The Denver Broncos 51-28 victory over the Tennessee Titans on Sunday confirmed that both they and the Indianapolis Colts will take place in the 2013 NFL playoffs.
It’s a result that guarantees the Broncos participation in the post-season, as they cannot finish lower than sixth place in the AFC Conference, although they can still be toppled from top spot in the AFC West by the Kansas City Chiefs.
Denver quarterback Peyton Manning threw for four touchdowns in his team’s victory over the Titans, taking his personal tally for the year to 45. He is also just 964 yards adrift of Drew Brees’ record for passing yards in a single season, which currently stands at 5,476.
Despite a 42-28 defeat against the Cincinnati Bengals, the Titans loss means the Colts cannot be caught at the top of the AFC South, and have consequently become the first team to win their division this year.
Manning and co were given a tougher game than the scoreline suggests however, as their hosts went in ahead at half-time. Shonn Greene scored two rushing touchdowns, and Chris Johnson scored another as the Titans led 21-20 at the break.
Touchdowns from Wes Welker, Julius Thomas and a pair of Matt Prater field goals (one of which came from a stunning 64 yards) kept the visitors in touch, and they kicked on after the interval, taking the lead for the first time when Demaryius Thomas picked up his eleventh score of the year.
Knowshon Moreno extended the lead to 34-21 and, although Justin Hunter’s 41-yard score from Ryan Fitzpatrick’s pass briefly got the Titans back within touching distance, the Broncos never looked likely to let their lead slip. They made three unanswered scores in the final quarter, with Eric Decker and Montee Ball’s touchdowns adding to another Prater field goal.
The Colts were outplayed for much of their encounter with the Bengals, but booked their playoff spot alongside the Broncos and the Seahawks despite their heavy defeat. At an 8:5 record they are three wins clear of their nearest divisional rivals, the Titans.
While Tennessee (5:8) could tie at 8:8 should they win all their remaining games, and the Colts lose there’s, Indianapolis’s superior head to head record over the Titans means they would advance regardless.
Andy Dalton threw for three touchdowns and ran for another as Cincinnati remained unbeaten at home and in control of the AFC North, two wins clear of their closest challengers. The Bengals (9:4) have won all six of their matches at the Paul Brown Stadium, and comfortably saw off the challenge of the below-par Colts, who had Andrew Luck – with four touchdowns on the day – to thank for keeping them close.
The New England Patriots also all but wrapped up their divisional title, staying three wins clear in the AFC East thanks to a stunning comeback win over the Cleveland Browns. Having trailed 19-3 and 26-13, the Pat’s managed two touchdowns in the dying seconds to snatch a 27-26 success; Stephen Gostkowski’s successful onside kick – the franchise’s first since 1995 – allowing Danny Amendola to make the winning score.
So with the Broncos and the Colts already qualified, and the Patriots and the Bengals set to join them – AFC attention turns to the two remaining wildcard spots available for progression into the playoffs.
The Chiefs returned to winning ways on Sunday, thrashing the Washington Redskins 45-10 to pick up their first victory in four games. At 10:3 they have all but confirmed a wildcard spot, as they are three wins clear of the current seventh seeds – the Miami Dolphins – and can confirm their post-season spot with a win against the Oakland Raiders this weekend
That leaves one available spot, which will most likely be filled by either the Baltimore Ravens or the Dolphins who, tied at 7:6, very much have their fate in their own hands.
The Ravens current three match winning streak is their best of the year, but with games against the Detroit Lions, Patriots and Bengals to come, things could still be tough for the defending Super Bowl champions.
Miami also have the Patriots to come, but with their final two fixtures against the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets they are probably favourites at this stage.
Both the Jets (6:7), 37-27 winners over the Raiders last weekend, and the San Diego Chargers (6:7), who beat the New York Giants 37-14, could still come into contention if their rivals slip up. The Jets-Dolphins clash on the final day of the regular season is very likely to be crucial.
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