NFL playoffs 2016: Who to watch next weekend

Cincinnati will host AFC North rival Pittsburgh in a wild-card game on Saturday night. The AFC South champion Houston will host Kansas City on Saturday afternoon.

(AP Photo/Ron Schwane)
Pittsburgh Steelers tackle Alejandro Villanueva celebrates after the Steelers won 28-12 during an NFL football game against the Cleveland Browns, Sunday, Jan. 3, 2016, in Cleveland.

Carolina closed out its remarkable season by wrapping up home-field advantage in the NFC. Denver turned to Peyton Manning to take advantage of New England's slip-up in the AFC. And Rex Ryan made certain to continue the New York Jets' playoff drought.

Carolina and Denver wrapped up the No. 1 playoff seeds in each conference by winning at home on the final day of the regular season on Sunday. Carolina routed Tampa Bay 38-10, while Denver edged San Diego 27-20 to win the AFC West title.

"We find our edge playing in front of the home crowd," Carolina QB Cam Newton said. "Everything here feels just right. We don't have travel to a hostile environment. This is our house — and it's hostile."

New England will be the No. 2 seed in the AFC after losing at Miami, while Arizona will have the other bye in the NFC despite getting routed 36-6 by Seattle.

Denver's victory finally settled the AFC playoff picture. Cincinnati is the No. 3 seed and will host AFC North rival Pittsburgh in a wild-card game on Saturday night, while AFC South champion Houston is the No. 4 seed and will host Kansas City, winners of 10 straight games. The Texans and Chiefs will play the first game of the playoffs on Saturday afternoon.

New England will host the early game on Saturday, Jan. 16, with Denver hosting the lowest remaining AFC seed in the late game on Sunday, Jan. 17.

The NFC playoff picture was settled late Sunday night when Minnesota beat Green Bay 20-13 to win the NFC North. The Vikings will host Seattle in the early game Sunday, while Green Bay will travel to NFC East champion Washington for the late Sunday game. The Redskins closed the season with their fourth straight win on Sunday beating Dallas.

Arizona will host the late game on Saturday, Jan. 16, while the Panthers will host the lowest remaining seed in the NFC in the early game on Sunday, Jan. 17.

The highlight of the day was Ryan and the Buffalo Bills stopping the Jets from making the playoffs and gave the Steelers the final playoff spot in the AFC. The Bills beat the Jets 22-17, while Pittsburgh knocked off Cleveland 28-12, the only results that would have gotten the Steelers into the postseason. The Jets have not made the playoffs since 2010.

"I've got a lot of friends over there, and I want them to be successful, but not at my expense," Ryan said.

Ryan has plenty of friends in the Steel City now.

"A lot of thanks to coach Ryan and the rest of the Bills and everybody in Buffalo," Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. "I know they're excited about 8-8 and we're excited they got us in."

New England had a chance at home field in the AFC, but flopped in Miami getting beat 20-10. Denver struggled in the first half against San Diego before inserting Manning in place of Brock Osweiler at quarterback and holding on late for the seven-point victory.

"Wherever we play, we play," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said.

Houston also clinched the AFC South with its win over Jacksonville and will host Kansas City after the Chiefs beat Oakland for their 10th straight victory.

Houston avoided the headache of possibly having to look at eight different tiebreakers against the Colts by beating Jacksonville 30-6 to win the AFC South, making Indianapolis' victory over Tennessee moot. The Colts entered the day with the slimmest of chances to win the division, but a Texans loss was needed. Houston is the fourth seed.

"We are not happy with just winning the AFC South," Houston wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins said. "There are bigger goals ahead of us."

Seattle rebounded from last week's loss at home against St. Louis with one of its most dominant victories of the season, winning big at Arizona. The Seahawks led 30-6 at halftime and won for the sixth time in seven games. It'll be their second trip to Minnesota in about a month. Seattle beat the Vikings 38-7 on Dec. 6.

"These guys are confident that we can go wherever we got to go," Seattle coach Pete Carroll said.

The joy that Adrian Peterson felt following the Minnesota Vikings' victory over the Green Bay Packers to win the NFC North overshadowed the tightness that the NFL's leading rusher felt in his lower back.

The injury knocked Peterson out for a stretch of the second half of the 20-13 win Sunday night over Green Bay.

It doesn't sound like he has any intention of missing next Sunday's home wild-card playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks.

"It's a little tight, but I'll be OK," Peterson said. "Now I've just got to get up early tomorrow morning, I'm not looking forward to it, and I've got to do what I've got to do to get ready for Sunday."

Peterson ran for a touchdown and cornerback Captain Munnerlyn returned a fumble 55 yards for a score as Minnesota (11-5) claimed its first NFC North title since 2009 and ended the Packers' four-year reign atop the division.

GENARO C. ARMAS contributed to this report.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.