N.F.L. Playoff Races Entering the Final Week

A.F.C. East

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.

A.F.C. North

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.

A.F.C. South

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.

A.F.C. West

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.

N.F.C. East

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.

N.F.C. North

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.

N.F.C. South

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.

N.F.C. West

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.

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Falcons’ RB Turner Not Concerned About Fumbles

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) — Having showered and dressed after practice, Michael Turner is heading for a weekend off Friday when Roddy White nails his Atlanta Falcons teammate with a cupcake to the side of the face.

“Man, I almost made it, too,” Turner said, breaking into his distinctive, squeaky laugh as he goes in search of a towel to clean himself up.

Turner sure didn’t seem bothered by his teammate’s prank, which pretty well sums up the attitude he’s taking toward a pair of fumbles in the last two games of the regular season.

“I’ve fumbled before,” he said. “Some people act like the whole world’s coming down. No, it’s not like that. It wasn’t my first fumble. It probably won’t be my last. Hopefully, it won’t happen again anytime soon.”

The Falcons certainly share that sentiment, since their next game comes in the second round of the playoffs.

Atlanta, which has a bye this weekend and home-field advantage in the NFC, will be counting heavily on its battering ram of a Pro Bowl running back to help control the clock and open up things in the passing game for Matt Ryan and his favorite receivers, White and tight end Tony Gonzalez.

Coach Mike Smith also expects Turner to hang on to the ball, something he did every time he got it through the first 14 games of the season. Then — boom! One fumble, and another, both in the red zone with the Falcons in position to score.

The first came on a second-and-goal play at the 1 against New Orleans, a mistake that looked especially glaring when the rallied for a 17-14 victory. Last week, Turner coughed it up again at the 13 against Carolina, but the Falcons had no trouble overcoming the mistake in a 31-10 rout of the hapless .

The margin for error will be much slimmer in the playoffs.

“The emphasis on ball security is something we always talk about,” Smith said. “Michael had gone a long time without putting the ball on the ground. We’ve just got to make sure we continue to drill our guys in the fundamentals of the game of football. At this point in time, the emotion and energy and attitude is all going to be there. The teams that go out there and execute the fundamentals of the game the best, those are the teams that are going to move on to the next round.”

The Falcons have been fundamentally sound all season — especially Turner. Over the first 14 games, he carried the ball exactly 300 times without fumbling once. Overall, Atlanta has a plus-14 turnover margin, which leads the NFC and trails only AFC powers New England and Pittsburgh.

Turner is also a major reason the Falcons have averaged nearly 33 minutes in time of possession, another key part of their offensive strategy. He usually gets around 20 handoffs a game, putting up the league’s third-highest rushing total (1,371 yards) and earning his second Pro Bowl appearance.

No wonder his teammates don’t sound too concerned.

“It’s part of football,” White said. “He rarely fumbles the ball. It’s not like it’s been a problem throughout his career or anything like that. We’ll just let him do what he does, which is run the ball well. We need that guy to be successful in the playoffs. We’ve got to let him do his thing.”

Turner isn’t doing anything different in practice, and he insists the turnovers aren’t weighing on him mentally.

Defenders “are going to make plays on the ball. They get paid, too,” he said. “It had been so long since the last one, so many carries. It’s going to happen. It’s part of football. It’s just one of those things. It’s not an issue.”

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Seahawks, Colts, Falcons and Steelers Win Titles

Yep, those were championship hats the were wearing.

Nope, they aren’t ashamed one bit.

The Seahawks became the first NFL division winner with a losing record — that dates to 1933, folks — when they beat St. Louis 16-6 on Sunday night. At 7-9, they are NFC West champions, while two 10-6 clubs (Tampa Bay and the ) are out of the postseason.

Apologize for their fortune? Forget it.

“It just shows that no matter what happens through an awkward year, if a team sticks together they can have a shot at the end to accomplish what they talked about in the beginning,” safety Lawyer Milloy said. “We know it wasn’t pretty getting here, but what we talked about was right there at the end and we took advantage of it. Nobody can take that away from us.”

