The Seattle Seahawks became the first team to qualify for the 2013 NFL post-season after Russell Wilson’s three touchdown passes helped dismantle the New Orleans Saints.
In what was billed as a close encounter between the NFC South and NFC West leaders, who had only lost three games between them ahead of their week 13 clash, it was the Seahawks who emerged as the conference’s most likely Super Bowl contenders with a 34-7 win.
At 11-1, Seattle can no longer finish outside the NFC’s top six teams. While the San Francisco 49ers can still pip them to the Western title, they are guaranteed at least a wildcard spot, because the Carolina Panthers are the only team not currently leading their division that can still post a superior win-loss record come the end of the regular season.
Pete Carroll’s side, who last won the NFC West in 2010, can clinch their sixth title with victory over the 49ers this coming weekend.
Michael Bennett returned a Drew Brees fumble for a 22-yard touchdown, and Zach Miller caught a 2-yard Wilson pass in the end zone as the home side raced into a 17-0 first quarter lead, with Steven Hauschka’s field goal the other score.
Brees scored his solitary touchdown pass to Jimmy Graham at the start of the second quarter, but a second Hauschka kick and Doug Baldwin’s touchdown ensured the Seahawks led 27-7 at half-time.
A superb Wilson, who threw for 310 yards on the day (compared to just 147 by Brees), added his third touchdown throw shortly after the interval – with Derrick Coleman taking the catch. It proved to be the only score by either team in the second-half, as the Seahawks eased to victory against their struggling visitors, whose seven points matched the fewest they’d scored in a game since Sean Payton became their coach in 2006.
Not only did Seattle confirm their playoff place, but they also moved two games ahead of the NFC in the race for home-field advantage and now hold tiebreakers over both New Orleans and Carolina (both 9-3), the two closest pursuers.
Elsewhere, the Denver Broncos (10-2) stayed top of the AFC conference after defeating the Kansas City Chiefs (9-3) for the second time in three weeks. The Chiefs have now lost three straight games having originally been the league’s last remaining unbeaten team.
All of those losses have come against divisional rivals, with the San Diego Chargers the other team to have beaten them.
Peyton Manning was back in inspired form after seeing his Denver side undone by the New England Patriots a week earlier, throwing for 403 yards and five touchdowns in the Broncos 35-28 win.
Alex Smith also impressed, throwing for 293 yards and two touchdowns for the Chiefs, but he fell short of forcing the game into overtime, when his pass to Dwayne Bowe in the end zone on fourth-and-4 with 1:45 left fell incomplete, allowing the visitors to run out the clock.
While Denver were claiming the outright lead in the AFC West, the Patriots, Cincinnati Bengals and Indianapolis Colts were all moving further clear in the race for their respective AFC division titles.
Tom Brady’s Pats’ suffered quite a scare against the league’s lowest ranked side, the Houston Texans (2-10). They trailed 17-7 at half-time, but eventually rallied to emerge 34-31 victors, with Stephen Gostkowski kicking two long-range field goals late in the fourth quarter.
Ben Tate ran for 102 yards and three touchdowns for the home side, whose franchise-record losing streak hit double figures when quarterback Case Keenum threw a late interception.
The Bengals edged the Chargers by a score of 17-10, with A.J. Green scoring the crucial touchdown mid-way through the third quarter, while the Colts defeated the Tennessee Titans 22-14.
The Baltimore Ravens moved into sixth spot in the AFC after a narrow 22-20 success over divisional rivals the Pittsburgh Steelers, taking their record to 6-6. They are level with the Miami Dolphins who, after a 23-3 win over the New York Jets, could also take the conference’s remaining wildcard spot.
There were wins for all three of the competitive teams in the NFC East, with the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles (both 7-5) favoured ahead of the New York Giants (5-7) in the race for a playoff spot.
DeMarco Murray ran for three touchdowns as the Cowboys condemned the Oakland Raiders to an 11th straight season without a winning record. Quarterback Matt McGloin had a strong first half as the visitors led 21-7, but Tony Romo led the home side’s revival, and they fought back to win 31-24.
The Eagles won their fourth straight game as they won a tight affair against the Arizona Cardinals by a score of 24-21. Both teams are now 7-5, but unfortunately for the Cardinals – the NFC West has proved a lot more competitive this year – and they remain well behind the Seahawks and the 49ers (8-4).
Meanwhile, the Giants made it four wins in five to stay in contention, beating the Washington Redskins 24-17. However, they are likely to have to win all of their remaining four fixtures – against the Chargers, Seahawks, Lions and Redskins, to stand any chance of making the final twelve.
The Detroit Lions moved a win clear of their nearest challengers in the NFC North, and could yet land their first divisional title in 20 years. They thrashed the Green Bay Packers 40-10 on Thanksgiving to move to 7-5. The Packers (5-6-1) have not won since the loss of Aaron Rodgers to injury and have used three different starting quarterbacks – Matt Flynn, Scott Tolzien and Seneca Wallace – in a run of four defeats and a draw.
Chicago remains second in the division, but missed the chance to join the Lions on 7-5 when they lost out in overtime to the Minnesota Vikings - the Bears eventually going down 23-20.
The Saints remain top of the NFC South despite their defeat to the Seahawks, but are now level at a 9-3 record with the Panthers, who won their eighth straight game – a 27-6 success against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The pair come face to face next week in a game that could well decide who will advance to the playoffs as division winners, and who will face a wildcard match.
San Francisco (8-4) re-established control of second spot in the NFC West with a 23-13 win over the in-form St. Louis Rams, taking advantage of the Cardinals loss to move a win clear of their nearest challengers for the conference’s final wildcard spot.
However, with the Seahawks to come in their next game, defeat could again plunge their post-season hopes back into doubt.
And finally, both the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Atlanta Falcons chalked up their third wins of the season.
The Jags’ defeated the Cleveland Browns 32-28, while the hugely disappointing Falcons, who were Conference Finalists last season, snuck a 34-31 success over the Buffalo Bills.
Full List of Week 13 Results -
Packers 10 (at the) 40 Lions
Raiders 24 (at the) 31 Cowboys
Steelers 20 (at the) 22 Ravens
Titans 14 (at the) 22 Colts
Jaguars 32 (at the) 28 Browns
Buccaneers 6 (at the) 27 Panthers
Bears 20 (at the) 23 Vikings
Patriots 34 (at the) 31 Texans
Cardinals 21 (at the) 24 Eagles
Dolphins 23 (at the) 3 Jets
Falcons 34 (at the) 31 Bills
Rams 13 (at the) 23 49ers
Bengals 17 (at the) 10 Chargers
Broncos 35 (at the) 28 Chiefs
Giants 24 (at the) 17 Redskins
Saints 7 (at the) 34 Seahawks.
Week 14 Fixtures -
Texans (2-10) at the Jaguars (3-9)
Colts (8-4) at the Bengals (8-4)
Browns (4-8) at the Patriots (9-3)
Raiders (4-8) at the Jets (5-7)
Chiefs (9-3) at the Redskins (3-9)
Vikings (3-8-1) at the Ravens (6-6)
Falcons (3-9) at the Packers (5-6-1)
Bills (4-8) at the Buccaneers (3-9)
Dolphins (6-6) at the Steelers (5-7)
Lions (7-5) at the Eagles (7-5)
Titans (5-7) at the Broncos (10-2)
Rams (5-7) at the Cardinals (7-5)
Seahawks (11-1) at the 49ers (8-4)
Giants (5-7) at the Chargers (5-7)
Panthers (9-3) at the Saints (9-3)
Cowboys (7-5) at the Bears (6-6)
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