Pats, Texans, Broncos seal NFL playoff berths

JULIAN LINDEN
Last updated 15:47 03/12/2012

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The New England Patriots, the Houston Texans and the Denver Broncos all won today to book their spots in the playoffs with four weeks to spare.

The Atlanta Falcons also advanced to the postseason, leaving eight places up for grabs, when they clinched the NFC South Division after they won on Friday and Tampa Bay lost today.

The Baltimore Ravens (9-3) missed their first chance to qualify when they were beaten 23-20 by their AFC North division rivals the Pittsburgh Steelers (7-5).

The San Francisco 49ers and Chicago Bears both lost in overtime, defeats that could come back to hurt when seedings for the playoffs are decided, but the Green Bay Packers and Indianapolis Colts were celebrating after recording victories that left them on the verge of making the postseason.

AFC EAST CHAMPS

The Patriots (9-3), last season's beaten Super Bowl finalists, clinched the AFC East division with a 23-16 win over the Miami Dolphins (5-7) in Florida.

It was the sixth win in a row for the Patriots and the ninth time in the past 10 years they have won their division.

"It's good to get another division win. We accomplished one of our goals this year, to be in the postseason," said New England head coach Bill Belichick.

"That's good, but more importantly we just gotta keep working to get better. We still got a lot of football left to play."

The Texans (11-1) also chalked up their sixth straight victory, beating the Tennessee Titans (4-8) 24-10 to secure their spot in the playoffs, although they have still not clinched the AFC South division.

The Colts (8-4) stayed in touch with an extraordinary 35-33 comeback win over the Detroit Lions (4-8).

Rookie quarterback Andrew Luck passed for 391 yards and four touchdowns, including a 14-yard touchdown pass to Donnie Avery as the game clock expired to hand the Colts the victory after the Lions led by 12 in the final quarter.

The Broncos (9-3) wrapped up the AFC West title for the second year in a row after beating the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-6) 31-23, with quarterback Peyton Manning throwing for 242 yards and three touchdowns.

The Packers (8-4) joined Chicago at the top of the NFC North standings with a 23-14 win over Minnesota Vikings (6-6) at Lambeau Field with Aaron Rodgers completing 27 of 35 passes.

Rookie kicker Greg Zuerlein converted a 54-yard field goal with 26 seconds left in overtime to hand the St. Louis Rams (5-6-1) a 16-13 victory over the 49ers (8-3-1), just three weeks after the two teams played out the first NFL tie in four seasons.

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Rookie quarterback Russell Wilson threw a 13-yard touchdown pass to Sidney Rice to give the Seattle Seahawks (7-5) a 23-17 overtime victory over the Bears (8-4) in overtime.

- Reuters

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