Week 16: NFC far from settled
John Clayton [ARCHIVE]
December 24, 2012
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Two nights before Christmas, the AFC playoff berths were wrapped up like a neat present. The NFC, however, needs one more week to figure out a couple of spots.

The bow was wrapped around the AFC postseason roster when the Cincinnati Bengals eliminated the Pittsburgh Steelers and clinched the No. 6 seed. That win, along with the Baltimore Ravens' victory over the New York Giants, enabled the Ravens to clinch the AFC North, so all four divisions are clinched.

The Houston Texans, though, put the No. 1 seed in play by losing to the Minnesota Vikings. To get home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, the Texans have to beat the Indianapolis Colts in Week 17. If they do and the Broncos beat the Kansas City Chiefs, the Texans will be the No. 1 seed, the Broncos No. 2 and the New England Patriots No. 3. The odds now favor the Bengals opening the playoffs against the Patriots in the wild-card round and the Ravens hosting the Colts, who clinched a wild-card spot Sunday.

In the NFC, the Atlanta Falcons wrapped up the top seed Saturday night, but the big news was the New York Giants losing all chances to win the NFC East. They can still get a wild card, but things don't look good.

Officially, five teams are still in the mix for the last two playoff spots in the NFC. The Seattle Seahawks clinched a playoff berth with their win over the San Francisco 49ers, but the 49ers can lock up the NFC West if they beat Arizona in Week 17.

The Vikings can earn a wild card if they beat the Green Bay Packers next week. If the Vikings lose, three other teams, including Chicago, have a chance to earn the last wild card. The winner of the Washington Redskins-Dallas Cowboys game wins the NFC East. The Redskins still have a chance at a wild card if they lose, but the Cowboys are out of the playoffs with a loss.

The big winner Sunday was the Packers. With the 49ers losing, the Packers in position to earn the No. 2 seed with a win at Minnesota.

"If we're able to get the No. 2 seed, it would help injured guys, but a couple years ago we played every week and made it work,'' Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said.

Here is what else stood out in Week 16.

1. Young guard prevails: Watching Marvin Lewis put together this young Bengals team, you got the idea at some point it would catch or surpass the old guard in the AFC North -- the Steelers and Ravens. How the Bengals did it wasn't pretty. Lewis made coaching mistakes. A.J. Green lost an untimely fumble. Andy Dalton threw two picks. But the Bengals' 13-10 win is a classic example of a good, young team being oblivious to pressure.

"This is a very young football team," Lewis said. "This group in there has very little history of anything."

Lewis has lived his NFL coaching life in the Baltimore-Pittsburgh-Cincinnati triangle. He coached in Pittsburgh and Baltimore before becoming the head coach in Cincinnati, but he has pretty much finished third in most years. Even Lewis joked that this young team almost lost because of some of his late decisions.

With 3:22 left in regulation and having the ball on the Steelers' 38-yard line, Lewis elected to go for a 56-yard field goal that didn't have a chance. That gave the Steelers the ball at their 46. Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, who dialed up a near-perfect game on defense, was able stop Ben Roethlisberger at the Bengals' 36. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin went for a 53-yard field goal that fell short. After a three-and-out, the Bengals had to come up with one more stop and got it when Roethlisberger overthrew Mike Wallace for a Reggie Nelson interception. One Andy Dalton-to-A.J. Green completion set up the game-winning field goal by Josh Brown.

"I told them thanks for bailing me out, plain, flat and simple," Lewis said.

The Steelers were celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Immaculate Reception. They laid the Inexplicable Egg. Roethlisberger looked off Sunday. He threw two interceptions, including a pick-six to Leon Hall, and accepted the blame. "We should be [going to the playoffs] if it wasn't for me," he said. "We have a lot of talent and it shows."

Dalton targeted 18 throws to Green, who caught 10 for 116 yards. One thing that helped Green was having a cushion because cornerback Cortez Allen was not playing press coverage. The free release allowed Green to beat double coverage and not get caught up in how the Steelers historically have beaten the Bengals.

"I told everybody that I wasn't here 30 years ago," Green said about the Bengals making back-to-back playoff appearances for the first time in 30 years.

2. Tale of two No. 1 seeds: The Falcons might not be dominating, but they secured home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs by beating the Detroit Lions 31-18 on Saturday night. The Falcons have parlayed the league's easiest schedule into a 13-2 record.

The surprise of Sunday was watching the Vikings dominate Houston, winning 23-6. Although the Texans' defense held Adrian Peterson to fewer than 100 yards, the Texans as a whole didn't look like a No. 1 seed. The Falcons may not have a playoff win with Mike Smith as head coach and Matt Ryan at quarterback, but you have to better feel about their chances than the Texans'. Houston was routed in New England and lost to Minnesota at home in the past three weeks. Adding to the concerns is the irregular heartbeat of halfback Arian Foster, who couldn't finish the game.

"He is doing fine," Houston coach Gary Kubiak said. "[The irregular heartbeat] was why we took him out of the game. But he is doing fine. That is something that happened once in practice. I'm not sure when it happened, but it was a precaution."

The Texans were terrible on offense. They had 34 yards rushing as a team. Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder had 48 individually. Houston left tackle Duane Brown couldn't figure out why the Texans were so flat on offense.

"I can't explain why," Brown said. "We killed ourselves in some drives. Like I said, myself included, some penalties put us in some bad situations, just being inconsistent in the run game. Just flat."

To clinch the AFC's top seed, the Texans have to win next week in Indianapolis.

3. New beast in the NFC East: Officially, nothing was decided in the NFC East race. Unofficially, the Redskins, a 3-6 team earlier in the year, are on the verge of clinching the division, and they look like the champs. Wearing a knee brace that hindered his running, rookie QB Robert Griffin III returned to the starting lineup and led Washington to an efficient 27-20 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles. Griffin tried only two runs. He relied more on his accurate arm, completing 16 of 24 passes for 198 yards and two touchdowns.

The Cowboys lost a wild 34-31 overtime game in which they once again proved they are a tease. They fell behind...
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