Dec 30, 2012 8:54 PM by Bill Halter
The road to the Super Bowl in the AFC runs through the Mile High City. Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos wrapped up home-field advantage through the AFC playoffs with a 38-3 rout of the Kansas City Chiefs. Manning tossed a pair of touchdown passes to give him 37 for his new team, which closed the regular season on an 11-game win streak. The Broncos have a week off before starting the playoffs.
So much for the Patriots' problems. Rebounding from a rare slump, Tom Brady and Co. earned a first-round playoff bye with a 28-0 win over the Miami Dolphins after two mediocre performances. That's the Patriots' first shutout since 2009. Stevan Ridley ran for two touchdowns as New England used a ball-control offense and a defense that racked up a season-high seven sacks.
San Francisco is NFC West champion. Michael Crabtree caught touchdown passes of 49 and 7 yards and finished with a career-high 172 receiving yards, leading the 49ers to a 27-13 victory against the Arizona Cardinals. The Niners also secured the first-round bye in the playoffs.
Colin Kaepernick threw for a career-best 276 yards and two TDs as the Niners did their part to control the postseason picture.
Adrian Peterson came within 9 yards of Eric Dickerson's single-season rushing record with 199 yards on the ground in powering the Minnesota Vikings into the playoffs, 37-34 over Green Bay. These teams will meet again next weekend in a wild-card game. Peterson rushed for 36 yards on the last drive to set up rookie Blair Walsh's 29-yard field goal as time expired to put the Vikings (10-6) in the postseason. The Packers (11-5) fell to the NFC's No. 3 seed.
Peterson finished with 2,096 yards, the seventh NFL rusher to top 2,000 yards in a season. Dickerson holds the all-time mark with 2,105.
Russell Wilson tied Peyton Manning's record for most touchdown passes by a rookie with 26, and his 1-yard TD run with 1:39 left gave Seattle a 20-13 win over the St. Louis Rams. Seattle finished with an 8-0 home mark, the only unbeaten home team in the NFL.
Seattle (11-5) entered the day with hopes of still winning the NFC West and getting a home playoff game, but those dreams were dashed when San Francisco beat Arizona 27-13 to clinch the division. Seattle will be the No. 5 seed in the NFC and face the NFC East champion - either Washington or Dallas - in the opening round next weekend.
The Chicago Bears gave themselves a chance to sneak into the NFC playoffs, but were eliminated when Minnesota won later in the day. Jay Cutler threw for 257 yards and a touchdown as the Bears outlasted the Lions 26-24 in Detroit to keep their postseason hopes alive. Cutler also helped Chicago ice the victory with a late scramble for a first down before the Bears ran out the clock.
Detroit's Matthew Stafford went 24 of 42 for 272 with three touchdowns, one interception and a costly fumble as the Lions suffered their eighth straight loss to finish 4-12. Lions receiver Calvin Johnson fell short in his attempt to become the first player with 2,000 yards receiving in a season.
The Bears' victory eliminated the defending Super Bowl champs. The New York Giants clobbered Philadelphia 42-7 in what three people told The Associated Press was Andy Reid's final game as the Eagles' head coach. Eli Manning threw for 208 yards and a career-high five touchdowns, four coming in the first half. Ahmad Bradshaw ran for 107 yards and a TD, and David Wilson added 75 yards on the ground while grabbing a scoring pass.
But the 9-7 Giants missed the playoffs by going 3-5 in the second half after leading the NFC East by two games.
The Eagles finish 4-12.
The Houston Texans will limp into the playoffs having lost three of their last four games, including today's 28-16 setback at Indianapolis. The 12-4 Texans now need losses by Denver and New England to clinch home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. Victories by both the Broncos and Patriots will force Houston to play next weekend.
Andrew Luck threw for two touchdowns and Deji Karim scored on a 101-yard kickoff return to help Colts coach Chuck Pagano win in his first game back since starting treatment for leukemia on Sept. 26. Karim's return put the Colts ahead to stay before Luck's 70-yard pass to T.Y. Hilton capped the scoring with 11:22 remaining.
Cincinnati beat Baltimore 23-17 on Carlos Dunlap's 14-yard interception return for a touchdown with 6:06 remaining. The Bengals rested quarterback Andy Dalton and A.J. Green in the second half and managed to win despite just 189 total yards. Baltimore QB Joe Flacco and running back Ray Rice played just two series in what was a playoff tuneup for both teams.
Both teams finished 10-6, but the Ravens already had clinched the AFC North. The Bengals will enter the AFC playoffs as the sixth seed.
The final game of the day will decide the NFC East. The Washington Redskins will capture the division with a win or tie against the Dallas Cowboys. A Dallas victory would put the Cowboys in the postseason as division champs and eliminate the Redskins.
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