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Redskins win NFC East, Broncos get top seed in AFC

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Redskins win NFC East, Broncos get top seed in AFC

RG3 and the Washington Redskins are heading to the playoffs as NFC East champions.

By winning their seventh straight game, the Redskins rolled to their first division title in 13 years with a 28-18 victory over the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday night. Next up for Robert Griffin III & Co.: a home playoff matchup next Sunday with the Seahawks - the third straight postseason game for Washington against Seattle.

``It's just a mindset change,'' the rookie quarterback said. ``When you have all these guys coming to work every day, putting it on the line, we knew we couldn't afford to lose one game, we made sure we didn't''

Thanks to Houston's late-season slump, Denver and New England will have byes when the AFC playoffs begin next week.

The Texans fell from first to third in the conference Sunday when they lost 28-16 at Indianapolis, which welcomed back coach Chuck Pagano after nearly three months of treatments for leukemia.

AFC West champion Denver won its 11th straight game, 38-3 over Kansas City to secure the top seed. New England blanked Miami 28-0 for the second spot.

Minnesota edged Green Bay 37-34 to grab the final NFC wild card, sinking the Packers to the third seed. Those teams will meet again next Saturday night at Lambeau Field.

The other NFC matchup will have Seattle (11-5), which beat St. Louis 20-13, at Washington on Sunday at 4:30 p.m. ET.

Cincinnati (10-6) will be at Houston on Saturday at 4:30 p.m. ET, and Indianapolis (11-5) goes to at Baltimore (10-6) on Sunday at 1 p.m. in the AFC wild-card rounds.

The divisional round games will be hosted by Denver on Saturday, Jan. 12, followed by San Francisco (11-4-1) at night. On Sunday, Jan. 13, Atlanta (13-3) will host the early game, followed by New England (12-4).

Peyton Manning threw for three touchdowns as Denver (13-3) routed the Chiefs. New England got the second seed despite having the same record as Houston because it beat the Texans, who lost three of their final four games.

Adrian Peterson had 199 yards against the Packers, finishing with 2,097 - Dickerson's single-season rushing mark in 2,105. But it was rookie kicker Blair Walsh who won it with a 29-yard field goal as time expired.

``Ultimately we got the `W,''' Peterson said. ``I told myself to come into this game focused on one thing, and that's winning.''

Green Bay would have been seeded second in the NFC by beating Minnesota.

``The road got a little tougher having to play on opening weekend, but we've got a home game and that's why you win the division,'' Aaron Rodgers said. ``We get to go back home, and the game will be different. They won't have home-crowd advantage, and hopefully that will make a difference.''

Baltimore Pro Bowl safety Ed Reed is looking forward to a reunion with Pagano. He wishes it would come a little later in the postseason.

``Chuck's like a dad to me,'' Reed said ``He means a lot to me. I would have much rather seen them in the AFC championship game than the first game.''

But Reed will see him next week at Baltimore.

The Ravens had a chance to move up to the AFC's third seed with a win and a New England loss. But Baltimore lost at Cincinnati as both teams played backups for much of the game.

Pagano coached the Ravens' secondary for three seasons and was promoted to coordinator last year. Players and coaches in Baltimore have kept in touch, offering encouragement as he fought through the cancer treatments.

``Going back to Baltimore, obviously there's some familiarity there,'' Pagano said. ``We had four great years there as a family. It's a top-notch organization, you know, really good football club. It's a great challenge and they have a great team and they have great players all over the place.''

The Colts were 2-14 last season and chose quarterback Andrew Luck with the top selection in the draft. Luck and offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, who stepped in as interim coach with Pagano sidelined, led the turnaround.

Next week, Pagano goes up against former boss John Harbaugh.

``I love his family, and he's one of my closest personal friends in coaching,'' Harbaugh said. ``What he's been through is phenomenal, but we're all competitors so that gets set aside.''

Houston beat Cincinnati in the opening round of last year's playoffs.

``I think it will be good,'' said Bengals QB Andy Dalton, who grew up in suburban Houston. ``We played there last year and know the atmosphere and what it's going to be like. The experience last year will definitely help us.''

The defending Super Bowl champion Giants are out of contention. When Chicago beat Detroit 26-24, the Giants (9-7) were eliminated, even though they routed Philadelphia 42-7.

``It hurts,'' said Eli Manning. ``Each year you want to make the playoffs to give yourself an opportunity to win a championship; 9-7 last year was good enough. It wasn't good enough this year and we knew it wouldn't be.''

Minnesota's win eliminated Chicago.

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Ravens defensive coordinator Don Martindale welcomes second chance at role

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Ravens defensive coordinator Don Martindale welcomes second chance at role

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Don Martindale wondered if he would ever get a second chance to be an NFL defensive coordinator after his one-and-done disaster with the Denver Broncos in 2010.

The Broncos went 4-12 that season and gave up more points (29.4 per game) and yards (390.8) than any team in the league. Those miserable numbers, not surprisingly, cost Martindale his job.

He latched on with the Baltimore Ravens in 2012 as linebackers coach. After working diligently with several stars, including Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs, Zachary Orr and C.J. Mosley, the 54-year-old Martindale last week was promoted to defensive coordinator.

