All the Eagles, Packers, Saints and Chargers wanted for Christmas was a playoff berth. Several others had similar Yuletide wishes heading into the final weekend of the NFL season Sunday but only Philly, Green Bay, New Orleans and San Diego received what they wanted most from Santa.
Starring roles during wild-card weekend.
Philadelphia became the final team to clinch a postseason berth by beating the host Dallas Cowboys, 24-22, in one of two win-and-get-into-the-playoffs-as-division-champion matchups.
This is the third straight season the Cowboys lost to a division rival with a playoff berth at stake in Week 17.
The Green Bay Packers marched out of Soldier Field in Chicago with a win over their longtime rival that enabled them to make the playoffs as NFC North Division champion and deny the Bears entry into the playoffs.
The Steelers were mere feet away from a Christmas miracle, a postseason berth after an 0-4 start. However, Kansas City kicker Ryan Succop’s potential game-winning kick at the end of regulation from 41 yards sailed wide right, keeping hope alive for the Chargers, who won in overtime to snap a three-year playoff drought and deny Pittsburgh.
The Saints routed Tampa Bay to earn the final wild-card berth in the NFC.
Seattle and Carolina will be the Nos. 1 and 2 seeds, respectively, in the NFC after winning their finales. Denver and New England will be the top two seeds in the AFC.
Winning and getting in
Eagles 24, Cowboys 22
The scoop: Eagles quarterback Nick Foles threw for 263 yards and two touchdowns, NFL rushing champion LeSean McCoy ran for 120 and caught a 3-yard TD, and Bryce Brown’s 6-yard run and Alex Henery’s extra-point kick with 6:09 left provided the decisive points.
Why the Eagles won: Dallas fill-in quarterback Kyle Orton misfired on a game-tying two-point conversion pass with 3:50 left and was then intercepted by Brandon Boykin with 1:43 left on the Cowboys’ final drive.
Chargers 27, Chiefs 24 (OT)
The scoop: Nick Novak’s 36-yard field goal with 5:30 left in overtime completed San Diego’s comeback from a 10-point deficit as everything fell into place to enable the Bolts to secure the final playoff spot in the AFC. Chargers got off the elimination mat on Philip Rivers’ 6-yard TD pass to Eddie Royal early in the fourth quarter and Novak’s 22-yard field goal with 3:21 left in regulation.
Why the Chargers won: Succop’s miss from 41 yards.
Packers 33, Bears 28
The scoop: Aaron Rodgers and Randall Cobb both returned from long-term injuries and hooked up on the game-winning play, a 48-yard touchdown pass with 38 seconds left, that enabled the Packers to win their third straight division title. Rodgers (broken collarbone) missed the past seven games, while Cobb (knee) had been out since Oct. 13.
Why the Packers won: Rodgers outplayed Bears QB Jay Cutler, who fell to 1-9 against Green Bay.
Saints 42, Buccaneers 17
The scoop: Drew Brees eclipsed 5,000-yards passing for the fourth time and threw four touchdowns, including three of more than 40 yards, and also rushed for another score. Saints make playoffs for fourth time in five seasons.
Why the Saints won: Brees connected on TD passes of 76 yards to Kenny Stills, 44 to Lance Moore and 41 to Robert Meachem.
Comforts of home
Seahawks 27, Rams 9
The scoop: Seahawks clinched home field throughout NFC playoffs. Last time they did that, they reached their only Super Bowl to cap the 2005 season. Malcolm Smith’s 37-yard interception return early in the first quarter opened the scoring and set the defensive tone for Seahawks.
Why the Seahawks won: They limited St. Louis to just 158 yards.
Broncos 34, Raiders 17
The scoop: Broncos secured home-field advantage and set a couple of records while beating down their longtime rivals. Peyton Manning was nearly flawless, passing for 266 yards and four TDs in one half of work. He increased his NFL single-season TD passes mark to 55 and set the record for most passing yards in a season (5,477). The Broncos needed only 18 points to break the single-season mark for a team. They scored 31 by halftime.
