Packers, Eagles knock off rivals, earn playoff berths
The Eagles and Packers went on the road Sunday and headed home with playoff berths.
Philadelphia completed a terrific turnaround under new coach Chip Kelly by beating Dallas 24-22 to win the NFC East.
Hours before, Aaron Rodgers played the role of returning hero, along with Randall Cobb, in Green Bay’s 33-28 victory at Chicago to capture the NFC North title.
The Eagles (10-6) will host New Orleans (11-5) on Saturday night. Green Bay (8-7-1) is home against San Francisco (12-4) on Sunday.
The wild-card round begins Saturday with Kansas City (11-5) at Indianapolis (11-5). The early game Sunday is San Diego (9-7) at Cincinnati (11-5).
Brandon Boykin’s interception in the final 2 minutes clinched Philadelphia’s win. One year after the Eagles finished 4-12, they won seven of their final eight games to win the division.
“A huge win for Philly, a huge win for us, just a great moment,” Boykin said.
Dallas (8-8) has lost three straight showdown finales for the NFC East title.
At Chicago, in his first game back from a broken left collarbone, Rodgers threw a 48-yard touchdown pass to Cobb on fourth-and-8 with 38 seconds left for the go-ahead score.
Rodgers had been out since getting injured in a loss to Chicago on Nov. 4, and Cobb missed the previous 10 games with a knee problem. Still, the Packers edged the archrival Bears (8-8) for the division crown by winning three of their last four games.
“It’s big. Obviously, he is the best quarterback in the league,” said Packers receiver Jordy Nelson, who caught 10 passes for 161 yards. “To be gone for that many weeks and to play as well as he did — it was great to have him back.”
San Diego also finished off a rally to get into the postseason, beating short-handed Kansas City 27-24 in overtime for its fourth consecutive victory. After Miami and Baltimore lost earlier in the day, the Chargers rode Nick Novak’s 36-yard field goal with 5:30 left in OT to the sixth seed.
“We didn’t play our best game, but teams that are playoff teams find a way to win when you don’t play your best and that’s what we did today,” Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers said.
Kansas City kicker Ryan Succop was wide right on a 41-yard field goal to win it with 4 seconds left in regulation. Pittsburgh would have gotten the playoff spot over San Diego had Succop connected.
The Colts, winners of the AFC South, beat Jacksonville 30-10 on Sunday and will face a familiar opponent in the playoffs. They won 23-7 in Kansas City last weekend.
The defending NFL champion Ravens will stay home. The Bengals beat Baltimore 34-17, ensuring the Ravens (8-8) were eliminated once Pittsburgh (8-8) defeated Cleveland 20-7.
“Not going to the playoffs hurts,” running back Ray Rice said. “I’m not used to having this kind of time on my hands.”
Miami (8-8) lost to the New York Jets 20-7, putting the Steelers — who began the season 0-4 — in position to advance if San Diego slipped up at home against a team that rested 20 of 22 starters.
The Chargers nearly did, but survived.
AFC West champion Denver (13-3), the highest-scoring team in NFL history, earned the No. 1 seed in the conference by romping at Oakland 34-14. New England (12-4), the AFC East winner, will be the second seed and also have a bye next weekend. The Patriots beat Buffalo 34-20.
Carolina (12-4) won the NFC South and a first-round playoff bye with a 21-20 victory at Atlanta. The Saints got the final NFC wild card with a 42-17 rout of Tampa Bay.
“Now we can cross that goal off,” Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly said. “Now we can concentrate, get guys healthy and get ready to go.”
Already in the NFC playoffs were San Francisco, which won 23-20 at Arizona on Sunday, and Seattle (13-3), which secured the NFC West title and the conference’s top seed with a 27-9 win over St. Louis.
Baltimore made the playoffs in each of coach John Harbaugh and quarterback Joe Flacco’s first five seasons. The Ravens took the AFC North title last season on the way to beating the 49ers in the Super Bowl.