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Weekend recap: Setting up intrigue in season's final two weeks

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Muhsin Muhammad reaches
in vain for a catch as the Broncos' Josh Bell defends.
(Rick Havner / Associated Press)

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Panthers 30, Broncos 10
There's a proverb that states, "A picture is worth a thousand words." That is certainly the case with the NFL's playoff picture, which might be worth quite a bit more than a thousand words after the results of Week 15 made the race to the postseason even more interesting.

The events that took place at Charlotte's Bank of America Stadium could profoundly impact the top of the NFC playoff picture and set up potential intrigue in the AFC West. The Panthers have a showdown with the Giants next Sunday night that will decide homefield advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. As the Broncos missed a chance to win the AFC West, the Panthers inched closer to their third NFC South crown. In three previous playoff appearances, the Panthers have reached the conference championship and once advanced to the Super Bowl (losing to the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXVIII. Before facing the Chargers in San Diego to finish the season, Denver hosts the Bills with another shot at locking up the AFC West.

Cowboys 20, Giants 8
In failing to score a touchdown for the first time since December of 2004, the Giants have opened the door for the Panthers to take homefield advantage in the NFC playoffs. The two teams enter their Week 16 matchup with identical 11-3 records. The Cowboys, meanwhile, thrust themselves into a three-way tie with the Buccaneers and Falcons (all three sit at 9-5) in the hotly contested competition for the NFC's two wild-card spots.

Steelers 13, Ravens 9
For the second consecutive week, the Steelers waited until the game's final moments to snag victory from the jaws of defeat. After using a 17-point fourth quarter to beat Dallas 20-13 at Heinz Field last week, the Steelers scored the go-ahead touchdown with 43 seconds remaining to beat the Ravens, clinch the AFC North title for the second consecutive season -- and fourth in the last eight seasons -- and earn a first-round playoff bye. Next week, the Steelers will play the Titans with homefield advantage in the AFC playoffs potentially on the line.

Texans 13, Titans 12
Setting up next week's colossal clash at Nashville's LP Field was this upset of Houston's former team by its current one. The win was the fourth in a row by the Texans, which matches the longest in team history and is the longest single-season win streak since the team came into existence as an expansion team in 2002. The road toward homefield advantage in the AFC playoffs doesn't look quite as smooth as it did just a week ago for the Titans, who finish the season against the Colts in Indianapolis, while the Steelers host the Browns in the season finale.

Jets 31, Bills 27
The Jets ended a puzzling two-game skid by edging a Bills team that has been eliminated from playoff contention, but could still be a factor (playing at Denver and at home against New England to close out the season). In a game that featured four lead changes, the Jets' fifth defensive touchdown of the season proved to be the difference as Shaun Ellis' touchdown on a fumble recovery gave the Jets a much-needed victory.

Dolphins 14, 49ers 9
The Dolphins helped set the stage for what should be a wild final two weeks in the AFC East. With this victory, the Dolphins guaranteed themselves a winning record, and thus became the third team since 1970 to follow up a one-win season with a winning record (the last team to have such an amazing turnaround was the 1997 Jets, who finished 9-7 in Bill Parcells' first season as coach). Not coincidentally, this is Parcells' first season as executive vice president of football operations for the Dolphins.

Patriots 49, Raiders 26
On a wet and messy day at McAfee Coliseum, the Patriots remained in the thick of the AFC East division title chase with a thorough domination of the overmatched Raiders. In recording 21 first downs in the opening half of play, the Patriots scored touchdowns on their first four possessions, while the Raiders totaled just five first downs in that stretch. The win was the Patriots' first in Oakland since Sept. 24, 1978, when the eventual AFC East division champion Patriots defeated the Raiders 21-14 behind a strong, 126-yard, one-touchdown effort by Russ Francis.

Falcons 13, Buccaneers 10 (OT)
Further muddling the NFC playoff picture was this result, which marked the 11th time in 11 games that an NFC South team defeated a divisional opponent at home this season.

Chargers 22, Chiefs 21
The Chargers kept their AFC West title hopes alive by pulling off the third-largest comeback in team history. The Chargers scored the final 19 points of the game after trailing 21-3 in the third quarter. Here's a breakdown of the Chargers' all-time greatest comebacks:
» On Nov. 12, 2006, the Chargers trailed by 21 and won 49-41 over the Bengals in Cincinnati.
» On Oct. 9, 1983, the Chargers trailed by 21 and won 28-21 over the Seahawks in San Diego.
» This week, the Chargers trailed by 18 and won 22-21.
» On Sept. 4, 1994, the Chargers trailed by 18 and won 37-34 over the Broncos in Denver.
» On Nov. 19, 2006, the Chargers trailed by 17 and won 35-27 over the Broncos in Denver.
» On Nov. 22, 1998, the Chargers trailed by 17 and won 38-37 over the Chiefs in San Diego.

Bengals 20, Redskins 13
After a 6-2 start to this season, the Redskins have dropped five of their last six games, including a third consecutive loss following Sunday's ugly result in Cincinnati. One big reason for the second-half slide may be the production of Clinton Portis, who has been held under 80 rushing yards in five of the last six games.

