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NFL playoff picture gets clearer

Steelers defenders Cameron Heyward and Jason Worilds sack Chiefs QB Alex Smith. (Associated Press)
Steelers defenders Cameron Heyward and Jason Worilds sack Chiefs QB Alex Smith. (Associated Press)
Associated Press

The Pittsburgh Steelers and Green Bay Packers both qualified for the NFL playoffs with wins Sunday. Next week, they will play for division titles at home.

Defending Super Bowl champion Seattle also qualified, routing Arizona 35-6, and moved into a tie for the top spot in the NFC West. The Seahawks (11-4) own the tiebreaker over the Cardinals should they both finish with the same record.

Dallas clinched the NFC East with a 42-7 romp past Indianapolis, ending any chance for Philadelphia to make the postseason.

The Steelers (10-5) beat Kansas City 20-12 to secure at least a wild-card berth. They will win the AFC North by defeating Cincinnati next Sunday night. The Bengals (9-4-1) host Denver (11-3) tonight.

“It was such a sense of urgency this week, knowing what was at stake. I just thought we answered the challenge,” Pittsburgh defensive end Cameron Heyward said.

Green Bay topped Tampa Bay 20-3 and heads to Lambeau Field for Sunday’s showdown with Detroit for the NFC North crown. Both are 11-4 after the Lions won 20-14 at Chicago.

“We’ve won six out of seven games, so I’d like to classify that as playing a lot of solid football, that’s for sure,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said.

Seattle’s lopsided victory gave it a good shot at the top seed in the NFC and was its fifth in a row, ninth in 10 games. The Seahawks swept Arizona over the last four weeks. On Sunday, Seattle hosts St. Louis, while the Cardinals visit San Francisco.

With their wins in Week 16, the Falcons (6-9) and Panthers (6-8-1) set up a winner-take-all game for the NFC South on Sunday at Atlanta. Carolina beat Cleveland 17-13, and Atlanta defeated New Orleans 30-14.

“Now it all comes down to one game and that’s all we can ask for is to be in that situation,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said.

New England earned an AFC first-round bye with its 17-16 victory at the New York Jets. It will get home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs by beating Buffalo next week at home.

The Patriots are the first team since the current format was adopted in 1990 to get five straight first-round byes.

“I’m glad it came out the way it did – makes for a better Christmas,” quarterback Tom Brady said.

Still alive in the AFC are Baltimore (9-6), whose loss to Houston (8-7) also kept the Texans in contention; Kansas City (8-7); and San Diego (9-6), which won Saturday night at San Francisco. The Chargers will be in if they win at Kansas City next weekend.

Buffalo (8-7) lost all chance of ending its NFL-high string of non-playoff appearances, now at 15, by falling at Oakland 26-24.

The NFC is less muddled, except for which team will get the top seed. Dallas (11-4), which is at Washington on Sunday, Seattle, Arizona, Green Bay and Detroit all have a shot.

“In so many ways, this is such a long journey and to get to a point to achieve your first goal of winning the division title, a lot goes into that,” said Dallas coach Jason Garrett, in his fourth full season. “I think the way you play in securing that matters, and I thought we played really, really well.”

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