The play-off picture is only a little clearer after this past weekend’s action and next Sunday two divisional showdowns between big name rivals will have all-or-nothing themes.
The Dallas Cowboys produced a much-needed comeback at Washington to ensure their Week 17 home clash against the Philadelphia Eagles would have as its prize a post season berth.
The Eagles didn’t even need to beat the Chicago Bears on Sunday to set up this mouth-watering finale but hammered their hosts anyway, Nick Foles throwing two more touchdown passes and LeSean McCoy running for two scores too as the Eagles romped home in style, 54-11.
The Bears must now also navigate a do-or-die scenario against the Green Bay Packers to decide who advances from the NFC North.
The Packers lost a thriller at home to the Pittsburgh Steelers who are themselves still in with a shout after their gripping 38-31 victory.
Elsewhere in the NFC, Cam Newton threw a 14-yard touchdown pass to Domenik Hixon with 23 seconds left to put the Carolina Panthers into the post-season for the first time since 2008, courtesy of their exciting 17-13 comeback win at home to the New Orleans Saints.
Carolina can wrap up the NFC South and a first-round bye with a win on Sunday at Atlanta.
The Seattle Seahawks were surprisingly beaten 17-10 at home by the Arizona Cardinals to keep the latter in the hunt while forcing Seattle to wait a week to confirm their top seed status.
In the AFC meanwhile, the Denver Broncos sealed the AFC West and the top seed after an easy win at Houston which was most notable for Peyton Manning’s retaking the NFL record for touchdown passes in a season.
“It was very special,” he said. “Very rarely during an NFL game do you get to have a moment like that.”
Manning will probably take next week off after he threw for 400 yards and four touchdowns, including three in the fourth quarter, to give Denver a third straight AFC West title but also his season total of 51 passes, overtaking the 50 passes Tom Brady threw in 2007, helping the Broncos to a 37-13 win. The Indianapolis Colts beat the Kansas City Chiefs 23-7 while the Miami Dolphins lost a good opportunity to advance to the play-offs when they succumbed to a 19-0 defeat at the Buffalo Bills.
The Cincinnati Bengals secured passage to the post season after their 42-14 win over the Minnesota Vikings was sweetened by Miami’s defeat.
They would then go on to secure the AFC North title when the Baltimore Ravens lost at home to the New England Patriots 41-7.
The San Diego Chargers also benefited from the failings of the Ravens and the Dolphins by staying in the hunt thanks to their 26-13 victory against the Oakland Raiders.
The Detroit Lions were eliminated after a 23-20 defeat at home to the New York Giants which capped their dismal collapse this season.
The New York jets beat the Cleveland Browns 24-12, the St Louis Rams defeated Tampa Bay Buccaneers 23-13, the Tennessee Titans beat the Jacksonville Jaguars 20-16 while the San Francisco 49ers were hoping to assure qualification late last night when they took on the lowly Atlanta Falcons.