NFL Playoff Picture Set After Wild Regular Season Finales
The field is set and the final push to reach Super Bowl 50 begins next week after the NFL rounded out its regular season schedule with several surprises in Week 17.
The Carolina Panthers, after flirting most of the season with perfection, closed out the regular season with a win at home against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and a 15-1 record to claim the #1 overall seed. The Panthers, led by top MVP candidate Cam Newton will have home-field advantage throughout the playoffs and a first-round bye.
In the AFC, the Denver Broncos saw the return of future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning who led the Broncos to 20 second-half points to overcome the San Diego Chargers and claim the #1 seed in the AFC. The Broncos will also have home-field advantage and a first-round bye.
On Sunday night, the Minnesota Vikings defeated the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field in a matchup for the NFC North crown in a game that determined much of the final seeding in the NFC. The Vikings victory earned them the #3 seed and pushed the Packers to the #5 and a Wild Card matchup with the #4 seed Washington Redskins next Sunday.
An injury-ridden New England Patriots team entered Sunday as the #1 seed in the AFC, but after falling to the Miami Dolphins on the road, the Patriots failed to lock up the top spot and slipped to #2. The Patriots will have a first-round bye and will host a team at Gillette Stadium in two weeks.
In the NFC, the Arizona Cardinals maintained the #2 seed, but were dominated by a resurgent Seattle Seahawks team that finished the last seven games of the season 6-1. The Cardinals will have a first-round bye next week and host a team in two weeks.
The Seahawks enter the playoffs flying high and playing maybe the best football in the entire league. Though the Seahawks ended as the lowest possible seed in the NFC, they will face off against the Vikings in a rematch of a Week 13 game where they blew out Minnesota 38-7.
The AFC is rounded out by the Cincinnati Bengals, Houston Texans, Kansas City Chiefs, and Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Bengals will host AFC North rivals, the Pittsburgh Steelers, who captured the final playoff spot after a win against the Cleveland Browns Sunday and the New York Jets failed to beat the Buffalo Bills in Buffalo on Sunday.
The 9-7 Texans will host the Kansas City Chiefs, who are riding a 10-game winning streak into the playoffs.
Game times for Wild Card Weekend are as follows:
Saturday, Jan. 9
AFC Wild Card Game 1: Kansas City Chiefs @ Houston Texans, 4:35 p.m., ESPN;
AFC Wild Card Game 2: Pittsburgh Steelers @ Cincinnati Bengals, 8:15 p.m., CBS;
Sunday, Jan. 10
NFC Wild Card Game 1: Seattle Seahawks @ Minnesota Vikings, 1:05 p.m., NBC;
NFC Wild Card Game 2: Green Bay Packers @ Washington, 4:40 p.m., FOX.