Philadelphia and Green Bay storm into NFL play-offs
Both teams score impressive road victories with quarterback Aaron Rodgers playing the role of a returning hero for the Packers
The Philadelphia Eagles and Green Bay Packers pulled out memorable road victories to secure berths in the NFL play-offs.
Philadelphia completed a terrific turnaround under new coach Chip Kelly by beating Dallas 24-22 to win the NFC East.
Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers played the role of returning hero, along with Randall Cobb, in the Packers' 33-28 victory at Chicago to capture the NFC North title.
The Eagles (10-6) will host New Orleans (11-5) on Saturday, while Green Bay (8-7-1) are at home against San Francisco (12-4) on Sunday.
The wild-card round begins on Saturday with Kansas City (11-5) at Indianapolis (11-5). The early game on Sunday is San Diego (9-7) at Cincinnati (11-5).
Philadelphia's Brandon Boykin made an interception in the final two minutes to clinch the Eagles' win. One year after they finished with a woeful 4-12 record, they claimed a division title by winning seven of their final eight games.
"A huge win for Philly, a huge win for us, just a great moment," Boykin said.
Dallas (8-8) have now lost three straight showdown finales for the NFC East title.
At Chicago, in his first game back from a broken left collarbone, Rodgers threw a 48-yard touchdown pass to Cobb on fourth-and-8 with 38 seconds left for the go-ahead score.
Rodgers had been out since getting injured in a loss to Chicago on November 4, and Cobb missed the previous 10 games with a knee problem. Still, the Packers edged arch rivals the Bears (8-8) for the division crown by winning three of their last four games.
"He is the best quarterback in the league," said Packers receiver Jordy Nelson, who caught 10 passes for 161 yards. "To be gone for that many weeks and to play as well as he did - it was great to have him back."
San Diego also completed a rally to get into the postseason, beating undermanned Kansas City 27-24 in overtime for their fourth consecutive victory. After Miami and Baltimore lost earlier in the day, the Chargers sealed their spot via Nick Novak's 36-yard field goal with 5:30 left in overtime.
"We didn't play our best game, but play-off teams find a way to win when you don't play your best and that's what we did today," Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers said.
Kansas City kicker Ryan Succop missed a 41-yard field goal attempt with four seconds left in regulation that would have won the game.
Pittsburgh would have taken the play-off spot over San Diego had Succop connected.
Indianapolis, winners of the AFC South, beat Jacksonville 30-10 and will play the Chiefs twice in quick succession, having won 23-7 in Kansas City last weekend.
Defending NFL champions Baltimore were eliminated after a 34-17 loss to Cincinnati, with their last chance going once Pittsburgh (8-8) defeated Cleveland 20-7.
"Not going to the play-offs hurts," running back Ray Rice said. "I'm not used to having this kind of time on my hands."
Miami (8-8) lost to the New York Jets 20-7, putting Pittsburgh in position to advance if San Diego slipped up at home against a team who rested 20 of 22 starters. The Chargers nearly did, but eventually survived.
AFC West champions Denver (13-3), the highest-scoring team in NFL history, earned the No 1 seed in the conference by romping to a 34-14 win at Oakland. New England (12-4), the AFC East winners, will be the second seed and also have a bye this weekend. The Patriots beat Buffalo 34-20.
Carolina (12-4) won the NFC South and a first-round play-off bye with a 21-20 victory at Atlanta, while New Orleans took the final NFC wild card with a 42-17 rout of Tampa Bay.
"Now we can cross that goal off," Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly said. "Now we can concentrate, get guys healthy and get ready to go."
Already in the NFC play-offs were San Francisco, who won 23-20 at Arizona, and Seattle (13-3), who secured the NFC West title and the conference's top seed with a 27-9 win over St Louis.