Pats clinch division with win over Steelers
Tom Brady piloted Super Bowl champions New England to the winning touchdown with 56 minutes left Dec. 17 as the Patriots clinched the AFC East with a gut-wrenching 27-24 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers.
On a day when the puzzle pieces of the NFL playoffs were dropping into place, the Patriots thwarted Pittsburgh’s bid to clinch a first-round bye and potentially homefield advantage throughout the playoffs.
Making matters worse, the Steelers’ star receiver Antonio Brown was hospitalized for examination and treatment of a calf injury suffered in the first half.
With the win, which ended Pittsburgh’s eight-game winning streak, the Patriots gained the advantage in the hunt for homefield advantage in the AFC playoffs.
Nick Foles, standing in for injured Philadelphia quarterback Carson Wentz, threw four touchdown passes as the Eagles held off the New York Giants 34-29 to clinch a first-round bye.
The Jacksonville Jaguars booked a first playoff appearance in a decade, thumping the Houston Texans 45-7, and the Minnesota Vikings clinched the NFC North division crown with a 34-7 win over the Cincinnati Bengals.
The Eagles, who lost Wentz to a season-ending knee injury last week when they clinched the NFC East, rallied from a 14-point deficit behind Foles, spoiling a three-touchdown effort from Giants quarterback Eli Manning.
It was never in doubt in Jacksonville, where Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles passed for three touchdowns in the first half on the way to a 31-0 lead at the interval.
The Los Angeles Rams took control of the NFC West with a 42-7 rout of the Seahawks in Seattle.
Todd Gurley ran for three touchdowns and caught a scoring pass for the Rams.
The Baltimore Ravens kept their playoff hopes alive with a 27-10 victory over the winless Cleveland Browns.
The Ravens can clinch a wild card berth with victories over the Indianapolis Colts and Cincinnati in their last two games.
The Browns, meanwhile must win at either Chicago or Pittsburgh to avoid joining the 2008 Detroit Lions as the only teams to go 0-16 in a season.
The NFC South remained tight at the top as the New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers both won.
Drew Brees threw two touchdown passes in the Saints’ 31-19 victory over the New York Jets.
The Panthers spoiled Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ return from injury with a 31-24 victory over the Packers.