11-5. [Remaining game: vs. Patriots]

NFC
y*-1. Dallas Cowboys (13-2): NFC East champions. They’re locked into the top spot and will open the playoffs against the lowest-seeded team that wins on wild-card weekend. [Remaining game: at Eagles]
y-2. Atlanta Falcons (10-5): NFC South champions. They’ll claim the other first-round bye with a win in Week 17. [Remaining game: vs. Saints]
y-3. Seattle Seahawks (9-5-1): NFC West champions. They must win and hope the Falcons lose in order to get the No. 2 seed and the bye. [Remaining game: at 49ers]
4. Green Bay Packers (9-6): NFC North leader. If they beat Detroit on Sunday night, the Pack reclaim division crown they lost in 2015. They cannot earn a bye, though. [Remaining game: at Lions]
x-5. New York Giants (10-5): Wild card No. 1. They’re locked into this spot and will open the playoffs at the No. 4 seed. [Remaining game: at Redskins]
6. Detroit Lions (9-6): Wild card No. 2. If they beat the Packers at home, they win the NFC North. But the loser of that games goes home if the Redskins triumph Sunday afternoon. [Remaining game: vs. Packers]

In the hunt
7. Washington Redskins (8-6-1): If they win their final game, they can watch the Packers-Lions game knowing they’ll bypass the loser for the final wild-card berth — assuming the NFC North clash does not end in a tie. [Remaining game: vs. Giants]
8. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-7): Extreme long shots, but they’re still alive after Detroit’s loss Monday. The Bucs need to finish tied with Green Bay for the sixth seed and get a lot of tiebreaker assistance, including a tie between the Redskins and Giants, in order to advance. Tampa Bay can no longer pass the Lions after losing the common opponent tiebreaker. [Remaining game: vs. Panthers]

x — clinched playoff spot
y — clinched division
z — clinched first-round bye
* — clinched home-field advantage

_____

No Derek Carr means no chance for the Oakland Raiders.

After losing their star quarterback to a broken leg in a win over Indianapolis on Saturday, the Raiders now must turn to Matt McGloin. They go from an MVP candidate under center to a guy who went 1-5 the only time he started in 2013.

Bye-bye, Super Bowl hopes.

Suddenly that high-powered offense doesn’t seem so intimidating.

The Raiders (12-3) are playing for the No. 1 seed in the AFC at Denver this week. But they would drop to No. 5 with a loss and a win by Kansas City.

Whether they are the No. 1, 2 or 5 seed, their first trip to the playoffs since 2002 should be a one-and-done experience because backup quarterbacks can’t win big games.

Not so fast. It’s been done before.

Jeff Hostetler led the Giants to a Super Bowl title after Phil Simms was injured with two games remaining in the 1990 season. And Doug Williams was 0-2 as a starter for the Redskins in 1987, but was 3-0 in the playoffs and threw for 340 yards and four touchdowns against Denver in the Super Bowl.

Maybe McGloin can be next.

Here are other overreactions following Week 16:

___

OVERREACTION: The Browns will beat the Steelers and start a winning streak now that they got their first win.

REALISTIC REACTION: If Mike Tomlin plays his starters, forget it. If Ben Roethlisberger and others rest because Pittsburgh is locked into the No. 3 spot, the Browns have a chance to make it two in a row.

___

OVERREACTION: Seattle’s loss to Arizona cost them a chance to go to the Super Bowl because they’re 2-4-1 on the road and now will likely have to win twice on the road in the playoffs.

REALISTIC REACTION: They beat the Patriots in New England. That’s proof they can beat any team.

___

OVERREACTION: Dontari Poe is a better QB than Tim Tebow.

REALISTIC REACTION: Just because Chiefs coach Andy Reid called Poe’s TD toss a “bloated Tebow pass” doesn’t mean the 346-pound defensive tackle has real QB skills.

___

OVERREACTION: Terry Bradshaw will help the Steelers win another Super Bowl because his comments about coach Mike Tomlin inspired the team.

REALISTIC REACTION: When the game is on the line, nobody will care what Bradshaw said about Tomlin.

___

OVERREACTION: Tony Romo will get the Broncos back in the playoffs next year.

REALISTIC REACTION: He’s still playing for the Cowboys.

