Broncos, Bengals in playoffs; Patriots top AFC

Posted Jan. 01, 2012, at 8:26 p.m.

Even without any Tim Tebow heroics, the Denver Broncos have won the AFC West.

They did it despite falling 7-3 to the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday because San Diego knocked off Oakland 38-26. The Broncos and Raiders tied for the division lead at 8-8, but Denver won on the tiebreaker, better results in common games.

Baltimore (12-4) took the AFC North and a first-round bye as a No. 2 seed when it outlasted Cincinnati 24-16. Even though the Bengals lost, their 9-7 record earned them a wild card in a head-to-head tiebreaker over Tennessee, the only other team with that record in the AFC. The Bengals beat the Titans 24-17 in November.

Pittsburgh (12-4) is the other wild card, but lost both games to the Ravens this year to finish second in the division. The Steelers, who beat Cleveland 13-9, will be at Denver next weekend. Cincinnati visits Houston (10-6).

Tebow’s late-game magic helped Denver turn around its season, from 2-5 to the top of a weak division. He struggled mightily as the Broncos lost their last three games, but they are playoff-bound for the first time since 2005.

By winning every game in the second half of the season, the Patriots own home-field advantage in the AFCplayoffs. By losing their last three games, the New York Jets won’t be going to a third straight conference title game.

The Patriots (13-3) earned the right to stay at home throughout the AFC playoffs after a 49-21 victory over Buffalo, which led 21-0. It should be comforting to them, except the Patriots have lost their last two homeplayoff games, and their last three postseason games overall.

“It depends on how we play,” three-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady said. “It’s great playing at home. It’s great to have a bye. But I think we have to concentrate here this week on what we need to do to play our best football in a couple weeks.”

The Jets (8-8) finished a late-season collapse with a 19-17 loss at Miami to fall out of contention. They dropped their final three games after taking control of the AFC’s final wild-card spot.

“We played well in spurts this season but we weren’t consistent enough,” said quarterback Mark Sanchez, who was among the most inconsistent Jets. “You have to ask yourself the tough questions and clean things up for next season.

“It doesn’t feel good now but we’ll come back and be just fine.”

San Francisco (13-3) is just fine thanks to a turnaround season. Under first-year coach Jim Harbaugh, the 49ers will be the No. 2 seed in the NFC behind Green Bay (15-1) after a 34-27 win at St. Louis.

“I’ll sit back and watch the games. Let the games begin,” tight end Vernon Davis said. “My mind is about to go on a whole new phase, that’s the way I see it. We’ve just got to keep growing, keep trucking.”

New Orleans (13-3) is seeded third after a 45-17 win over Carolina. The Saints will host either Detroit (10-6), which lost at Green Bay 45-41.

Atlanta (10-6) defeated Tampa Bay 45-24 and is seeded fifth in the NFC. It will travel to either Dallas or the New York Giants, who met Sunday night for the NFC East crown.

JAGUARS 19, COLTS 13

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Indianapolis locked up the top pick in April’s NFL draft, setting the stage to select Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck.

Maurice Jones-Drew ran for a season-high 169 yards, clinching the NFL rushing title and breaking Fred Taylor’s single-season franchise record in the Jaguars’ victory.

The Jaguars (5-11) became the first AFC South opponent to sweep Indianapolis (2-14) since 2002 and gave outgoing owner Wayne Weaver a victory in his final game.

The Colts may have been the big winners, though. Indy would have dropped to the No. 2 spot in the draft with a victory in Jacksonville. Instead, owner Jim Irsay will have the choice to draft Luck and give the team a young quarterback to join four-time MVP Peyton Manning.

TITANS 23, TEXANS 22

HOUSTON — Matt Hasselbeck threw two touchdown passes and the Titans kept alive their playoff hopes.

The Titans (9-7) have their first winning record since 2008 in Mike Munchak’s first season, but their postseason fate depended on the outcome of later games in Cincinnati, Oakland and Denver. Tennessee got some early help when the Jets lost in Miami.

Houston (10-6) will head into its first postseason on a three-game losing streak. The Texans were locked into the No. 3 seed in the AFC playoffs and coach Gary Kubiak played mostly reserves in the second half.

Rookie starter T.J. Yates left the game after one series with a shoulder injury and was replaced by Jake Delhomme. Kubiak said Yates could have returned if necessary.

The Texans pulled within a point late in the game on a 5-yard TD pass by Delhomme, but failed on a 2-point conversion that would have won it.

PACKERS 45, LIONS 41

GREEN BAY, Wis. — Backup quarterback Matt Flynn threw a touchdown pass to Jermichael Finley with 1:10 left to finish off his record-setting day of 480 yards and six TD passes.

With Aaron Rodgers resting for the playoffs, Flynn set club single-game records for yards passing and touchdowns. It was an ideal afternoon for the Packers (15-1) who got to rest their starting quarterback and several other big-name players without losing momentum.

Flynn barely got the Packers past Matthew Stafford, who threw for 520 yards with five touchdowns and two interceptions. Playoff-bound Detroit (10-6), has lost 21 straight road games to the Packers, including the postseason.

BEARS 17, VIKINGS 13

MINNEAPOLIS — Charles Tillman’s interception return in the second quarter gave Chicago (8-8) the lead for good, and the Bears stopped their five-game losing streak despite 3½ sacks by Jared Allen.

Allen finished the season with 22 sacks, behind Michael Strahan’s NFL mark of 22½ for the Giants in 2001.

Joe Webb relieved Christian Ponder at quarterback for the Vikings (3-13) for the third time in the last month, but the scrambling Webb wasn’t able to keep the Vikings from matching the worst record in franchise history.

EAGLES 34, REDSKINS 10

PHILADELPHIA — Michael Vick threw three touchdown passes, including a 62-yarder to DeSean Jackson, as the Eagles closed the season with four straight wins.

The Eagles (8-8) are hoping to carry the momentum from their strong finish into next season. But they can’t be satisfied after entering the year with Super Bowl aspirations.

It’s the first time since 2007 that Philadelphia didn’t qualify for the postseason and just the fourth time in coach Andy Reid’s 13 seasons. The Eagles set a franchise record for total yards on offense with 6,386.

The Redskins (5-11) finished in last place in the NFC East for a franchise-worst fourth straight year. It was Mike Shanahan’s worst full season in 18 years as a coach.

49ERS 34, RAMS 27

ST. LOUIS — Michael Crabtree caught two touchdown passes, one from kicker David Akers on a perfectly executed trick play, and San Francisco wrapped up the No. 2 playoff seed in the NFC and a first-round bye.

Crabtree and Vernon Davis had big days for a team short of pass catchers and Tarell Brown had a pair of interceptions that led to touchdowns as the 49ers (13-3) beat the Rams (2-14) for the second time the last five games.

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