Much still at stake in the fi­nal week of reg­u­lar sea­son

Three first-round byes, three divi­sion ti­tles and three play­off spots re­main up for grabs

San Antonio Express-News (Sunday) - - Sports - By Barry Wilner AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Win­ners and Losers.

The big win­ners last week were the Cow­boys, Saints, Pa­tri­ots, Sea­hawks and Ravens. The big losers in­cluded the Tex­ans, Steel­ers and Chiefs.

But wait. The Tex­ans be­came win­ners hours later, earn­ing a play­off berth as they headed back to Hous­ton after a last-sec­ond 3230 loss at Philadel­phia that handed the AFC’s No. 2 seed be­hind Kansas City to the Pa­tri­ots — as if they need any help when the play­offs ar­rive. Hous­ton sneaked in when Pitts­burgh lost 31-28 at New Or­leans, though the Tex­ans still could wind up a wild card in the, well, wild AFC South.

Here’s a road map as we head into to­day’s fi­nal games:

NFC

New Or­leans (12-3) se­cured home-field ad­van­tage through­out the con­fer­ence play­offs by beat­ing Pitts­burgh, drop­ping the Steel­ers into sec­ond place be­hind Bal­ti­more in the AFC North. The Saints won’t be play­ing out­doors again — the Su­per Bowl, should they get there, will be in­side at At­lanta’s Mercedes-Benz Sta­dium.

Also reach­ing their goal were the Cow­boys, grab­bing the NFC East with a 27-20 vic­tory over Tampa Bay. Dal­las (9-6) will be the fourth seed and host a wild-card game.

Chicago (11-4) needs to be ready at Min­nesota (8-6-1). For one, the Bears have a shot at the sec­ond over­all slot and a first-round bye with a win and a loss by the Rams (12-3), who host San Fran­cisco. For an­other, they could deny their divi­sion ri­val a post­sea­son spot; a Vikings win gets them a wild card.

But a Vikings loss and an Ea­gles win at Wash­ing­ton gets the de­fend­ing cham­pi­ons (8-7) back into the post­sea­son.

Seat­tle (9-6) ap­pears des­tined to play at Dal­las in the first round. The Sea­hawks beat the Cow­boys in Week 3 for their first win.

AFC

For a decade now, the Pa­tri­ots have owned the AFC East, and they had a huge week­end.

The Pa­tri­ots clinched their 10th straight divi­sion ti­tle when they beat Buf­falo 24-12. They got an added bonus when Hous­ton fell to drop out of the sec­ond seed in the con­fer­ence, which New Eng­land grabbed — with a shot at the top spot.

The Tex­ans will win the AFC South by beat­ing or ty­ing the Jags.

Bal­ti­more (9-6), fresh off its vic­tory at the Charg­ers last week­end, has a half-game lead on Pitts­burgh (8-6-1), which has lost four of five. The Ravens will take the North with a home win over Cleve­land to­day. The Steel­ers host Cincin­nati and need help to get into the post­sea­son from their hated en­emy, the Browns.

The win­ner of the prime-time game in Nashville be­tween the Colts and Ti­tans will earn the No. 6 seed un­less Hous­ton loses to Jack­sonville, in which case the win­ner will cap­ture the AFC South ti­tle. But if they tie and the Steel­ers win, Pitts­burgh edges both of them for the fi­nal wild card, with all at 9-6-1.

The Chiefs (11-4) and Charg­ers (11-4) al­ready are in the post­sea­son from the West. That takes up one wild card. But Kansas City, once the dar­ling of the league, could plum­met from top over­all seed to wild card if it flops against Oak­land next week and L.A. beats Den­ver.

Matt Rourke / As­so­ci­ated Press

Nick Foles and the de­fend­ing cham­pion Ea­gles will make the play­offs with a win to­day over Wash­ing­ton and a Vikings loss.

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