Patriots, Broncos, Colts and Cardinals all seal NFL play-off spots as picture clears

The play-off race in the NFL took on a more concrete form on Sunday as four teams clinched their entry into the post-season, led by high-flying New England.
New England Patriots defensive back Duron Harmon celebrates after an interception returned for a touchdown on Sunday in his team's NFL win against the Dolphins. Matt Campbell / EPA / December 14, 2014
New England Patriots defensive back Duron Harmon celebrates after an interception returned for a touchdown on Sunday in his team's NFL win against the Dolphins. Matt Campbell / EPA / December 14, 2014

Here is the NFL’s play-off checklist:

New England Patriots, in as AFC East champions;

Denver Broncos, in as AFC West winners;

Indianapolis Colts, in as AFC South champs;

Arizona Cardinals, in as NFC representative.

Those were the post-season manifestations of Sunday’s on-field action – although the Cardinals didn’t even play. The week’s action began with the NFC West leaders’ 12-6 victory at St Louis (6-8) on Thursday night, and when Dallas beat Philadelphia 38-27 on Sunday night, the Cardinals owned at least a wild card.

Monday’s game has New Orleans (5-8, but in position to lead the NFC South) at Chicago (5-8).

The Patriots (11-3) secured their sixth straight AFC East divisional crown with a 41-13 triumph over the Miami Dolphins (7-7) at Foxborough.

New England led 14-13 at the half but turned it on in the third quarter as they racked up 24 points to pull clear.

Quarterback Tom Brady threw both his touchdown passes in the third, finding tight end Rob Gronkowski with a 27-yard pass and then connecting with Julian Edelman for a six-yard score.

Brady completed 21-of-35 passes throwing for 287 yards, two touchdowns and an interception as the Patriots gained revenge for the opening game loss at Miami.

The divisional title is the 12th New England have won with head coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Brady.

The Colts came from behind to beat the Houston Texans 17-10 at Lucas Oil Stadium and claim their second consecutive AFC South title.

Kendrick Lewis gave the Texans a first-quarter lead with a 27-yard return after picking off Colts quarterback Andrew Luck.

Luck recovered to throw two touchdown passes in the second quarter, while the Texans (7-7) lost their quarterback when Ryan Fitzpatrick was carted off the field with what was reported to be a suspected broken leg.

Rookie Tom Savage took over for Houston and he too was hurt, in the fourth quarter, before throwing an interception that was picked off by Vontae Davis to secure the win for the Colts (10-4).

Luck completed 18-of-34 passes for 187 yards as the Colts earned their fourth division title in six seasons and made the play-offs for the 12th time in 13 years.

A third AFC play-off slot was taken by the Denver Broncos who won the AFC West title after a 22-10 win over their divisional rivals San Diego Chargers took them to an 11-3 record.

The victory ensures the Broncos, beaten by Seattle in last season’s Super Bowl, will enter the post-season for the fourth straight year.

Quarterback Peyton Manning completed 14-of-20 passes for 233 yards and one touchdown, despite having to leave the field late in the second quarter to receive treatment for a thigh injury, returning after the interval.

In the much-anticipated NFC West clash in Seattle, defending Super Bowl champions Seahawks effectively ended the San Francisco 49ers hopes with a 17-7 win.

Running back Marshawn Lynch put up 91 yards on 21 carries and put Seattle ahead with a four yard touchdown run in the third quarter. The Seahawks (10-4) now have four straight wins and are locked in a battle with the Arizona Cardinals (11-3) for top spot in the division.

The day’s biggest surprise came with the Bills stunning the Packers 21-13 in a game where Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers threw two interceptions.

The win keeps the Bills in the AFC wild card hunt and sees the Packers slip to 10-4.

The standout individual performance on Sunday came from New York Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr who grabbed three touchdown catches as part of a 143-yard performance on 12 receptions in a 24-13 win over Washington.

Rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel’s first start for the Cleveland Browns ended in a 30-0 loss to AFC North rivals the Cincinnati Bengals.

Manziel, the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner, was taunted by Bengals defenders showing him his trademark “money” sign.

Manziel was sacked three times as he threw two interceptions and put up just 80 yards on 10-of-18 passing.

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Published: December 15, 2014 04:00 AM

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