One year after putting together the NFL’s worst record, the Indianapolis Colts are headed to the playoffs.
Joining them on Sunday were the Cincinnati Bengals, finishing out the field in the AFC.
The Colts (10-5) equaled the 2008 Miami Dolphins as the only teams to win at least 10 games after losing 14 or more the previous season. Top overall draft pick Andrew Luck completed a 7-yard touchdown pass to Reggie Wayne late in the fourth quarter for a 20-13 victory at Kansas City.
Cincinnati qualified for a second straight postseason berth for only the second time in franchise history, edging archrival Pittsburgh 13-10. The Bengals have never gone to the playoffs in successive years that did not involve a strike-shortened season.
Luck finished with 205 yards passing to break Cam Newton’s year-old rookie record of 4,051 yards in a season. He also extended his rookie record for fourth-quarter comebacks to seven by leading his team downfield in the closing minutes.
“Mission accomplished. That’s all I can say,” Colts interim coach Bruce Arians said. “Without getting emotional again, knowing that (coach Chuck Pagano) is going to be back Monday, the work week shouldn’t be as stressful.”
Pagano has been sidelined since a loss to Jacksonville in Week 3.
For the Bengals (9-6), Andy Dalton hit A.J. Green with a 21-yard pass in the final moments, setting up Josh Brown’s 43-yard field goal with 4 seconds remaining. The loss eliminated the Steelers from contention.
“A lot of people talked about we hadn’t been in in back-to-back seasons in 30 years,” Green said. “I don’t worry about that stuff. I’ve been here two years and we made the playoffs all two years. That’s all we can control.”
Minnesota’s 23-6 win at Houston prevented the Texans from earning home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. AFC South champion Houston (12-3) still can get that by winning at Indianapolis in the season finale.
New England has won the AFC East, Denver the West. Baltimore clinched the North by beating the New York Giants 33-14, sending the defending Super Bowl champions to the brink of elimination.
Washington’s 27-20 win at Philadelphia, combined with New Orleans beating Dallas 34-31 in overtime means the Redskins (9-6) will win the NFC East by beating the Cowboys next week.
But Dallas (8-7) takes the division by winning that game at Washington, which the league has flexed to prime time.
“They know what it means,” coach Mike Shanahan said. “They’ve been working toward this opportunity to win the division. Any time you win the division, everybody knows you have a home game in the playoffs. We talked about that from Day 1. They knew what we had to do to get there. We haven’t accomplished anything yet.”
Green Bay clinched at least the third seed in the NFC when it routed Tennessee 55-7. But when Seattle romped over San Francisco 42-13, the NFC North champs (11-4) now sit second overall in the conference and get a bye.
“We have momentum going for us, particularly what we’ve done over the last nine weeks, 10 weeks,” coach Mike McCarthy said of Green Bay’s nine wins in the last 10 games. “So we wanted to take the next step as a football team and I felt we were able to accomplish that today.”
The 49ers (10-4-1) will win the NFC West by beating Arizona next weekend. Seattle (10-5) earned at least a wild-card spot and finishes at home against St. Louis.
On Saturday night, NFC South winner Atlanta dominated at Detroit 31-18 to clinch home-field advantage throughout the conference playoffs.
Minnesota (9-6), Chicago (9-6), the New York Giants (8-7) and Washington could wind up with the final NFC wild card. Dallas can’t get a wild card.