Panthers, Patriots, Bengals clinch NFL playoff berths
Cam Newton of the Carolina Panthers celebrates with the fans after defeating the New Orleans Saints, 17-13, at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina, on December 22, 2013
Cam Newton flipped a 14-yard touchdown pass to Domenik Hixon with 23 seconds to play to give Carolina a 17-13 victory over visiting New Orleans and put the Panthers in the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
"It wasn't pretty, but we got it done," Newton said. "There was a lack of offense in the whole game but we just have a lot of resilient guys. This was our test as a playoff team."
Cincinnati's Andy Dalton threw for 366 yards and four touchdowns as the host Bengals ripped Minnesota 42-14.
"This team didn't set out to make the playoffs. We set out to try and go to the Super Bowl and that goal hasn't been reached yet," Bengals guard Andrew Whitworth said. "We've still got some work to do."
New England routed Baltimore 41-7, inflicting the Ravens' worst home loss to dim the playoff hopes of the reigning Super Bowl champions, whose loss let Cincinnati clinch a division crown.
Cincinnati and New England joined Denver, Indianapolis and Kansas City in the American Conference playoffs while only Carolina and Seattle are set in the National Conference, although San Francisco can join them Monday by beating Atlanta.
Chicago would have won the NFC North division title and a playoff berth by winning Sunday night, but Philadelphia routed the Bears 54-11, setting up a Green Bay at Chicago showdown next Sunday. That winner takes the division crown and a playoff berth and the loser is out.
Philadelphia will be in the same situation, traveling to Dallas next Sunday with the winner reaching the playoffs as division champion and the loser out.
New Orleans, Arizona and possibly San Francisco will be fighting for the NFC playoffs next Sunday while San Diego, Miami, Baltimore and Pittsburgh battle for the last AFC position.
Carolina avenged a 31-14 road loss to the Saints two weeks ago and can claim the NFC South division crown and a first-round playoff bye with a win next Sunday at Atlanta.
New Orleans could still have clinched a playoff spot with an Arizona loss, but the Cardinals upset host Seattle 17-10. Michael Floyd's 31-yard touchdown catch with 2:13 remaining ended the Seahawks' two-year, 14-game home win streak.
Buffalo's Fred Jackson ran for a touchdown and Dan Carpenter kicked four field goals to give Buffalo a 19-0 home victory over Miami to hurt the Dolphins' playoff bid.
The Dolphins, who have not reached the playoffs since 2008, would have clinched a spot by winning their last two games. But Miami managed only 103 total yards and was only 2-of-14 on third-down conversions.
Peyton Manning threw four touchdown passes in a 37-13 Denver win at Houston to give him 51 touchdown passes for the season, breaking the previous NFL one-season record of 50 by New England's Tom Brady from 2007.
"I think it's really a team accomplishment," Manning said. "We'll enjoy it as long as it lasts but Brady will probably break it again next year. Hopefully the Hall of Fame will send the ball back when somebody throws for more."
Manning broke the mark with a 25-yard touchdown toss to Julius Thomas with 4:28 remaining. Overall he was 32-of-51 for 400 yards and has 5,211 passing yards this season. Manning could challenge season completion and pass yardage records next week at Oakland.
The Broncos (12-3) clinched the AFC West crown and a first-round playoff bye with the victory and Kansas City's 23-7 home loss to Indianapolis.
Dallas will host Philadelphia next Sunday to decide the NFC East division champion and a playoff berth after Tony Romo rallied the Cowboys to a 24-23 victory at arch-rival Washington.
A week after squandering a 23-point half-time lead in losing to Green Bay, Dallas trailed Washington by nine points in the fourth quarter.
But Romo, limping after an earlier hit, threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to DeMarco Murray with 68 seconds remaining for a season-saving score on a fourth-down play after the Cowboys failed from the 1-yard line.
Dallas will end the season with a head-to-head matchup for a division title or no playoff spot for the third season in a row, having fallen to the New York Giants in 2011 and Washington last year.
San Diego kept playoff hopes alive with a 26-13 triumph over Oakland, and Pittsburgh did the same with a 38-31 victory at Green Bay, but the Detroit Lions were ousted from playoff contention with a 23-20 over-time loss to the Giants.
In games involving teams with no playoff hope, St. Louis defeated Tampa Bay 23-13, the New York Jets downed Cleveland 24-13 and Tennessee beat Jacksonville 20-16.