Broncos, Patriots top AFC seeds
Thanks to Houston’s late-season slump, Denver and New England will have byes when the AFC playoffs begin next week.
The Texans fell from first to third in the conference Sunday when they lost 28-16 at Indianapolis, which welcomed back coach Chuck Pagano after nearly three months of treatments for leukemia.
AFC West champion Denver won its 11th straight game, 38-3 over Kansas City to secure the top seed. New England blanked Miami 28-0 for the second spot.
Minnesota edged Green Bay 37-34 to grab the final NFC wild card, sinking the Packers to the third seed. Those teams will meet again Saturday night at Lambeau Field.
The other NFC matchup will have Seattle (11-5), which beat St. Louis 20-13, at Washington on Sunday at 1:30 p.m. (PST). The Redskins beat the Cowboys on Sunday night for the NFC East crown.
Cincinnati (10-6) will be at Houston on Saturday at 1:30 p.m., and Indianapolis (11-5) goes to at Baltimore (10-6) on Sunday at 10 a.m. in the AFC wild-card rounds.
Peyton Manning threw for three touchdowns as Denver (13-3) routed the Chiefs. New England got the second seed despite having the same record as Houston because it beat the Texans, who lost three of their final four games.
Green Bay would have been seeded second in the NFC by beating Minnesota.
“The road got a little tougher having to play on opening weekend, but we’ve got a home game and that’s why you win the division,” Aaron Rodgers said. “We get to go back home, and the game will be different.”
Baltimore Pro Bowl safety Ed Reed is looking forward to a reunion with Pagano. He wishes it would come a little later.
“Chuck’s like a dad to me,” Reed said “He means a lot to me. I would have much rather seen them in the AFC championship game than the first game.”
Pagano coached the Ravens’ secondary for three seasons and was promoted to coordinator last year. Players and coaches in Baltimore have kept in touch, offering encouragement as he fought through the cancer treatments.
“Going back to Baltimore, obviously there’s some familiarity there,” Pagano said. “We had four great years there as a family. It’s a top-notch organization, you know, really good football club. It’s a great challenge and they have a great team and they have great players all over the place.”
Houston beat Cincinnati in the opening round of last year’s playoffs.
“I think it will be good,” said Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton, who grew up in tsuburban Houston. “We played there last year and know the atmosphere and what it’s going to be like. The experience last year will definitely help us.”