With five weeks left in the regular season, the race for first place is virtually over in all but two of the National Football League’s eight divisions.
Atlanta slipped by the Buccaneers, 24-23, in Tampa to open a four-game lead in the NFC South while New England, Baltimore, Houston and Denver in the AFC now own three-game leads over their closest rivals. San Francisco has a 2½-game advantage over Seattle in the NFC West by virtue of its 31-21 win at New Orleans while second-place Seattle was losing at Miami despite a 98-yard kickoff return by Leon Washington, the eighth of his career.
The races for wild-card playoff positions are wide open in each conference.
Indianapolis (7-4) is the front-runner in the AFC while Pittsburgh and Cincinnati are next at 6-5. Miami has the next best record at 5-6.
In the NFC, either Green Bay or Chicago, whichever does not win the NFC North, is the wild-card leader. Tampa Bay, Seattle and Minnesota, all 6-5, and Washington, Dallas and New Orleans, all 5-6, are still alive too.
Game of the day
Giants 38, Packers 10
The scoop: Refreshed after a bye week, New York ended Green Bay’s winning streak at five games as Eli Manning passed for three touchdowns and Aaron Rodgers was sacked five times and intercepted once.
Why the Giants won: With no fear of a Green Bay running threat, they were able to tee off on Rodgers.
In the playoff hunt
49ers 31, Saints 21
The scoop: Ahmad Brooks and Donte Whitner returned interceptions for touchdowns, the 49ers sacked Drew Brees five times, and San Francisco ended New Orleans’ three-game winning streak. Colin Kaepernick passed for 231 yards, including a short touchdown to Frank Gore. He also ran for a 7-yard score.
Why the 49ers won: Aside from one touchdown drive, they shut down the Saints’ offense in the second half.
Broncos 17, Chiefs 9
The scoop: Peyton Manning threw for 285 yards and two touchdowns, and Denver rallied for its sixth straight win. Manning hit tight end Jacob Tamme late in the first half and wide receiver Demaryius Thomas in the third quarter, to overcome three field goals by the Chiefs’ Ryan Succop. Kansas City lost its eighth straight. The Chiefs haven’t scored a touchdown in more than 11 quarters.
Why the Broncos won: Kansas City had only 116 net passing yards, converted only 3 of 14 third downs and was 0 for 2 in the red zone.
Falcons 24, Buccaneers 23
The scoop: Matt Ryan threw for 353 yards and overcame two big turnovers by leading another late touchdown drive for Atlanta. Ryan teamed with Julio Jones on an 80-yard TD in the third quarter, but the NFC South leaders found themselves trailing 23-17 before Michael Turner’s 1-yard TD run put Atlanta ahead for good with 7:55 left.
Why the Falcons won: They limited Tampa Bay’s running game to 50 yards and a 2.4 average.
Bears 28, Vikings 10
The scoop: Jay Cutler threw for 188 yards and a touchdown as Chicago ended a two-game losing streak. The Bears led 25-3 at halftime with the defense holding Adrian Peterson in check, although he finished with 108 yards rushing.
Why the Bears won: Minnesota turned the ball over three times and averaged only 7.2 yards per pass reception.
Bengals 34, Raiders 10
The scoop: Andy Dalton threw three touchdown passes for Cincinnati. BenJarvus Green-Ellis ran for 129 yards and a touchdown, including runs of 48 and 39 yards – the longest of his career – to set up scores.
Why the Bengals won: They had a huge game on the ground (221 yards).
Dolphins 24, Seahawks 21
The scoop: Dan Carpenter kicked a 43-yard field goal on the final play as Miami scored 17 points in the last 8:08. Rookie Ryan Tannehill drove Miami 65 yards in the final 92 seconds to set up the winning kick. Washington returned a kickoff for a touchdown for the eighth time to tie the NFL career record and put Seattle ahead with eight minutes left.
Why the Dolphins won: Their defense forced Seattle into three-and-out on its first four possessions and eventually wore down the Seahawks.
Browns 20, Steelers 14
The scoop: Chris Rainey’s fumble with 2:25 left – the seventh of Pittsburgh’s eight turnovers – was recovered by Cleveland’s Phil Taylor and the Browns handed their hated rivals. Charlie Batch, starting at quarterback for Pittsburgh because of injuries to Ben Roethlisberger and Byron Leftwich, was picked off three times and the Steelers lost five fumbles.
Why the Browns won: The Steelers went three-and-out five times and converted only 1 of 9 third downs.
Jaguars 24, Titans 19
The scoop: Chad Henne, making his first start in more than 13 months, threw two TD passes as the Jaguars snapped a seven-game losing streak.
Why the Jaguars won: They averaged 15.4 yards on 17 pass receptions.
Ravens 16, Chargers 13 OT
The scoop: Rookie Justin Tucker kicked his third field goal from 38 yards with 1:07 left in overtime to win it. Tucker also kicked a 38-yarder on the last play of regulation to cap Baltimore’s comeback from a 13-3, fourth-quarter deficit. The Ravens converted a fourth-and-29 play to keep the drive alive for the tying field goal.
Why the Ravens won: They allowed just one field goal and forced four three-and-outs in the second half.
Dog of the day
Rams 31, Cardinals 17
The scoop: Janoris Jenkins became the first player in Rams history and the first NFL rookie since 1960 to return two interceptions for touchdowns in the same game and St. Louis dominated the second half to hand the Cardinals their seventh loss in a row.
Why the Rams won: They averaged 25.6 yards for their eight pass receptions.
News wire services contributed to this report.