___

OVERREACTION: Trading a first-round pick for Sam Bradford was the worst move in 2016.

REALISTIC REACTION: If the Vikings didn’t lose Adrian Peterson and half their offensive line, they’d be in the playoffs. It’s not Bradford’s fault Minnesota is 2-8 since a 5-0 start.

___

OVERREACTION: Aaron Rodgers was right. The Packers are going to run the table all the way to another Vince Lombardi Trophy.

REALISTIC REACTION: They’ll have to win in Seattle, Atlanta or Dallas. Won’t be that easy.

___

For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP_NFL

NFL Playoff Picture: Steelers win AFC North, Broncos out

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(PhatzRadio Sports / AP)   —-    Pittsburgh won the AFC North in spectacular fashion Sunday, scoring the winning touchdown with 9 seconds remaining to beat archrival Baltimore 31-27.

Antonio Brown reached over the goal line after taking in a short pass from Ben Roethlisberger for the 4-yard score. Brown was stood up inside the 1, but somehow extended the ball — barely — into the end zone.

The Steelers (10-5) scored 21 points in the fourth quarter. They eliminated the Ravens (8-7) from contention.

Defending Super Bowl champion Denver was knocked out, too, with its loss at Kansas City. The Broncos have lost three in a row and five of seven.

The entire AFC playoff field is set: New England, Oakland, Kansas City, Pittsburgh, Houston and Miami.

The Steelers will be the No. 3 seed in the AFC and host the No. 6 seed during wild-card weekend on either Jan. 7 or 8. Pittsburgh earned the third spot over Houston based on strength of victory tiebreaker, heady territory considering it was 4-5 after falling to Dallas on Nov. 13. As New Year’s nears, the Steelers haven’t lost again.

Kansas City secured a playoff spot when the Ravens lost, and can still win the AFC West.

Earlier this weekend, Atlanta beat Carolina 33-16 , then the Falcons clinched the NFC South title when New Orleans beat Tampa Bay 31-24. The Bucs’ loss also allowed the New York Giants, losers to Philadelphia on Thursday night , to clinch a wild-card spot. Atlanta now has a chance in its regular season finale to clinch a first-round bye after Seattle lost 34-31 to Arizona.

Houston beat Cincinnati on Saturday night to clinch its second straight AFC South title after Tennessee’s 38-17 loss to Jacksonville . The Texans also will host a wild-card game.

Green Bay won its fifth straight to move closer to the NFC North title, eliminating Minnesota with a 38-25 victory. The Packers moved into the lead for a wild-card berth, and now the Packers must wait to face Detroit for the division crown on Jan. 1.

Detroit is at Dallas on Monday night.

Miami beat Buffalo 34-31 in overtime to move closer to its first playoff berth since 2008. A Denver loss to Kansas City on Sunday night would give Miami the AFC’s final wild-card berth and eliminate the defending Super Bowl champion Broncos.

The Redskins (8-6-1) routed Chicago 41-21 to keep them alive a bit longer in the NFC.

The regular season ends Jan. 1. Here’s a closer look at the teams and scenarios:

AFC EAST

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (13-2)

Remaining schedule: at Miami on Jan. 1.

Division record: 4-1. Conference record: 10-1.

Beat the Dolphins and clinch home-field advantage throughout.

MIAMI DOLPHINS (10-5)

Remaining schedule: vs. New England on Jan. 1.

Division record: 4-1. Conference record: 7-4.

They got the win they had to have in Buffalo and then the Chiefs win that gave them a wild-card spot.

Eliminated: NEW YORK JETS (4-11), BUFFALO BILLS (7-8).

___

AFC NORTH

PITTSBURGH STEELERS (10-5)

Remaining schedule: vs. Cleveland on Jan. 1.

Division record: 4-1. Conference record: 8-3.

By beating Baltimore, the Steelers won the division and will play in a wild-card game.

Eliminated: BALTIMORE RAVENS (8-7), CINCINNATI BENGALS (5-8-1), CLEVELAND BROWNS (1-14).

___

AFC SOUTH

HOUSTON TEXANS (9-6)

Remaining schedule: at Tennessee on Jan. 1.

Division record: 5-0. Conference record: 7-4.

