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Playoff spots settled

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Cincinnati's Andy Dalton and his Bengals teammates lost to Baltimore yesterday, but they qualified for the NFL playoffs as an AFC wild card with a 9-7 record.
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Sparked by Victor Cruz, New York’s newest football star, the Giants won the NFC East title Sunday night by beating the Dallas Cowboys in their showdown in the final game of the regular season.

Cruz sped 76 yards for one touchdown and, when Dallas got within seven points, made a leaping 44-yard catch on third down to set up a clinching field goal in a 31-14 victory. New York (9-7) also sacked Tony Romo six times to sweep the season series with the Cowboys (8-8).

The Giants won three of their last four games after a four-game slide dropped them to 6-6. Cruz was a big factor in each win, had a 99-yard catch-and-run score last week against the Jets, and made six receptions for 178 yards against the porous Dallas defense.

New York, which last won the division in 2008, will host Atlanta (10-6) next Sunday at 8 a.m.

Even without any Tim Tebow heroics, the Denver Broncos won the AFC West.

NFL PLAYOFFS

Wild-card Playoffs
Saturday
» Cincinnati at Houston, 11:30 a.m.
» Detroit at New Orleans, 3 p.m.

Sunday
» Atlanta at New York Giants, 8 a.m.
» Pittsburgh at Denver, 11:30 a.m.

Divisional Playoffs
Jan. 14
» Atlanta, N.Y. Giants or New Orleans at San Francisco, 11:30 a.m.
» Cincinnati, Pittsburgh or Denver at New England, 3 p.m.

Jan. 15
» Pittsburgh, Denver or Houston at Baltimore, 8 a.m.
» Detroit, Atlanta or N.Y. Giants at Green Bay, 11:30 a.m.

Conference Championships
Jan. 22

» TBD
Super Bowl
Feb. 5
» AFC champion vs. NFC champion at Indianapolis

 

They did it despite falling 7-3 to the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday because San Diego knocked off Oakland 38-26. The Broncos and Raiders tied for the division lead at 8-8, but Denver won on the tiebreaker due to better results in common games.

Baltimore (12-4) took the AFC North and a first-round bye as a No. 2 seed when it outlasted Cincinnati 24-16. Even though the Bengals lost, their 9-7 record earned them a wild card in a head-to-head tiebreaker over Tennessee, the only other team with that record in the AFC. The Bengals beat the Titans 24-17 in November.

Pittsburgh (12-4) is the other wild card, but lost both games to the Ravens this year to finish second in the division. The Steelers, who beat Cleveland 13-9, will be at Denver next Sunday at 11:30 a.m.

Cincinnati visits Houston (10-6) at 11:30 a.m. Saturday.

"It’s kind of weird," Bengals rookie quarterback Andy Dalton said. "Obviously, we didn’t get it done today, but we still have a chance."

Tebow’s late-game magic helped Denver turn around its season, from 2-5 to the top of a weak division. He struggled mightily as the Broncos lost their last three games, but they are playoff-bound for the first time since 2005.

"It’s obviously a little bittersweet right now," Tebow said. "We obviously would have loved to have won that game to have a little momentum going into the playoffs. But I think it’s still a special thing what we accomplished — to come back and win the AFC West is very special."

They did it at the expense of the arch rival Raiders.

"It’s obviously frustrating when you hear the other outcomes of other games and know what was there to be had just makes it that much worse, that much more difficult," Oakland quarterback Carson Palmer said.

By winning every game in the second half of the season, the Patriots own home-field advantage in the AFC playoffs. By losing their last three games, the New York Jets won’t be going to a third straight conference title game.

The Patriots (13-3) earned the right to stay at home throughout the AFC playoffs after a 49-21 victory over Buffalo, which led 21-0. It should be comforting to them, except the Patriots have lost their last two home playoff games, and their last three postseason games overall.

"It depends on how we play," three-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady said. "It’s great playing at home. It’s great to have a bye. But I think we have to concentrate here this week on what we need to do to play our best football in a couple weeks."

The Jets (8-8) finished a late-season collapse with a 19-17 loss at Miami to fall out of contention. They dropped their final three games after taking control of the AFC’s final wild-card spot.

San Francisco (13-3) is just fine thanks to a turnaround season. Under first-year coach Jim Harbaugh, the 49ers will be the No. 2 seed in the NFC behind Green Bay (15-1) after a 34-27 win at St. Louis.

"I’ll sit back and watch the games. Let the games begin," tight end Vernon Davis said. "My mind is about to go on a whole new phase, that’s the way I see it. We’ve just got to keep growing, keep trucking."

New Orleans (13-3) is seeded third after a 45-17 win over Carolina. The Saints will host Detroit (10-6), which lost at Green Bay 45-41, on Saturday at 3 p.m.

Atlanta (10-6) defeated Tampa Bay 45-24 and is seeded fifth in the NFC.

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