Three teams made it into the NFL playoffs with victories Sunday, although one of them managed to do so with a losing record.
The Seattle Seahawks beat the St. Louis Rams, 16-6, Sunday night in Seattle to capture the NFC West title with a record of 7-9. The Seahawks became the first team to reach the NFL playoffs with a losing record in a non-strike season.
The Indianapolis Colts and Green Bay Packers got the wins they needed earlier Sunday for playoff spots while the New York Giants and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, despite season-ending triumphs, had their hopes dashed.
The Atlanta Falcons and Pittsburgh Steelers had their places in the postseason field already secured but improved their positions with lopsided victories. The Falcons beat the Carolina Panthers to clinch the top seed in the NFC playoffs, and the Steelers won in Cleveland to secure the AFC's second seed.
The sixth-seeded Packers will play the third-seeded Eagles in Philadelphia next Sunday in the NFC playoffs, while the fifth-seeded New Orleans Saints will play Saturday in Seattle against the fourth-seeded Seahawks. The Falcons and second-seeded Chicago Bears have the first-round byes in the NFC.
The Seahawks joined the 1982 Browns and Detroit Lions as losing teams in the playoffs. The Browns and Lions reached the postseason with identical 4-5 records in the strike-shortened '82 season with an expanded, 16-team playoff field. The Seahawks are the first division-winning team with a losing record.
The Falcons beat the Panthers, 31-10, in Atlanta to secure the NFC South title, a first-round playoff bye and home field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.
"That was really a good win for our organization. . . . We still have a lot of work left," Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan said during his postgame news conference. "But we're excited to be playing at home."
The Falcons lost at home to the Saints last Monday night, squandering their first chance to clinch the division title and the top NFC playoff seed. That left the Saints and Bears still in the running for the No. 1 seed in the NFC before Sunday's games. But the Falcons merely needed to beat the Panthers, and had little trouble doing so. The Panthers, who finished 2-14, already had announced the ouster of Coach John Fox.
So the road to the Super Bowl in the NFC goes through Atlanta. The Falcons have a 7-1 record at the Georgia Dome this season. They return to the playoffs for the second time in three seasons with Mike Smith as their coach and Ryan as their quarterback.
"Knowing that the opportunity doesn't come around that often and making the most of it, I think everybody will have that on their mind," Ryan said.
The Bears were locked into the second playoff seed in the NFC after the Falcons' win. They gave the Packers a tough game at Lambeau Field but lost, 10-3. The Packers' triumph knocked the Giants and Buccaneers from the NFC playoffs despite victories Sunday that left each team at 10-6.
The Steelers (12-4) won in Cleveland, 41-9, to stay ahead of the Ravens in the AFC North. The Steelers, not the Ravens, got a first-round bye and a conference semifinal at home.
"It's a prerequisite to getting where we want to be," Steelers Coach Mike Tomlin said. "We wanted to play in the playoffs. We wanted to do it at home."
The Colts won the AFC South by beating the Tennessee Titans, 23-20, at home on a 43-yard field goal by place kicker Adam Vinatieri on the final play. The Colts won their final four games to finish 10-6 and win their division for the seventh time in eight seasons. They're in the playoffs for a record-tying ninth straight season.
The Patriots already had the AFC's top seed wrapped up but beat the Miami Dolphins, 38-7, to finish a league-best 14-2.
"We've had a good year," Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said. "We've put ourselves in a really good position. [But] really none of it matters at this point