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NFL divisional round matchups fully set

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NFL divisional round matchups fully set

NEW ORLEANS — Drew Brees passed for 376 yards and two touchdowns, and the New Orleans Saints held off Carolina's late comeback bid to seal a 31-26 victory in their NFC wild-card game on Sunday.

The Panthers had a first down on the Saints 26-yard line with 58 seconds left, but heavy pressure by All-Pro defensive end Cameron Jordan a couple plays later induced an intentional grounding penalty on Carolina quarterback Cam Newton, making it third-and-25 on the Saints 34 and a required 10-second runoff left 22 seconds on the clock.

After an incompletion in the end zone on third down, Vonn Bell sacked Newton on a safety blitz, ensuring the Saints (12-5) swept all three meetings with Carolina (11-6) this season, in addition to winning their first playoff game in four seasons.

"We wanted it more," Jordan said. "I mean they've been to their Super Bowl, let `em go to another one next year. We want our run."

Brees' touchdowns went for 80-yards to Ted Ginn and 9 yards to tight end Josh Hill. Fullback Zach line and running back Alvin Kamara each ran for short touchdowns, the latter set up by Michael Thomas 46-yard reception.

Thomas caught eight passes for 131 yards on a day when the Saints needed the passing game to compensate for a ground game that struggled to get going.

Helped by the presence of tight end Greg Olsen -- who did not play in the teams' previous two meetings -- Newton marched Carolina into Saints territory more often than not. But the Panthers stalled four times from inside the New Orleans 25, settling for four field goal attempts on those drives, one of which kicker Graham Gano surprisingly missed (see full recap).

Jaguars beat Bills in ugly, sometimes unwatchable game
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Blake Bortles put together one decent drive all day, doing as much with his legs as his arm, and the defensive-minded Jacksonville Jaguars eked out an ugly and sometimes unwatchable 10-3 victory against the Buffalo Bills in an AFC wild-card game Sunday.

In the postseason for the first time since January 2008, the third-seeded Jaguars (11-6) advanced to play at No. 2 seed Pittsburgh next week.

The sixth-seeded Bills (9-8) will head home after ending the longest, current playoff drought in North American professional sports.

Bortles was a big reason Jacksonville won the game and a big reason it was so close.

This was far from a passing clinic. It was more like a painful exercise in overcoming poor passing.

Bortles was off most of the day, misfiring short and long, but made up for it with 88 yards rushing. He scrambled for a long first down run after fumbling the ball late, prompting a Bills assistant to slam a clipboard and eliciting a huge grin from Bortles (see full story).

3 teams clinch playoff berths on final day of regular season

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3 teams clinch playoff berths on final day of regular season

ATLANTA -- Matt Bryant kicked five field goals, including a 56-yarder, for all of Atlanta's second-half points and the Falcons clinched a playoff spot by beating the Panthers, 22-10.

After the teams played to a 7-7 halftime tie, the 42-year-old Bryant kicked field goals of 30, 42, 30, 56 and 33 yards without a miss.

Atlanta (10-6) clinched the No. 6 seed in the NFC and will play at the Los Angeles Rams next week in the first round of the playoffs.

On a day when Cam Newton and the Panthers' offense struggled, Bryant's 15 points provided a margin too great for Carolina to overcome.

The Panthers (11-5) had a playoff spot secured entering the weekend, but they couldn't improve their position.

Minnesota's 23-10 win over Chicago earlier Sunday ended the Panthers' hopes of a first-round bye. The loss to the Falcons ended Carolina's goal of winning the NFC South, and the Panthers will open the playoffs at New Orleans (see full recap).

Titans end playoff drought with wild-card berth
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Marcus Mariota threw a touchdown and used his legs to help the Tennessee Titans end an eight-season playoff drought by beating the Jacksonville Jaguars 15-10 Sunday to clinch an AFC wild-card berth.

The Titans (9-7) snapped a three-game skid in a game they needed to win or get some help with losses elsewhere to advance. They also posted their first back-to-back winning seasons since 2007 and 2008.

Mariota ran a season-high 10 times for 60 yards, the biggest a 13-yard scramble on third-and-5 at the 2:00 mark . Mariota also threw for 134 yards.

Derrick Henry took a screen pass from Mariota 66 yards for a TD in the second quarter, and Ryan Succop kicked three field goals.

