New England, Atlanta and Denver clinched division titles Sunday in the National Football League but the day’s results produced the potential for down-to-the wire races in the NFC North, NFC West, AFC North and – surprisingly – the AFC South.
Green Bay’s 23-14 win over Minnesota while the Chicago Bears were losing in overtime, 23-17, to Seattle at Soldier Field left the two tied for the NFC North lead at 8-4.
San Francisco (8-3-1) lost to the Rams in St. Louis, 16-13, in another overtime clash. Seattle’s win at Chicago left the Seahawks only 1½ games behind the Niners. The teams meet in Week 16 in Seattle.
At 11-1, Houston has tied Atlanta for the best record in the NFL and clinched at least a playoff spot with a routine 24-10 win at Tennessee. The Texans lead Indianapolis by three games in the AFC South. However, the Texans must travel to New England next week and face the Colts and Andrew Luck twice in the last three weeks of the season, leaving at least the mathematical possibility that Indianapolis can catch up and take the division title.
Pittsburgh shook Baltimore’s hold on the AFC North with a 23-20 win over the Ravens, Baltimore’s first home loss after 15 regular season wins. The Ravens still lead the Steelers and Cincinnati by two games, but they have a tough closing schedule.
Game of the day
Colts 35, Lions 33
The scoop: Luck threw a 14-yard touchdown pass to Donnie Avery with no time left to lift Indianapolis. The rally started with the Lions up 12 points midway through the fourth quarter. Detroit lost for the fourth straight time, including three in a row at home after leading in the final quarter.
Why the Colts won: Detroit proved again it can’t hold a late lead. Twice the Lions punted in the last 4:02, only to see Luck direct touchdown drives of 85 and 75 yards.
In the playoff picture
Steelers 23, Ravens 20
The scoop: Third-string quarterback Charlie Batch directed a 61-yard drive in the closing minutes, and Shaun Suisham kicked a 42-yard field goal as time expired for the Steelers.
Why the Steelers won: They outgained the Ravens, 273-77, in the second half.
Seahawks 23, Bears 17 OT
The scoop: Russell Wilson connected with Sidney Rice on a 13-yard touchdown with 7:33 left in overtime to lift Seattle.
Why the Seahawks won: They drove 97 and 80 yards for touchdowns on their last two possessions.
Packers 23, Vikings 14
The scoop: James Starks ran 22 yards for the go-ahead touchdown in the third quarter, Green Bay’s first rushing touchdown in almost two months. The Packers overcame a 210-yard rushing game by NFL leader Adrian Peterson. Green Bay has won 10 straight against NFC North opponents.
Why the Packers won: They shut out Minnesota in the second half.
Bengals 20, Chargers 13
The scoop: Cincinnati won its fourth in a row as Andy Dalton scrambled up the middle for a 6-yard touchdown with 4:11 left. The Bengals remained tied with Pittsburgh in the race for the AFC’s second wild-card berth.
Why the Bengals won: The Chargers came up empty in seven second-half possessions, turning it over twice and missing a long field goal try.
Rams 16, 49ers 13 OT
The scoop: Rookie Greg Zuerlein kicked a 54-yard field goal with 26 seconds left in overtime after booting a 53-yarder as time expired in regulation. The Rams scored twice in the final 3:04 of regulation, getting their lone touchdown when rookie Janoris Jenkins returned an errant pitchout by Colin Kaepernick 2 yards for a score.
Why the Rams won: Kaepernick took a safety in the third quarter for intentionally grounding in the end zone, costing the Niners a win in regulation time.
Patriots 23, Dolphins 16
The scoop: Tom Brady had his least efficient game of the year and even threw an interception, but New England took advantage of Miami’s mistakes to clinch the division title. A botched punt, roughing-the-punter penalty and fumble by Miami led to 17 New England points, and another penalty negated a Dolphins touchdown. Brady threw for 238 yards and was sacked four times.
Why the Patriots won: Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill was erratic, including an overthrow on what would have been a sure first-half touchdown to a wide open Brian Hartline.
Texans 24, Titans 10
The scoop: Houston clinched with a franchise record 11th win of the season. Rookie linebacker Whitney Mercilus recovered a fumble and had two sacks.
Why the Texans won: The Texans forced six turnovers and had six sacks of Jake Locker.
Broncos 31, Buccaneers 23
The scoop: Peyton Manning threw for three touchdowns, including one to defensive tackle Mitch Unrein, to help the Broncos wrap up the AFC West. The Broncos won their seventh straight and the Tampa Bay loss clinched the NFC South for Atlanta.
Why the Broncos won: They kept the Bucs out of the end zone in the second half until they had built a 31-16 lead.
Chiefs 27, Panthers 21
Why the Chiefs won: Kansas City ended its eight-game losing streak as Brady Quinn threw for 201 yards and two touchdowns.
Why the Chiefs won: Quinn took care of the ball. He was 19-of-23 passing with no fumbles or interceptions and was sacked just once. It was an emotional game for the Chiefs, who played despite the deaths of linebacker Jovan Belcher and his girlfriend.
Browns 20, Raiders 17
The scoop: Brandon Weeden threw for a career-high 364 yards and a touchdown and Cleveland did just enough to snap a 12-game road losing streak. Phil Dawson of the Browns had a field goal blocked, his first miss after 29 consecutive makes.
Why the Browns won: They gave up just two touchdowns, one with 0:01 left in the game.
Dog of the day
Jets 7, Cardinals 6
The scoop: Third-stringer Greg McElroy stepped in for a struggling Mark Sanchez in the third quarter and led New York to its only score.
Why the Jets won: The Cards had five first downs and no third-down conversions.
News wire services contributed to this report.