Why the Broncos won: They have future Hall of Famer in Manning playing the game’s most important position. Oakland had Terrelle Pryor.
Panthers 21, Falcons 20
The scoop: Solid defense and fine quarterback play by Cam Newton (two touchdown passes) helped Carolina win the NFC South, its first division title since its last playoff appearance in 2008. Melvin White’s 8-yard pick-six in the second quarter sparked the Panthers’ rally from an early 10-0 deficit.
Why the Panthers won: They sacked Matt Ryan nine times as Greg Hardy set a team mark with four.
Colts 30, Jaguars 10
The scoop: AFC South champs closed out final month of season on 4-1 run as Andrew Luck (26 for 37, 282 yards) broke Newton’s record for yards passing during a player’s first two seasons. Luck now has 8,196, while Newton had 7,920 in his first two seasons. Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri became the seventh member of the NFL’s 2,000-point club.
Why the Colts won: Indy scored on its first three possessions and held Jags to 42 yards rushing.
Close but no cigar
Steelers 20, Browns 7
The scoop: Le’Veon Bell rushed for 90 yards and a touchdown as he broke Hall of Famer Franco Harris’ Steelers record for total yards from scrimmage by a rookie. He has 1,259 in 13 games, while Franco had 1,235. Teammate Antonio Brown became the first player in NFL history to have at least five receptions and at least 50 receiving yards in every game of a 16-game regular season. Steelers needed to win and to have Dolphins, Ravens and Chargers lose in order to get into playoffs. It almost happened.
Why the Steelers won: Browns came up empty three times on fourth down inside Pittsburgh territory.
Bengals 34, Ravens 17
The scoop: The Ravens are 15th Super Bowl champion that failed to make the playoffs the following season and sixth in past 12 years.
Why the Bengals won: After Baltimore tied game 17-17, Andy Dalton led 90-yard scoring drive he capped with a 1-yard TD run early in the fourth quarter.
Jets 20, Dolphins 7
The scoop: Dolphins had control of their playoff destiny following Week 15 win over Patriots but closed the season with their second straight loss to extend their playoff drought to five years and counting. Jets QB Geno Smith led scoring drives of 71, 80 and 63 yards, capping the middle one with a 7-yard TD run with 3 seconds left in the second quarter to break a 7-7 tie.
Why the Jets won: They picked off second-year Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill three times.
Niners 23, Cardinals 20
The scoop: Carson Palmer rallied the Cards from deficits of 17-0 and 20-17 as he threw for 407 yards and became first player in NFL history to pass for more than 4,000 yards with three teams. It wasn’t enough as LaMichael James’ 45-yard kick return after Jay Feely’s tying field goal with 29 seconds left put the Niners in position to win.
Why the Niners won: Phil Dawson booted a 40-yard field goal as time expired to break 20-20 tie.
Dogs of the day
Giants 20, Redskins 7
The scoop: Game might have been the last for Redskins linebacker and ex-Buffalo Bill London Fletcher, who’ll likely retire after 16 seasons.
Why Giants won: Jerrel Jernigan caught a 24-yard touchdown pass and ran 49 yards for another score.
Vikings 14, Lions 13
The scoop: Vikings bade farewell to the Metrodome after 32 seasons as Cordarrelle Patterson’s second TD, an 8-yard catch, early in the fourth gave Vikes the lead for good.
Why the Vikings won: They pounded Lions, rushing for 174 yards, averaging 8.7 per carry.
Titans 16, Texans 10
The scoop: Chris Johnson ran for 127 yards and a touchdown to become sixth man in NFL history to run for at least 1,000 yards in each of his first six seasons.
Why the Titans won: Michael Griffin intercepted Matt Schaub with 66 seconds left to seal the win.
Compiled from News wire services