The Titans also sacked Blake Bortles twice and forced four turnovers, two interceptions by Kevin Byard.

The Jaguars (10-6) clinched their first AFC South title a week ago when Tennessee lost to San Francisco. Coach Doug Marrone promised they came to win. Only left tackle Cam Robinson and wide receiver Marqise Lee were scratched -- both were on the injury report this week.

Yet they head into the postseason having lost two straight (see full recap).

Bills end 17-year playoff drought with win and help
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- The Buffalo Bills snapped the longest current non-playoff drought in North American pro sports with a 22-16 victory Sunday at Miami and Cincinnati's victory at Baltimore. The Bills hadn't made the postseason since 1999.

Buffalo (9-7) will travel to Jacksonville next weekend in a wild-card game.

The Bills' anxiety was compounded by the loss of 1,000-yard rusher LeSean McCoy with a right ankle injury. He was carted off the field in the third quarter.

The frustration of a disappointing season got the best of the Dolphins (6-10) with 6:21 left, when receiver Jarvis Landry, running back Kenyan Drake and offensive lineman Jake Brendel were ejected following a fight. Landry was cited for disrespecting an official, and Drake for throwing his helmet 20 yards in anger. Unsportsmanlike conduct penalties were called against both teams.

The undisciplined Dolphins, who came into the game with the second-most penalties in the NFL, had 14 for 145 yards.

Buffalo punctuated the victory with a 1-yard touchdown run by defensive tackle Kyle Williams, who is in his 12th and perhaps final season with the Bills. Williams and his teammates celebrated the first score of his career with choreographed back flops in the end zone.

Golf great Jack Nicklaus wore Bills gear and a smile watching from the stands as his grandson, tight end Nick O'Leary, caught Tyrod Taylor's 26-yard touchdown pass.

The Dolphins scored a touchdown with 1:56 left and recovered the ensuing onside kick, but Jordan Poyer's interception sealed the win for Buffalo (see full recap).

Seahawks give Eagles fans early Christmas present

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Seahawks give Eagles fans early Christmas present

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Justin Coleman put Seattle in front for good with a 30-yard interception return for a touchdown and the Seahawks won a playoff elimination game against Dallas, beating the Cowboys 21-12 on Sunday in Ezekiel Elliott's return from a six-game suspension.

Dak Prescott threw two interceptions and the Dallas offense didn't score a touchdown despite the reunion with his backfield mate, the one he shared a remarkable rookie season with a year ago when Cowboys had an NFC-best 13 wins.

Now Dallas (8-7) is eliminated from the postseason with the end of its three-game winning streak, and the Seahawks (9-6) still have a chance to keep their five-year playoff streak alive after Russell Wilson threw for two touchdowns despite a career-low 93 yards passing.

Coleman gave Seattle a 14-9 lead in the third quarter when he reached down to catch Prescott's badly overthrown pass to Elliott and ran untouched 30 yards for a touchdown.

It was the fourth pick-six of the season for Prescott, who threw just four interceptions last season when he was the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year. He has 13 interceptions for the season (see full recap).

Panthers clinch playoff berth with win over Bucs
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Cam Newton scored on a 2-yard touchdown run with 35 seconds remaining to lift the Carolina Panthers to a 22-19 win over the upset-minded Tampa Bay Buccaneers and clinch a spot in the NFC playoffs.

The Panthers (11-4) trailed most of the second half, but Newton drove the Panthers 59 yards completing 4 of 7 passes for 52 yards in the final 3 minutes before scoring on a what could have been a disastrous play. Newton fumbled the snap from the shotgun, alertly picked it up and then raced across the goal line for the go-ahead score.

Newton celebrated the score by using the football as a prop, pretending to light a candle on a cake in celebration of his son Chosen's 2nd birthday.

Carolina can clinch the NFC South championship with a win over Atlanta and a New Orleans loss to Tampa Bay.

The Panthers sealed the game when Kawann Short sacked Jameis Winston on Tampa Bay's final drive, and forced a fumble that Julius Peppers recovered. Winston threw for 367 yards and a touchdown but was sacked six times and fumbled three times. The Bucs are 4-11.

The Panthers offense struggled all day (see full recap).

Defense propels Saints past Falcons, into playoffs
NEW ORLEANS -- Rookie cornerback Marshon Lattimore corralled an unusual, momentum-turning interception off his back , New Orleans made two defensive stands from inside its own 2-yard line, and the Saints clinched their first playoff berth since 2013 with a 23-13 victory over the rival Atlanta Falcons.

