Panthers, Bengals and Patriots earn invites to playoffs
(Reuters) - The Carolina Panthers, New England Patriots and Cincinnati Bengals all clinched playoff spots as the National Football League playoff picture came into sharper focus on Sunday.
In the AFC, the post-season puzzle is nearly complete with the Patriots, Bengals, Denver Broncos and Indianapolis Colts all confirmed as division champions and the Kansas City Chiefs having also secured a playoff berth.
With just one week remaining on the regular season schedule, the Miami Dolphins (8-7), Baltimore Ravens (8-7), San Diego Chargers (8-7) and Pittsburgh Steelers (7-8) will battle for the AFC's final wildcard spot.
Things are not as clear in the NFC, where all four division crowns were still up for grabs and only the Seahawks and Panthers had locked up playoff positions.
Before the day is over, however, the NFC could yet crown one unlikely division champion. The Chicago Bears (8-6) were in position to clinch the North title with a win over the Philadelphia Eagles in the nightcap after the playoff hopes of the Detroit Lions (7-8) disappeared in a 23-20 overtime loss to the New York Giants and the Green Bay Packers (7-7-1) fell 38-31 to the Steelers on the Frozen Tundra at snowy Lambeau Field.
The Seahawks entered Sunday with the NFL's best record and unbeaten at home for two seasons but fell to 12-3 after being upset by the surprising Arizona Cardinals (10-5), who kept their own playoff dreams alive with a gritty 17-10 victory.
Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer threw four interceptions but the Arizona defense could not be breached as Seattle failed to secure the NFC West division crown and home field advantage throughout the playoffs after suffering their first home defeat since December 24, 2011.
Three more teams confirmed their invitations to the post-season party on a pulsating penultimate Sunday that dripped with of high drama and nail-biting action.
Nowhere were tensions running higher than in Charlotte, North Carolina where Carolina quarterback Cam Newton engineered a last gasp touchdown drive to cap a thrilling 17-13 win over the New Orleans Saints (10-5) and give the Panthers (11-4) their first trip to the post-season since 2008. Continued...