Tom Savage won his first career start at quarterback to help Houston clinch the division. They will play in a wild-card game.

Eliminated: TENNESSEE TITANS (8-7), JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS (3-12), INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (7-8).

___

AFC WEST

OAKLAND RAIDERS (12-3)

Remaining schedule: at Denver on Jan. 1.

Division record: 3-2. Conference record: 9-2.

Raiders must finish one game ahead of the Chiefs.

KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (11-4)

Remaining schedule: at San Diego on Jan. 1.

Division record: 5-0. Conference record: 8-3.

Already guaranteed a wild card, a series sweep of Oakland gives the Chiefs a tiebreaker for the division, but they no longer control the AFC West race.

Eliminated: DENVER BRONCOS (8-7), SAN DIEGO CHARGERS (5-10).

___

NFC EAST

DALLAS COWBOYS (12-2)

Remaining schedule: vs. Detroit on Monday night, at Philadelphia on Jan. 1.

Division record: 3-2. Conference record: 8-2.

The Cowboys have a Texas-sized home-field advantage this postseason.

NEW YORK GIANTS (10-5)

Remaining schedule: at Washington on Jan. 1.

Division record: 3-2. Conference record: 7-4.

The Giants got the help they needed without having to wait for Week 17.

WASHINGTON REDSKINS (8-6-1)

Remaining schedule: vs. New York Giants on Jan. 1.

Division record: 3-2. Conference record: 6-5.

Not eliminated, but still game back of Green Bay for second wild-card berth.

Eliminated: PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (6-9).

___

NFC NORTH

DETROIT LIONS (9-5)

Remaining schedule: at Dallas on Monday night, vs. Green Bay on Jan. 1.

Division record: 2-2. Conference record: 7-3.

The Lions can win the division with a victory at Dallas and vs. Green Bay. They also are in the running for a wild card.

GREEN BAY PACKERS (9-6)

Remaining schedule: at Detroit on Jan. 1.

Division record: 4-1. Conference record: 7-4.

The Packers now sit in the second wild-card spot, but one more win makes them champions of the North.

Eliminated: CHICAGO BEARS (3-12), MINNESOTA VIKINGS (7-8).

___

NFC SOUTH

ATLANTA FALCONS (10-5)

Remaining schedule: vs. New Orleans on Jan. 1.

Division record: 4-1. Conference record: 8-3.

The Falcons not only have a division title but will have a chance at a first-round bye with a win against the Saints.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (8-7)

Remaining schedule: vs. Carolina on Jan. 1.

Division record: 3-2. Conference record: 6-5.

The Bucs are on the outside looking in and need lots of help.

Eliminated: NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (7-8), CAROLINA PANTHERS (6-9).

___

NFC WEST

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (9-5-1)

Remaining schedule: at San Francisco on Jan. 1.

Division record: 2-2-1. Conference record: 5-5-1.

First-round bye might be bye-bye for the Seahawks.

Eliminated: ARIZONA CARDINALS (6-8-1), LOS ANGELES RAMS (4-11), SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (2-13).

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For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP_NFL

NFL Roundup: Steelers stun Ravens with last-minute rally, clinch AFC North

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PITTSBURGH (AP) — Ben Roethlisberger shook off a pair of interceptions to throw two late touchdowns, including a 4-yard strike to Antonio Brown with 9 seconds remaining to lift the Steelers to a 31-27 victory over the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday night. Brown caught Roethlisberger’s pass just short of the goal line and stretched the ball into the end zone with his left hand to cap a wild fourth quarter and give Pittsburgh (10-5) its second division title in three years.

The Ravens took the lead on Kyle Juszczyk’s 10-yard burst up the middle with 1:18 remaining. But Roethlisberger calmly led the Steelers 75 yards in 10 plays, the last 4 coming as Brown fought through a pair of tacklers to assure the Steelers of a third straight playoff berth.

The Ravens (8-7) were officially eliminated when Joe Flacco’s pass near midfield was intercepted on the final play.

Kansas City secured a playoff berth with the Baltimore loss.

The Steelers have won six straight and ended a four-game losing streak to Baltimore.

CHIEFS 33, BRONCOS 10

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — With their postseason spot secured, the Chiefs turned to Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill to roll past the Broncos and keep their AFC West title hopes alive.