Ted Ginn caught a 54-yard pass for a touchdown, which came just a few plays after Lattimore's interception and shortly before halftime. Mark Ingram used a sharp cutback to break loose for a 26-yard touchdown for New Orleans ( 11-4), which kept its tenuous hold on first place in the NFC South heading into the final week of the season.

While the loss eliminated the Falcons (9-6) from the NFC South race, Atlanta can clinch a wild-card berth by beating Carolina in the final regular season game on New Year's Eve.

The Falcons entered the game with a second straight division crown in their grasp, but they needed to beat the Saints. They squandered chances spectacularly, much to the delight of a deafening Superdome crowd -- and certainly to the chagrin of scattered fans wearing Falcons red. The Falcons were taunted on their way to the game by a plane towing a banner that read "28-3 Merry Xmas," a reference to Atlanta's Super Bowl collapse.

Atlanta trailed just 6-0 when Lattimore's interception of Matt Ryan set the Saints up to double their lead (see full recap).

Browns clinch No. 1 overall pick, move to 0-15
CHICAGO -- The Cleveland Browns got pushed to the brink of a winless season, hurt by two more interceptions by DeShone Kizer and two turnovers in the red zone on the way to a 20-3 loss to the Chicago Bears on a snowy Sunday.

One more loss and the Browns will join the 2008 Detroit Lions as the only teams to go 0-16.

And the Browns will wrap up the season at AFC North leader Pittsburgh next week.

Then again, the Browns (0-15) keep racking up losses no matter whom they're playing.

They're 1-30 in two seasons under coach Hue Jackson. And after beating the then-San Diego Chargers on Christmas Eve last year, there was no holiday celebration for them this time.

Kizer threw for 182 yards and ran his league leading-interception total to 21. One of those was to a wide-open Kyle Fuller in the end zone in the second quarter.

Defensive end Myles Garrett had what looked like a 42-yard interception return for a touchdown early in the third quarter wiped out because Carl Nassib was offside.

Rashard Higgins lost a fumble near the goal line that Chicago (5-10) recovered in the end zone (see full recap).

Chiefs beat Miami to win back-to-back AFC West titles
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Alex Smith threw for 304 yards and a touchdown, Kareem Hunt ran for 91 yards and a score and the Kansas City Chiefs beat the Miami Dolphins 29-13 on Sunday to clinch back-to-back AFC West titles for the first time in franchise history.

Tyreek Hill had six catches for 109 yards, and Harrison Butker converted five field goals, as the Chiefs (9-6) dashed what faint postseason hope the Dolphins (6-9) still harbored.

Jay Cutler threw for 286 yards and a touchdown, but a chunk of that came on a 65-yard toss to Jakeem Grant late in the first half. Otherwise, Miami struggled against a Chiefs defense that has been stingy and opportunistic the past two weeks.

That's coincided with the return of Marcus Peters from his disciplinary suspension.

The Chiefs' star cornerback had two interceptions and forced a fumble against the Chargers last week, a win that pushed them to the brink of the playoffs. He recovered a fumble and forced another on Sunday, giving Peters a hand in five turnovers the past two weeks.

Both turnovers led to points, but they weren't the Dolphins' only costly miscues (see full recap).

Rams clinch 1st NFC West title since '03, beat Titans
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Jared Goff threw a 14-yard touchdown pass to Cooper Kupp with 11:51 left, and the Los Angeles Rams held off the Tennessee Titans 27-23 on Sunday to clinch their first NFC West title since 2003.

The Rams (11-4) came in needing a win or a loss by Seattle to secure the division. They took care of business themselves, with Todd Gurley II and Goff leading the way again.

Gurley bolstered his argument for NFL MVP with 118 yards rushing and 158 yards receiving with two TDs. Goff finished with four touchdowns and 301 yards passing.

The Titans (8-7) lost their third straight game, damaging their chances of ending their own playoff drought stretching to 2008.

The Titans had the ball and a chance to win late in the game. On fourth-and-4 at the Rams 44, Marcus Mariota rolled right and chucked the ball incomplete under pressure from Connor Barwin.

The Rams ran out the final 1:35 for their second straight victory and fourth in five games (see full recap).