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NFL Week 17 Recap — Playoff Slots Were Filled; Coaches Were Fired

San Diego Chargers v Denver Broncos
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It took until the last play of the NFL’s 2015 regular season, but the playoff field is finally set. Here’s a recap of the action from NFL Week 17:

Peyton Manning Led The Broncos To The AFC’s No. 1 Seed

San Diego Chargers v Denver Broncos
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Peyton Manning replaced Brock Osweiler in the second half and led Denver to 20 points in 1 1/2 quarters, as the Broncos beat the San Diego Chargers 27-20 on Sunday. With the victory — and New England’s 20-10 loss to Miami earlier in the day — Denver (12-4) earned the AFC’s top seed and home-field advantage through the AFC playoffs.

San Diego (4-12) victimized the Broncos for five turnovers while Osweiler was under center, giving coach Gary Kubiak reason to make the change to Manning. The future Hall of Fame quarterback threw for just 69 yards in his first action since suffering a left foot injury seven weeks ago, but he added enough spark to help Denver win a fifth consecutive AFC West crown.

Cam Newton ran for two scores and passed for two other touchdowns, and the Carolina Panthers routed the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 38-10, on Sunday in Charlotte. Carolina (15-1) secured home-field advantage through the NFC playoffs for the first time in team history. The Panthers vaunted defense intercepted Jameis Winston twice on its way to dropping Tampa Bay (6-10) to another 10-loss season — their third consecutive such campaign.

Russell Wilson threw three touchdown passes, and the Seattle Seahawks snapped the Arizona Cardinals’ nine-game winning streak with a 36-6 trouncing on Sunday. Heading into the game, Arizona (13-3) still had a chance to be the No. 1 seed in the NFC, but instead Seattle (10-6) showed that they might be good enough to make a third consecutive Super Bowl run.

As the No. 6 seed, the Seahawks will play at third-seeded Minnesota in the wild-card round next weekend. The Vikings defeated the Packers for the NFC North title on Sunday. The second-seeded Cardinals have a bye into the divisional round.

The NFC North Title Came Down To The Last Play Of The Season

Minnesota Vikings v Green Bay Packers
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Adrian Peterson ran for 67 yards with a touchdown, and the Minnesota Vikings held on to beat the Green Bay Packers, 20-13, on Sunday night at Lambeau Field. Green Bay (10-6) had a chance to tie the game on the final play, but Aaron Rodgers’ pass into the end zone was knocked away by the defense.

Minnesota (11-5) won their first division title since 2009. They’ll host Seattle in the wild-card round of the playoffs next Sunday. The Seahawks drubbed the Vikings, 38-7, on Dec. 6.

Rodgers passed for 291 yards with a touchdown and an interception, but Minnesota held the Packers potent offense to just three points prior to the fourth quarter. Fifth-seeded Green Bay will travel to Washington to face the NFC East champion Redskins next Sunday.

Rex Ryan & The Bills Helped The Steelers Make The Playoffs

New York Jets v Buffalo Bills
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Ben Roethlisberger threw for 349 yards and three touchdowns, and the Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Cleveland Browns, 28-12, on Sunday. Thanks to Rex Ryan’s Buffalo Bills beating the New York Jets, 22-17, Pittsburgh (10-6) claimed the second AFC wild card spot. The Steelers will face the AFC North champion Bengals on Saturday night in Cincinnati. The teams split their two meetings in the regular season.

New York (10-6) only needed to win to clinch a postseason berth, but they were felled by Buffalo (8-8) and their former head coach Ryan. Former Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who had quarterbacked the Jets into playoff contention this season, threw interceptions on each of his team’s last three possessions of the crucial game.

Cleveland (3-13) will have the second pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. The Browns fired head coach Mike Pettine and general manager Ray Farmer after the game.

The Texans Won The AFC South With Defense

Jacksonville Jaguars v Houston Texans
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J.J. Watt had three of his team’s franchise-record eight sacks, and the Houston Texans stomped the Jacksonville Jaguars, 30-6, on Sunday. With the win, Houston (9-7) won their first AFC South title since 2012 and will host Kansas City in the AFC wild card round of the playoffs next Saturday. The Chiefs beat the Texans in Week 1.

Jacksonville (5-11) couldn’t stop Watt and the Houston defense from getting to the quarterback. Meanwhile, Texans’ QB Brian Hoyer moved the ball effectively against the Jags defense. He threw for 249 yards with a touchdown and an interception.

If Houston had lost, there was a distant chance that Indianapolis could have stolen the AFC South title, but it was not to be. The Colts did beat the Tennessee Titans, 30-24, on Sunday.

The NFL Coaching Carousel Started Spinning Before ‘Black Monday’

Pittsburgh Steelers v Cleveland Browns
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After lackluster seasons punctuated with terrible on-field performances and dreadful win-loss records, the Cleveland Browns and the San Francisco 49ers each fired their respective head coaches on Sunday. Cleveland (3-13) fired head coach Mike Pettine and general manager Ray Farmer, while San Francisco (5-11) fired rookie head coach Jim Tomsula.

The Browns and 49ers coaching jobs opened up a day before ‘Black Monday’ — the Monday after the NFL’s final regular season game when coaches are most often fired. The Eagles started the process early by firing head coach Chip Kelly last Tuesday. The Dolphins and the Titans each fired their head coaches earlier in the season.

It’s possible that the head coaches of the Saints (Sean Payton), Giants (Tom Coughlin), Colts (Chuck Pagano), Lions (Jim Caldwell) and Chargers (Mike McCoy) might not be back in 2016. Expect plenty of ‘breaking news’ updates on those jobs on the NFL Network in the days leading up to next weekend’s playoff games.

Other Scores

Sunday, January 3
Miami 20, New England 10
Kansas City 23, Oakland 17
Cincinnati 24, Baltimore 16
Indianapolis 30, Tennessee 24
New Orleans 20, Atlanta 17
Washington 34, Dallas 23
Philadelphia 35, N.Y. Giants 30
Detroit 24, Chicago 20
San Francisco 19, St. Louis 16 (OT)

Full NFL Standings
Full NFL Scores & Stats
NFL Playoff Picture

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