Patriots, Cowboys grab NFL playoff berths as Eagles alive
WASHINGTON, USA – New England and Dallas secured NFL playoff berths with home triumphs Sunday, December 23, while New Orleans claimed a post-season home-field edge and reigning champion Philadelphia stayed in the title chase.
The Dallas Cowboys joined the New Orleans Saints, Los Angeles Rams and Chicago in the National Conference playoffs while New England and Houston joined Kansas City and the Los Angeles Chargers in the American Conference playoffs, leaving 4 playoff spots up for grabs.
New England became the first team in NFL history to reach the playoffs for 10 consecutive seasons as the Patriots beat Buffalo, 24-12, but Tom Brady threw for only 126 yards and a touchdown, sparking injury fears for the 41-year-old quarterback, a five-time Super Bowl winner.
"I feel great. I feel 100%. I'm not injured," Brady said. "We didn't have our best passing day. But we won, so I think everybody is feeling pretty good."
The Patriots captured their 10th consecutive AFC East division title, a feat matched only in North American sports by baseball's Atlanta Braves, and 16th in 18 seasons.
Touchdown runs by James White and Sony Michel gave the Patriots a 14-0 half-time lead and Brady tossed a 32-yard touchdown pass to Julian Edelman to thwart a Bills rally as New England (10-5) improved to 7-0 at home this season.
At Dallas, Dak Prescott threw for one touchdown and ran for another while Jaylon Smith returned a fumble 69 yards for a touchdown to power the Cowboys over Tampa Bay 27-20 and clinch a third NFC East crown for Dallas in 5 seasons.
Prescott connected on 20-of-25 passes for 161 yards and Ezekiel Elliott ran 18 times for 85 yards as the Cowboys improved to 9-6.
"We have a very tough defense that gives offenses hell every week. We're a tough, gritty offense – I think the sky is the limit for us," Elliott said.
Eagles edge Texans
Philadelphia's Nick Foles threw for a club-record 471 yards and 4 touchdowns to lift the Eagles over Houston visiting Houston 32-30 to sustain their hopes of becoming the first back-to-back Super Bowl winner since New England in 2004 and 2005.
Houston's DeShaun Watson ran for two touchdowns and threw for two more, the last of them a 35-yarder to Vyncint Smith with 2:04 remaining that put the Texans ahead.
The Eagles answered by marching 72 yards in 11 plays and Jake Elliott kicked a 35-yard field goal on the last play to give Philadelphia the victory.
Philadelphia (8-7) remained just behind Minnesota (8-6 with one draw) in the NFC wildcard playoff fight after the Vikings won 27-9 at Detroit.
Seattle (8-6) could capture an NFC wildcard playoff berth with a victory later Sunday over Kansas City.
Saints defeat Steelers
New Orleans kept the NFL's best record at 13-2 but only after a 31-28 nail-biter over visiting Pittsburgh that wasn't sealed until Saints linebacker Denario Davis recovered a fumble in the final seconds to kill the final Steelers' drive.
"It was a battle," Saints quarterback Drew Brees said. "We're battle tested. We've had a lot of these this year and every one of them I feel has molded us and made us stronger. I love finding out how we're going to win each week."
The victory ensured the Saints will play at home throughout the playoffs, a distinct edge in the noisy Superdome.
"We love our home, we love the dome," Brees said. "But we understand every time we step on the field, we have to earn it."
With the loss, Pittsburgh slid out of a playoff berth entering the final week of the season, replaced by Baltimore atop the AFC North and Indianapolis for a wildcard spot.
Andrew Luck flipped a 1-yard touchdown pass to Chester Rogers with 55 seconds remaining to give Indianapolis a 28-27 victory at the New York Giants.
The Colts and Tennessee, each 9-6, meet next Sunday with only the winner reaching the playoffs while the Steelers must win at Cincinnati to have any hope.
In other games Sunday, Green Bay edged the New York Jets 44-38 in overtime, Cleveland beat Cincinnati 26-18, Jacksonville defeated Miami 17-7, Atlanta downed Carolina 24-10, Chicago edged San Francisco 14-9 and the LA Rams won 31-9 at Arizona. – Rappler.com
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