Indianapolis tied an NFL record with its ninth straight playoff berth by beating Tennessee 23-20 on ‘s 43-yard field goal as time expired. The (10-6), host the wild-card (11-4), who routed Buffalo 38-7, next Saturday night.

Atlanta secured home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, winning the NFC South by defeating Carolina 31-10. The Falcons (13-3) get a bye next week, as do the NFC North champion Bears (11-5), who fell at 10-3, giving the Packers (10-6) a wild-card spot.

Green Bay visits Philadelphia (10-6), the NFC East champ, next Sunday after AFC West winner Kansas City (10-6) hosts Baltimore (12-4).

Along with Atlanta, teams with byes are New England, which finished a league-best 14-2; Pittsburgh (12-4); and Chicago.

Failing to make the playoffs in the NFC were the Giants and Buccaneers, the first time since 1991 that a 10-6 team didn’t get in from the NFC.

Seahawks 16, 6

At Seattle, both teams finished 7-9 in the mild, mild West, with Seattle getting the nod thanks to a 4-2 division record. St. Louis was 3-3.

Making his second career start, backup quarterback Charlie Whitehurst threw a 4-yard TD pass on Seattle’s first possession, and Olindo Mare kicked three second-half field goals. A defense that yielded at least 34 points in three straight losses was stingy against Rams rookie quarterback Sam Bradford and 1,000-yard rusher Steven Jackson.

Colts 23, 20

At Indianapolis, threw two touchdown passes before Vinatieri’s clutch kick. The Colts tied Dallas’ NFL record for consecutive playoff appearances as Manning set the single-season record for completions with 450.

Tennessee (6-10) lost eight of its last nine. Chris Johnson, a 2,000-yard rusher a year ago, ran 20 times for 39 yards and finished with 1,364.

Falcons 31, 10

At Atlanta, the Falcons earned their first division title since 2004. Matt Ryan passed for 236 yards with TDs to Tony Gonzalez and Roddy White, and Eric Weems scored on a 55-yard punt return.

Carolina (2-14) had a weak finish to an awful season under coach John Fox as the league’s worst offense was held without a touchdown until the final minute. The Panthers announced Friday that this was Fox’s last game as coach.

41, Browns 9

At Cleveland, threw two touchdown passes, including a 56-yarder to on his first pass. Wallace had three catches for 105 yards.

Browns coach ‘s record has been 5-11 in each of his two seasons. On Monday, he’s scheduled to meet with team president .

Packers 10, Bears 3

At Green Bay, Wis., Aaron Rodgers’ 1-yard touchdown pass to tight end Donald Lee gave the Packers the lead, and their defense held on to clinch a wild card.

The Packers trailed 3-0 at halftime and were tied going into the fourth quarter with the Bears, who didn’t have anything to play for in terms of playoff seeding, but still played to win with their starters.

38, 7

At Foxborough, Mass., threw two touchdown passes to cap a record-setting season as New England won its eighth straight.

The game meant nothing in the standings. Still, Brady played into the third quarter and finished with 36 touchdowns passing and four interceptions. He extended his NFL records to 335 straight passes without an interception and 28 consecutive regular-season wins as a starter at home.

The Dolphins (7-9) lost for the fourth time in five games, jeopardizing the job of coach Tony Sparano.

13, 7

At Baltimore, Ed Reed had two interceptions and recovered two fumbles, part of an opportunistic defense that carried Baltimore.

Ray Rice scored on a 7-yard run and Billy Cundiff kicked two field goals for the Ravens, who forced five turnovers to offset the 395 yards in offense amassed by the Bengals (4-12).

Cincinnati coach Marvin Lewis’ contract ran out with the loss.

Jets 38, 7

At East Rutherford, N.J., threw two touchdown passes in relief of , Joe McKnight ran for a career-high 158 yards and the Jets’ defense dominated.

Having already clinched a postseason spot, New York sat a handful of starters, including LaDainian Tomlinson and Darrelle Revis, but still earned the fourth 11-win season in franchise history — and first since the 1998 team went to the AFC championship game.

Buffalo finished 4-12, out of the playoffs for the 11th successive season.

Buccaneers 23, 13

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