The Cincinnati Bengals edged the Pittsburgh Steelers to reach the NFL playoffs, and the Indianapolis Colts joined the postseason party by capping their remarkable turnaround in pressure-packed action on Sunday.
The advancement of Cincinnati (9-6), 13-10 winners over their bitter AFC North rivals, and Indianapolis (10-5), who beat the Kansas City Chiefs 20-13, completed the playoff list in the American Football Conference, though seeding issues remained.
The Houston Texans (12-3) failed to capitalize on a chance to clinch top seeding in the AFC by losing 23-6 to the Minnesota Vikings (9-6), who stayed alive for an NFC playoff berth.
AFC North title honors went to the Baltimore Ravens (10-5), who ended a three-game losing streak by dominating the New York Giants 33-14.
Playoff hopes for the Super Bowl champion Giants (8-7) hung by a thread after having lost their last two games by an aggregate score of 67-14.
Playoff berths remain up for grabs in the NFC, with the East Division title and a wildcard spot still at stake.
The Seattle Seahawks grabbed one of the NFC wildcard berths with a crushing 42-13 victory over the San Francisco 49ers as quarterback Russell Wilson threw a career-high four touchdowns.
Wilson is one touchdown pass short of tying Peyton Manning’s NFL rookie record of 26.
“My goal is just to continue to grow. I’m on that constant quest for knowledge and our team is too,” Wilson said. “We’ve had a great year so far, we have to keep moving forward we have a lot to look forward to.”
The Washington Redskins (9-6) maintained the upper hand in their quest for the NFC East title by hanging on for a 27-20 win against the Philadelphia Eagles (4-11), while the Dallas Cowboys (8-7) suffered a 34-31 overtime loss to the New Orleans Saints.
Next week the Redskins, riding a six-game winning streak, host the Cowboys with the winner capturing the division title.
In Pittsburgh, it was a doubly satisfying result for the Bengals whose three-point victory on Josh Brown’s 43-yard field goal with four seconds left to play not only put them in the playoffs, but also knocked the Steelers (7-8) out of contention.
It was the first victory for the visiting Bengals over their bitter AFC North rivals in six meetings.
For the Colts, victory over the Chiefs gave them their 10th playoff trip in 11 years, but first in that span without Peyton Manning as quarterback.
This postseason berth came one season after a woeful 2-14 record that put them in position to take quarterback Andrew Luck from Stanford with the first pick of this year’s NFL Draft.
Luck led the Colts to victory over the Chiefs (2-13) by hitting a leaping Reggie Wayne in the back of the end zone for the winning touchdown with 4:08 left in the game.
That connection capped a 73-yard drive that marked their NFL record-tying seventh fourth-quarter comeback victory.
“I’m very proud to be a part of this team, to be associated with a playoff team. What a great win for us,” Luck told reporters.
Luck set the league record for passing yards in a season for a rookie, finishing the game with 4,183 yards to eclipse the mark of 4,051 yards last season by Cam Newton of the Carolina Panthers with one regular season game still to play.
Houston slowed down league-leading rusher Adrian Peterson, but the Minnesota Vikings held the Texans to just a pair of field goals in their road victory.
Peterson was held to 86 yards, but quarterback Christian Ponder threw a touchdown pass, Toby Gerhart rushed for a score and Blair Walsh kicked three field goals to lift the Vikings.
Peterson, who had a streak of eight 100-yard games snapped, finished the game with 1,898 yards this season and still needs 208 yards to break the NFL single-season rushing record set by Eric Dickerson in 1984.
Washington, who welcomed rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III back to the lineup after he was sidelined for a week with a knee injury, escaped a scare when Philadelphia had a first-and-goal at the five-yard line with 11 seconds left, but failed to score a touchdown that would have sent the game to overtime.
“Winning always cures all ills. It was just good to be back out there with the guys,” Griffin said.
“We’re playing the best ball we’ve played all year at the right time. We’re rolling. We know that we can win any kind of game we have to, whether it’s a high-scoring game or a low-scoring game or a gut-wrencher at the end,” he said.
Dallas rallied with 14 points in the last four minutes to send their game against the Saints into overtime, but they failed to mount a threat with their first possession in extra time and New Orleans (7-8) won on a 20-yard field goal.
The Chicago Bears (9-6) stayed in playoff contention with a 28-13 victory over the Arizona Cardinals (5-10).
NFC North champions Green Bay Packers (11-4) maintained their strong form with a 55-7 thrashing of the Tennessee Titans as Aaron Rodgers threw for three touchdowns and 342 yards.
Tom Brady threw a pair of interceptions in the first quarter, but recovered to lead the AFC East champion New England Patriots (11-4) to a 23-16 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars. It was the Jaguars 13th defeat, a franchise worst.