Jaguars 20, Packers 16
While the Packers have lost their fourth consecutive game for the first time since 2005, the Jaguars snapped a four-game losing streak and a four-game home losing streak.

Seahawks 23, Rams 20
Two of the Seahawks' three wins have come against the Rams, who have now lost eight consecutive games against their NFC West division rival.

Colts 31, Lions 21
In clinching a seventh consecutive 10-win season behind their seventh straight victory, the Colts remain in the driver's seat for one of the AFC's two wild-card spots. The Lions, meanwhile, became the third team in NFL history to start a season 0-14. No team has ever gone 0-15. The 1976 Bucs went 0-14.

Vikings 35, Cardinals 14
The Vikings outscored the Cardinals 28-0 in the first half. This marked the second time this season that the Cardinals have trailed by 28 or more points at halftime (the Cardinals trailed 34-0 at the half in a 56-35 loss to the Jets in Week 4).

Thursday

Bears 27, Saints 24 (OT)
After leaving Chicago's Soldier Field with season-ending losses the past two years, the Saints were hoping to finally end that frustration. Instead, their slim playoff hopes took another blow. Chicago, meanwhile, improved its division title aspirations with the win and host Green Bay and visit Houston in the season's final two weeks.

 

Week 15 nuggets

» The Steelers' defense has held opponents to under 300 yards in all 14 games this season, tied for the longest streak to start a season since 1970. The 1973 Los Angeles Rams -- champions of the NFC West led by Pro Bowl defenders Jack Youngblood and Isiah Robertson -- did not allow 300 yards in all 14 games in a 14-game season.

» Falcons DE John Abraham had three sacks for the third time this season (and it was the sixth time in his career with three or more sacks). Abraham's 15.5 sacks this season sets a new career high.

» Texans WR Andre Johnson set a franchise record with 207 receiving yards against the Titans.

» The Dolphins have not allowed a touchdown in three consecutive games for the second time in franchise history. The only other time that the Dolphins did not allow a touchdown in three straight games was in 1973 in Hall-of-Famer Don Shula's fourth season with the team.

» Patriots WR Wes Welker became the eighth player in NFL history with back-to-back seasons with 100 or more receptions (the last player to do so was Randy Moss in 2002-03).

» Ellis Hobbs' 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown was the third such return of his career, tying Raymond Clayborn for the most in Patriots history.

» With two receptions against the Lions, Colts WR Marvin Harrison now has 1,095 career receptions, which passes Tim Brown for third all-time. Topping the career receptions list are Jerry Rice (1,549) and Cris Carter (1,101).

» Colts QB Peyton Manning now has 3,803 career completions, passing Vinny Testaverde for sixth all-time. Following all-time leader Brett Favre (5,665), and ahead of Manning, on the all-time career completions list are: Dan Marino (4,967), John Elway (4,123), Warren Moon (3,988) and Drew Bledsoe (3,839).

» Buccaneers RB Warrick Dunn became the sixth player in NFL history with 10,000-plus rushing yards and 500-plus receptions, joining LaDainian Tomlinson, Marshall Faulk, Emmitt Smith, Marcus Allen and Tiki Barber.

» Four of the Chargers' six wins this season have come against the Chiefs and Raiders. Six of the Chargers' 14 games this season have been decided by three or fewer points.

» Lions kicker Jason Hanson connected on his 41st career field goal of 50 or more yards, passing Morten Andersen for the most all-time.

Monday night

Browns at Eagles: Andy Reid might be saving his job and Romeo Crennel may be about to lose his. As bad as Reid's team was the last time it faced a woeful opponent from Ohio, Crennel's crumbling Cleveland Browns are not expected to get in the way of the Philadelphia Eagles' sudden playoff push Monday night.
» Game preview | Fan feedback

Two-minute drill

The Chargers scored 12 points in the final minute and a half to beat the Chiefs 22-21 and shock the Arrowhead Stadium crowd.
» Highlights of Chargers' finish

Injury report

» Albert Haynesworth, DT, Titans: Knee. More ...

» Pat Williams, DT, Vikings: Shoulder. More ...

» James Hardy, WR, Bills: Knee. More ...

» Nick Hardwick, C, Chargers: Neck. More ...

» Dwight Smith, S, Lions: Ankle. More ...

» More

Fantasy focus

Branch is back on the fantasy radar. One week after scoring two touchdowns against his former team, the Patriots, Branch had five catches for 76 yards in a win over the Rams. The former Super Bowl MVP should now be considered a viable No. 3 fantasy wideout in fantasy's championship week.
» Watch the fantasy waiver wire

NFL.com blogs

Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford is an underclassman, but he just might have punched his ticket to Detroit one day.

No team has been as drawn to Heisman winners as the Lions, who have drafted eight of them in the first round and signed four others, writes Adam Schefter.
» Destined for Detroit?

Photos

'Tis the season to be jolly.

NFL cheerleaders got into the holiday spirit during Week 15. Check out these snapshots of the NFL's sizzling sideline sensations dressed for the season.
» More galleries


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