4 Min Read
(Reuters) - The Green Bay Packers, Pittsburgh Steelers and Dallas Cowboys booked their places in the playoffs after victories on Sunday while the New England Patriots earned a first round bye for the postseason.
Sunday's results meant that defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks also secured a place in the playoffs before crushing their NFC West rivals the Arizona Cardinals 35-6 in the evening finale.
The Packers gained their berth with a 20-3 win at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers but they will have to wait until next week to see if they can clinch the NFC North title.
Green Bay will face divisional rivals the Detroit Lions in the final week of the regular season with both teams on 11-4 records ahead of the showdown.
The Lions, who are also assured a playoff place, beat the Chicago Bears 20-14.
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers completed 31-of-40 passes for 318 yards and a touchdown and running back Eddie Lacy rushed for 99 yards including a 44-yard touchdown run.
The Steelers, six-time Super Bowl winners, have been absent from the post-season for the past two seasons but Mike Tomlin's team ensured they will be in the mix this year thanks to a 20-12 win over the Kansas City Chiefs.
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger directed the Steelers (10-5) to their third consecutive win, passing for 220 yards and a touchdown.
The most emphatic statement came from the Dallas Cowboys who crushed the playoff-bound Indianapolis Colts 42-7.
With the win, the Cowboys finish top of the NFC East for the first time since 2009.
With another impressive performance Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo surpassed Troy Aikman to become the franchise's all-time leader in passing yards.
He now has 32,971 yards passing in eight full seasons, bettering Aikman's mark of 32,942 yards.
Romo completed 18-of-20 passes for 218 yards and four touchdowns before he was given a rest in the fourth quarter.
Russell Wilson tossed a pair of touchdowns and ran over another as the Seahawks grabbed pole position in the race for the NFC West division crown.
With their fifth straight victory the Seahawks improved to 11-4 and can clinch the division ahead of the injury ravaged Cardinals (11-4) with a win against the St Louis Rams next week.
The Patriots had already wrapped up the AFC East title before Sunday's game at the New York Jets but they secured a bye with a 17-16 win.
New England will have home field advantage throughout the playoffs if the Denver Broncos lose to the Cincinnati Bengals on Monday or if the Patriots win at home to Buffalo next week.
The Patriots struggled in the first half with quarterback Tom Brady sacked four times. A one-yard touchdown run by Jonas Gray in the fourth quarter proved to be the difference.
The Houston Texans (8-7) kept their slim playoff hopes alive with a 25-13 win over the Baltimore Ravens.
Randy Bullock converted a franchise record six field goals and running back Arian Foster threw a touchdown pass in the win.
The New Orleans Saints are out of the playoffs after losing 30-14 at home to the Atlanta Falcons.
The Falcons will now take on the Carolina Panthers, who beat Cleveland 17-13, for the NFC South title.
Rookie Cleveland quarterback Johnny Manziel left late in the first half with a hamstring injury and did not return.
The Buffalo Bills remain without a playoff appearance since 1999 after a 26-24 loss to Oakland knocked them from contention.
The Miami Dolphins were eliminated despite a 37-35 win over Minnesota. Afterward, Dolphins owner Stephen Ross announced coach Joe Philbin would return in 2015 despite having failed to reach the playoffs in three seasons.
Editing by Gene Cherry/John O'Brien