Kelce had 11 catches for 160 yards and a touchdown, and Hill took a handoff 70 yards for another score, as the Chiefs (11-4) beat the Broncos (8-7) for the third straight time and eliminated the Super Bowl champions from postseason contention.

Kansas City punctuated the win in style when 346-pound defensive tackle Dontari Poe, lined up at quarterback, threw a jump pass to Demetrius Harris with just under two minutes left.

A win next weekend in San Diego coupled with an Oakland loss in Denver would give the Chiefs their first division title since 2010, not to mention a first-round bye and home playoff game.

Meanwhile, the Broncos trudged through another inept offensive performance.

Trevor Siemian was 17 of 43 for 183 yards and a game-ending interception, and the only TD drive he led came after a pick gave him the ball at the Kansas City 6. Justin Forsett scored two plays later.

NFL playoff picture: Four AFC contenders play on Sunday

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Here’s how the NFL playoff picture looks through Week 16’s Saturday games.

(Note: Bookmark this page — it will be regularly updated for duration of the regular season.)

AFC
yz-1. New England Patriots (13-2): AFC East champions. A win or Raiders loss in Week 17 would give Pats home field. [Remaining game: at Dolphins]
x-2. Oakland Raiders (12-3): AFC West leader. They’ll win division and bye with a K.C. loss Sunday. [Remaining game: at Broncos]
3. Pittsburgh Steelers (9-5): AFC North leader. They’ll clinch division by beating Baltimore on Sunday but would lose control of it if Ravens complete season sweep. [Remaining games: vs. Ravens, vs. Browns]

y-4. Houston Texans (9-6): AFC South champions. Beating the Cincinnati Bengals combined with the Tennessee Titans’ loss earlier Saturday gives Houston the division for the second consecutive year. [Remaining game: at Titans]
5. Kansas City Chiefs (10-4): Wild card No. 1. A win against Denver on Sunday night will lock Chiefs into playoffs. Kansas City would also clinch a berth if Baltimore loses. [Remaining games: vs. Broncos, at Chargers]
6. Miami Dolphins (10-5): Wild card No. 2. After a narrow escape from the Buffalo Bills, Miami now locks into the field with a loss by the Broncos on Sunday. [Remaining game: vs. Patriots]

In the hunt
7. Baltimore Ravens (8-6): They’ll claim AFC North by winning final two games. Any loss eliminates them. [Remaining games: at Steelers, at Bengals]
8. Denver Broncos (8-6): They’re only in running for wild card. Any loss eliminates them. [Remaining games: at Chiefs, vs. Raiders]

NFC
y*-1. Dallas Cowboys (12-2): NFC East champions. The Giants’ loss Thursday gives Dallas the division crown and home-field advantage. [Remaining games: vs. Lions, at Eagles]
y-2. Atlanta Falcons (10-5): NFC South champions. They win division thanks to Tampa Bay’s loss. Atlanta can now clinch first-round bye in Week 17. [Remaining game: vs. Saints]
3. Detroit Lions (9-5): NFC North leader. They’re guaranteed a playoff berth with a win Monday night. But they’ll have to beat Green Bay in Week 17 to claim the division. [Remaining games: at Cowboys, vs. Packers]
y-4. Seattle Seahawks (9-5-1): NFC West champions. They now need help to get first-round bye. [Remaining game: at 49ers]
x-5. New York Giants (10-5): Wild card No. 1. The Buccaneers’ loss gives them their first playoff berth since 2011. [Remaining game: at Redskins]
6. Green Bay Packers (9-6): Wild card No. 2. If Green Bay wins next week, it reclaims NFC North title. [Remaining game: at Lions]

In the hunt
7. Washington Redskins (8-6-1): They must win their final game and hope the Packers lose in Week 17 or hope the Lions lose their final two games. [Remaining game: vs. Giants]
8. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-7): They need to finish tied with Green Bay for the sixth seed and get tiebreaker assistance. Bucs can no longer pass Detroit after losing the common opponent tiebreaker. [Remaining game: vs. Panthers]

x — clinched playoff spot
y — clinched division
z — clinched first-round bye
* — clinched home-field advantage

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