WHAT HAPPENED It was a very, very good day for the New England Patriots, who showed resilience in a second-half comeback victory over the Miami Dolphins and saw their archrival, the Jets, pushed to the brink of elimination with a loss to the Giants. The Patriots’ defense and offensive line will be concerns going into the playoffs, but they secured a first-round bye, which will be critical for the health of left tackle Matt Light and safety Patrick Chung.
NOW WHAT? A Patriots victory next week secures the A.F.C.’s top seed and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. To get the wild card, the Jets need to win, and need losses by Cincinnati and Tennessee combined with a loss by Oakland or Denver.
WHAT HAPPENED Big wins for the entire division. The Steelers won without Ben Roethlisberger. The Ravens and the Bengals won with everybody. The division title comes down to the final weekend, and the Bengals, with the victory over the Cardinals, combined with the Jets’ loss, are now in a wild-card spot.
NOW WHAT? Baltimore plays at Cincinnati next week. Pittsburgh plays at Cleveland. If the Steelers and the Ravens wind up with the same record, Baltimore wins the division and Pittsburgh is a wild card, because the Ravens swept the Steelers this season. Baltimore should have the tougher game, because the Bengals will grab a wild-card spot with a victory. Whoever wins the division has a first-round bye.
WHAT HAPPENED The Titans’ victory over the Jaguars keeps them in the wild-card race, but the more significant game happened Thursday. The Texans have already clinched the division, but they played their worst game of the season against the Colts.
NOW WHAT? The real intrigue will be at the game between the Jaguars and the Colts. If the Colts win, they could lose their shot at the first overall draft pick and Andrew Luck. There are multiple possibilities for the Titans to get a wild-card spot. The Texans are locked into the third seed even if they lose to the Titans, but after a bad loss to the Colts, they could use a victory to get some momentum going into the playoffs.
WHAT HAPPENED The wheels came off the Tim Tebow train. He was awful in Denver’s loss to Buffalo, blowing a chance to win the division. Oakland’s overtime victory over Kansas City eliminated the Chiefs and pulled the Raiders into a tie atop the division. The Chargers’ loss to the eliminated them from contention and probably doomed Norv Turner.
NOW WHAT? If the beat the Chiefs next Sunday, they win the division, no matter what else happens. But if they lose and the Raiders beat the Chargers, the Raiders win the division. If Denver and Oakland both lose, Denver wins the division.
WHAT HAPPENED The Giants’ victory over the Jets eliminated the Eagles from the playoff race, but set up a winner-take-all game against the next Sunday. The Eagles may have given the Giants a bit of help anyway. Dallas quarterback Tony Romo hurt his right hand when it smashed against Jason Babin’s helmet. He was ready to return, though, until the Cowboys realized the Giants had won and they did not need him.
NOW WHAT? The game of the year is next Sunday: Cowboys at Giants for the division. An ancillary consideration is whether Tom Coughlin’s job also hangs in the balance.
WHAT HAPPENED The Lions completed their renaissance by clinching a wild-card spot, their first playoff trip since 1999.
NOW WHAT If the Packers beat the Bears on Sunday night, they wrap up the top seed in the N.F.C. and have home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
WHAT HAPPENED Buccaneers Coach Raheem Morris took another step toward the unemployment line and Cam Newton served notice he was going to terrorize the league for the next decade in Tampa Bay’s 48-16 loss to the Carolina Panthers. The Falcons play the on Monday night.
NOW WHAT? A Saints victory Monday secures the N.F.C. South, but the Falcons are still in good position for the wild card.
WHAT HAPPENED Not a whole lot. San Francisco’s defeat of Seattle puts the 49ers in position to get a first-round bye, but their struggle to score touchdowns will give them a lot to think about heading into the playoffs.
NOW WHAT? If the Saints lose to the Falcons on Monday, San Francisco clinches a first-round bye.