RELATED: WHO WERE THE RAVENS' MVP'S IN 2017?

To say he's pleased to be in charge of an NFL defense again would be a profound understatement.

"Without a doubt," Martindale said Thursday. "My family knows it. Everybody knows it. My players know it. I can't wait."

His performance in Denver eight years ago is hardly worth putting on a resume, but Martindale believes it was a worthwhile experience.

"Even though the stats were what they were, I was really proud with how we played," he said. "I'm glad I went through that process because I think that makes me a better coach today. It's like I tell my guys: You either win or you learn."

Martindale's new job with the Ravens carries the responsibility of overseeing a unit that has long been among the best in the NFL, thriving under notable leaders such as Marvin Lewis, Rex Ryan, Chuck Pagano and Dean Pees, who retired on Jan. 1.

"I've been preparing for this job all my life," Martindale said. "It's very humbling, but I understand the pressure and I look forward to the challenge."

Martindale takes over a defense that this season ranked 12th in net yards allowed, first in takeaways (34) and sixth in fewest points allowed (18.9). He has no plans to revamp the unit or change the philosophy, especially since head coach John Harbaugh stressed the need to retain continuity before launching his search for Pees' replacement.

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Martindale will, however, put his own stamp on the unit.

"I think personality-wise, and just calls, there's going to be some things that are the same. And then there are going to be sometimes where I'm going to pressure more," Martindale said. "I just think I have a more aggressive personality in calling the game. Sometimes, too aggressive. That's some of the things I've learned from the past."

His most daunting task will be finding a way to make the defense to come up big late in the game. In 2016, a fourth-quarter collapse in Pittsburgh cost Baltimore a playoff berth. This season, a fourth-down touchdown pass in the final minute by Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton bounced the Ravens from the postseason chase.

"Our mantra has always been to finish," Martindale said. "We're close. Obviously, the last two years, it's been the last play that's knocked us out of it. We are going to work diligently -- all of us -- with our package and situational football.

"That's going to be the next step, I think, that will skyrocket us. That's the big thing that I see. We were really good. Let's make it great."

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Offensive, defensive and rookie of the year awards for Ravens' 2017 season

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USA Today Sports

Offensive, defensive and rookie of the year awards for Ravens' 2017 season

The Ravens' season had it's ups and down, but out of it came some bright spots.

The defense continued to prove dominate and the offense found its groove during the second half of the season, but who stood out the most?

Offensive MVP: RB Alex Collins

Collins was a late preseason pickup after being cut by the Seattle Seahawks and Ravens fans are grateful they let him go. After new acquisition Danny Woodhead injured his hamstring on the first drive in Week 1 and Terrance West injured his calf Week 5 in Oakland, Allen emerged as a saving grace. He finished the season with 973 yards, six touchdowns and 212 attempts averaging 4.6 yards-per-carry. His longest rushing attempt was 50-yards against the Steelers in Week 4, and then in Week 14, rushed 120-yards on their defense. 

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Defensive MVP: OLB Terrell Suggs

This one was a toss up between Suggs and inside linebacker C.J. Mosley, but considering the level at which Sizzle is playing at in his 15th season, his 2017 performance is MVP worthy.

The 35-year old finished the season with 49 combined tackles, 12 assist, 11 sacks and four forced fumbles. Suggs ranks 11th in the league in sacks and was voted to his seventh Pro Bowl, something that should be expected from the leader of a defense that finished the regular season ranked sixth in points allowed. During the Ravens' Week 12 matchup, Suggs proved he doesn't age when he strip sacked Texans QB Tom Savage with 4:44 remaining in the fourth, shifting the momentum back to the Ravens who were clinging on to a 23-16 win. He's suffered two Achilles tears and a torn bicep over the last 5.5 seasons but has remained Hall of Fame worthy. As of right now, T-Sizzle has no plans of retiring. 

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Rookie of the Year: CB Marlon Humphrey

The Ravens' 2017 first-round pick stepped up to the plate when starting CB Jimmy Smith's season was over after suffering a torn Achilles in Week 13. The rookie out of Alabama finished the season with 34 combined tackles, four assists and two interceptions. Pro Football Focus graded Humphrey the fifth-best cover corner in the league. QBs only had a 53.5 rating when they threw in his direction. PFF also gave Humphrey a 82.7 rookie rating. 

Humphrey will continue to prove his worth during the 2018 season if Jimmy Smith is still recovering come Week 1.

RELATED: IMPORTANT 2018 OFFSEASON DATES

Special Teams MVP: P Sam Koch

Koch is in his 12th season with the Ravens and he's continuing to prove how efficient that leg of his is. He had a season long of 67-yards and placed 40 of 84 punts inside the 20-yard line. Koch's accuracy earned him AFC special teams player of the week not once, but twice this season. The first came in Week 12 against the Houston Texans when he not only placed five punts inside the 20-yard line, but also faked a punt and threw a 22-yard pass to Chris Moore for a first down. The second honor came in Week 15 against the Cleveland Browns after placing four punts inside the 20-yard line, three of them inside the five. While neither Koch or kicker Justin Tucker were named to the Pro Bowl, Ravens fans never break a sweat when the game is in their hands, or should we say, legs.