New England is back in the playoffs after a performance worthy of the team of the decade, a 35-7 rout of Jacksonville on Sunday.
Also returning to the postseason after a one-year absence is Green Bay, which secured an NFC wild-card berth with a 48-10 victory over Seattle.
Cincinnati clinched the AFC North with its 17-10 win over Kansas City, and Dallas moved into position to grab the final NFC wild card with a win over Washington on Sunday night. That was made possible when Carolina routed the Giants 41-9, eliminating New York from playoff contention.
Philadelphia’s 30-27 win over Denver ensured the Cowboys had to beat Washington to remain alive for the division title.
The AFC wild-card scramble got even more complicated with Baltimore’s 23-20 loss at Pittsburgh. When the Jets spoiled the Colts’ unbeaten season 29-15, it pushed New York into the driver’s seat for a wild-card, along with the Ravens. Both are 8-7 and with wins next week over Cincinnati and Oakland, respectively, they will go to the postseason.
Tennessee (7-8) was eliminated Sunday.
New Orleans was stunned 20-17 in overtime by Tampa Bay, preventing the NFC South champion Saints from clinching home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. But the Saints still could get that by winning at Carolina next weekend.
Already into the postseason were: Arizona, winner of the NFC West; Minnesota, which owns the NFC North title; Philadelphia from the NFC East; San Diego, champion of the AFC West; and Indianapolis, winner of the AFC South.
Tom Brady threw four touchdown passes, three to Randy Moss, and the young defense put together its third straight solid game for New England (10-5). The Patriots clinched the AFC East title after missing the playoffs last season for the first time since 2002 despite an 11-5 record. Brady bounced back after throwing for just 307 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions in his previous two games. He completed 23 of 26 passes for 267 yards, reminiscent of his brilliance the last time the teams met — 26 of 28 for 262 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions in a 31-20 divisional playoff win on Jan. 12, 2008.
“It’s big, believe me. ... It’s been a long journey for us,” Brady said. “You start out in the beginning of January last year not making the playoffs. ... We put a lot into it over the course of these 12 months and it really pays off when it goes the way you hope it does.”
Green Bay (10-5) had four interceptions of Matt Hasselbeck. The Packers have surged after a 4-4 start.
Several Packers players, including Charles Woodson and Greg Jennings, acknowledged fans during a lap around the stadium after the game.
“I don’t think you could ask for a better day,” Ryan Grant said.
Carson Palmer’s touchdown pass to Chad Ochocinco completed a 98-yard drive in the closing minutes for Cincinnati to conclude a rough week. The Bengals (10-5) moved into the playoffs for only the second time in the past 19 years after dealing with the death of receiver Chris Henry.
“To win this game, no matter how ugly, makes you closer as a team,” defensive lineman Tank Johnson said, wearing a gray division champion baseball cap. “Winning makes everything feel better — a broken leg, a broken heart.”