Jan. 2 (Bloomberg) -- The New York Giants landed the National Football League’s final playoff spot with a 31-14 win over the Dallas Cowboys, while the Jets’ chances of a third straight postseason trip were snuffed out in Miami.
The Denver Broncos and Cincinnati Bengals took the American Football Conference’s last two postseason spots yesterday even after losing their final regular-season games.
Eli Manning passed for 346 yards and three touchdowns last night at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, as the Giants returned to the playoffs for the first time since 2008. New York won three of its final four games -- including two wins over the Cowboys -- to finish the season 9-7.
“It’s a great feeling,” Manning said in a televised interview. “We’ve played great in the fourth quarter and we finished the season strong. We needed two wins to make the playoffs. We knew what we had to do and we got it done.”
The Giants will host the Atlanta Falcons in the first round of the playoffs on Jan. 8, one of four games during the NFL’s wild card weekend. The New Orleans Saints will host the Detroit Lions in the other NFC game, while the AFC’s matchups feature the Pittsburgh Steelers visiting the Broncos and the Houston Texans hosting the Bengals.
The Green Bay Packers and San Francisco 49ers have first- round playoff byes in the NFC, while the New England Patriots and Baltimore Ravens are through to the second round as the top two teams in the AFC.
Jets Finish 8-8
The Jets’ campaign ended at 8-8 after the Dolphins scored 13 straight fourth-quarter points to rally for a 19-17 win at Sun Life Stadium in Miami. Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez threw three interceptions, the final one with 2 minutes, 55 seconds left after New York had reached Miami’s 10-yard line.
“We played well in spurts this season, just not well enough consistently,” Sanchez, who had 26 touchdowns and 18 interceptions this year, said at a news conference. “I’ve got to play better to win.”
The Jets, who reached the American Football Conference championship game the past two seasons, entered the final week of the regular season needing a win and losses by three other teams to qualify for the playoffs.
The Bengals lost to the Ravens 24-16, yet earned the AFC’s final wild card berth with a 9-7 record because of losses by the Jets, Broncos and Oakland Raiders.
Although the Broncos were beaten 7-3 by the Kansas City Chiefs, they won the AFC West because of Oakland’s 38-26 loss to the San Diego Chargers. Denver, Oakland and San Diego all finished 8-8 in the division, with the Broncos taking the title because they held the third tiebreaker advantage -- the best record against common opponents.
“It’s obviously a little bittersweet,” Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow, who completed 6-of-22 passes for 60 yards and an interception, said at a news conference. “We’d like to have a little better momentum going into the playoffs.”
The Patriots clinched the No. 1 seed in the AFC and home- field advantage throughout the playoffs with a 49-21 win over the Buffalo Bills. Tom Brady passed for 338 yards and three touchdowns as the Patriots scored 49 straight points to rally from a 21-0 deficit.
The Ravens clinched the AFC North, the No. 2 seeding and a first-round bye as Ray Rice rushed for 185 yards and two touchdowns in their victory in Cincinnati.
Ravens Win Division
While Baltimore and Pittsburgh finished 12-4 in the division, the Ravens won both regular-season meetings, relegating the Steelers to the No. 5 seed in the AFC and the opening-round playoff game in Denver. The Steelers capped the regular season with a 13-9 win over the Cleveland Browns.
The 49ers earned a bye by beating the St. Louis Rams 34-27 to wrap up the No. 2 seed in the NFC at 13-3.
After beating the Carolina Panthers 45-17 to end with a 13- 3 record, the Saints are the NFC’s No. 3 seed because San Francisco held the tiebreaker advantage.
Drew Brees passed for 389 yards and five touchdowns as the Saints set a record for total offensive yards in a season, breaking the mark that was held by the 2000 St. Louis Rams. Brees also eclipsed Peyton Manning’s record for completions in a season, a week after breaking Dan Marino’s 27-year-old mark for single-season passing yards.
Brees finishes the season with 5,476 passing yards, while the Patriots’ Brady (5,235) and the Lions’ Matthew Stafford (5,038) also surpassed the 5,000-yard milestone. Entering this season, Brees and Marino were the only quarterbacks to top 5,000 passing yards.
Top Draft Pick
The Indianapolis Colts locked up the No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 NFL draft with a 19-13 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Colts and Rams finish the season with 2-14 records, though Indianapolis holds the strength-of-schedule tiebreaker advantage for the top pick.
Stanford University quarterback Andrew Luck is projected by draft analysts to be the No. 1 pick. Manning, a four-time NFL Most Valuable Player, sat out this season after having neck surgery as the Colts finished with their worst record since going 1-15 in 1991.
The Packers outscored the Lions 45-41 as backup quarterback Matt Flynn threw his sixth touchdown pass of the game with 1:10 remaining.
Flynn finished with 480 passing yards while starting in place of Aaron Rodgers for the Packers (15-1), who beat the Lions for the 21st straight time at Lambeau Field and prevented Detroit from clinching the NFC’s No. 5 playoff seed. The Packers are the NFC’s top seed and will play at home throughout the playoffs.
Lions Face Saints
Stafford passed for 520 yards and five touchdowns for the Lions (10-6), who had previously locked up their first playoff berth since 1999. The loss means the Lions, as the sixth seed, face the Saints in the opening round instead of the Giants.
The Falcons (10-6) gained the NFC’s No. 5 seed with a 45-24 rout of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Julio Jones and Michael Turner each had two touchdowns as the Falcons raced out to a 42-0 first-half lead.
The Tennessee Titans beat Houston 23-22 as the Texans failed to convert a two-point conversion after scoring a touchdown with 19 seconds left. The Titans, who finished 9-7, had their playoff chances end when the Broncos lost.
The Texans (10-6) already had the AFC’s No. 3 playoff seed locked up and will be making their first postseason appearance.
At MetLife Stadium, the Giants opened a 21-0 lead as Manning found Victor Cruz for a 74-yard touchdown pass and Ahmad Bradshaw scored two touchdowns.
The Cowboys pulled within 21-14 in the fourth quarter before the Giants got a 28-yard field goal from Lawrence Tynes and a 4-yard touchdown catch by Hakeem Nicks to seal the victory.
The Chicago Bears beat the Minnesota Vikings 17-13, the Philadelphia Eagles defeated the Washington Redskins 34-10 and the Arizona Cardinals beat the Seattle Seahawks 23-20 in overtime in games between teams out of playoff contention.
--Editor: Dex McLuskey
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