Big winners in the race for the final playoff spots in the National Football League on Sunday: The Cincinnati Bengals, Indianapolis Colts, Seattle Seahawks and Washington Redskins.
Meanwhile, the Pittsburgh Steelers find themselves in a rare position, on the outside looking in. And the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants are hanging by a very thin thread.
The Bengals gutted out a 13-10 road win over the Steelers in Heinz Field, clinching back-to-back playoff berths for the first time since 1981-82 and knocking the Steelers out in the process. Pittsburgh missed the postseason for just the fourth time in the last 12 seasons.
The Colts also are in, becoming just the second team, after the 2008 Dolphins, to hit double digits in victories after losing 14 or more the previous year. Indianapolis beat Kansas City, 20-13, as sensational rookie Andrew Luck threw a 7-yard TD to Reggie Wayne with 4:08 left to break a tie.
In the NFC, Robert Griffin III returned and the Redskins remained in control of their own destiny by winning their sixth straight, 27-20, over the Philadelphia Eagles. All they have to do is beat Dallas at home next week in what amounts to a winner-takes-all to win the NFC East. The Giants’ 33-14 loss to the Ravens was a big boost for the Cowboys, who lost in overtime to New Orleans.
The Seahawks overwhelmed the San Francisco 49ers, 42-13, to clinch a playoff spot. The NFC West will be decided next week. The Seahawks must beat the Rams and have the 49ers lose to the Cardinals to steal the division.
Game of the day
Bengals 13, Steelers 10
The scoop: Josh Brown kicked a 43-yard field goal with four seconds left and the Bengals won without scoring an offensive touchdown. Reggie Nelson intercepted a Ben Roethlisberger pass with 14 seconds left in regulation. Andy Dalton then connected with A.J. Green for 21 yards to set up Brown’s heroics. He had missed a 56-yarder earlier in the quarter.
Why the Bengals won: They held the Steelers to just two third-down conversions in 14 attempts and sacked Roethlisberger four times.
Colts 20, Chiefs 13
The scoop: Luck continued one of the best rookie QB seasons in league history, throwing for 205 yards to put him at 4,183 with one game still to play. Carolina’s Cam Newton had the previous rookie record of 4,051. K.C.’s Jamaal Charles (226 yards) had an 86-yard TD run, making him just the third player to have three runs of 80 or more yards in a season.
Why the Colts won: Perhaps they were motivated by the news that coach Chuck Pagano, who has undergone treatment for leukemia most of the season, is a good bet to return.
Redskins 27, Eagles 20
The scoop: In what could very well have been the final home game for Eagles coach Andy Reid, Griffin III threw for two scores to Josh Morgan and Santana Moss after missing a start with a knee injury. Washington is a win away from its first NFC East title since 1999.
Why the Redskins won: They stopped the Eagles in the final seconds after Philadelphia had driven from its own 15 to the Redskins’ 5 with 11 seconds left.
Saints 34, Cowboys 31 (OT)
The scoop: Drew Brees threw for 446 yards and three touchdowns, but the Saints clinched the game when Jimmy Graham recovered a Marques Colston fumble that rolled 20 yards forward to the Dallas 2. Garrett Hartley then kicked the winning 20-yard field goal.
Why the Saints won: On a day when they couldn’t stop the Cowboys’ offense very much (QB Tony Romo threw for 416 yards), they forced the Cowboys to punt on the first possession of overtime.
Ravens 33, Giants 14
The scoop: Joe Flacco threw for 309 yards and two touchdowns, and the Ravens clinched the AFC North title on their fourth try. They will host a playoff game on wild-card weekend, Jan. 5-6. The Giants need to beat Philadelphia next week, plus get lots of help, to get to the postseason.
Why the Ravens won: They limited Big Blue to 186 yards of offense for the game while amassing 533 themselves, 289 in the first half alone.
Vikings 23, Texans 6
The scoop: The Vikings’ Blair Walsh kicked a 56-yard field goal, his ninth of 50-plus this season. But Adrian Peterson fell far off the pace to break Eric Dickerson’s single-season rushing record, picking up 86 yards. He needs 208 in next week’s finale against the Packers to set the record. That game means a lot to the Vikings, who are still in the playoff hunt.
Why the Vikings won: They held the Texans without a touchdown for the first time since 2006. Houston’s Arian Foster had 10 rushes for 15 yards before leaving in the third quarter with an irregular heartbeat. He’s expected to be OK.
Patriots 23, Jaguars 16
The scoop: The Pats came in as two-touchdown favorites but managed to avoid back-to-back losses in December for the first time since 2002. Tom Brady’s 2-yard TD throw to Wes Welker in the fourth quarter put New England ahead to stay.
Why the Patriots won: They picked off Chad Henne twice in the final minutes after the Jaguars had driven deep into Patriots’ territory.
Seahawks 42, 49ers 13
The scoop: Marshawn Lynch ran for 111 yards with a rushing and receiving touchdown and Doug Baldwin had two TD catches for the Seahawks, who clinched their second playoff berth in three seasons under Pete Carroll.
Why the Seahawks won: They essentially put the game away when Richard Sherman returned a blocked field goal 90 yards for a TD early in the second quarter, making it 21-0 Seattle.
Best of the rest
Broncos 34, Browns 12
The scoop: Peyton Manning threw for 339 yards, a season best, and three touchdowns as the Broncos had little trouble with the Browns. Denver improved to 12-3, tying Houston for the best record in the AFC. If the teams tie, Houston holds the tiebreaker.
Why the Broncos won: Linebacker Von Miller knocked Cleveland quarterback Brandon Weeden out of the game in the third quarter. He has 17½ sacks on the season.
Bears 28, Cardinals 13
The scoop: Chicago kept itself in the running for a playoff spot thanks to its defense. Charles Tillman returned an interception 10 yards for a score, his third pick-six of the season, and Zack Bowman returned a fumble 1 yard for another TD.
Why the Bears won: They made the NFL’s worst offense look like exactly that. The Cards’ lone TD came off an 82-yard blocked field goal by Justin Bethel with 1:46 left to play.
Packers 55, Titans 7
The scoop: The Pack scored 50-plus points for the first time since 2005 as Aaron Rodgers threw for 342 yards and three TDs. Green Bay is assured of at least one home playoff game as the No. 3 seed.
Why the Packers won: They let the Tennessee offense cross midfield just three times during the game and came within 1:39 of a shutout.
Rams 28, Buccaneers 13
The scoop: Sam Bradford connected with Lance Kendricks on an 80-yard scoring play on the first play of the third quarter to break open the game. The Bucs’ Mike Williams (Riverside) had a terrific game with 132 yards receiving and a 61-yard TD.
Why the Rams won: They picked off Bucs QB Josh Freeman four times and forced five turnovers.
Panthers 17, Raiders 6
The scoop: Unlike the Bills and Chan Gailey, the Panthers are doing their part to help save the job of coach Ron Rivera with their fourth win in five games.
Why the Panthers won: They held the Raiders to 47 rushing yards on 22 carries.
Dog of the day
Chargers 27, Jets 17
The scoop: The Chargers won the “battle” between two teams that failed to live up to early hype, as Philip Rivers threw TD passes to Danario Alexander and Antonio Gates in the third quarter to give San Diego the lead for good.
Why the Chargers won: They sacked Jets QB Greg McElroy, starting for the benched Mark Sanchez, a whopping 11 times.
News wire services contributed to this report.