By The Associated Press
Tom Brady and the New England Patriots are kings of the AFC East — as usual.
With a 41-23 victory over Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos on Sunday, the Patriots wrapped up their ninth division crown in the 11 seasons Brady has been the starting quarterback.
It’s a familiar spot for Bill Belichick’s bunch, and one the Patriots don’t take for granted.
“Never gets old,” defensive lineman Vince Wilfork said. “You work so hard the whole year to get to just one step. That’s just one of them. To come out division champs, that’s awesome.”
Baltimore and Pittsburgh also secure playoff berths before they even took the field because of losses by others in the AFC. But the Ravens (10-4) later lost to the San Diego Chargers, meaning the Steelers (10-3) could take control of the AFC North with a win Monday night at San Francisco.
The Patriots (11-3) are in prime position to gain a first-round playoff bye or home-field advantage in the AFC, especially after South division winner Houston (10-4) lost to Carolina.
Four of the six playoff spots are set in the AFC, and the New York Jets (8-6) hold a tiebreaker edge over the Cincinnati Bengals (8-6) for the final wild-card spot — but there are plenty of teams still in the hunt. In the West, Tebow’s Broncos (8-6) lead the way, but everyone else — Oakland (7-7), San Diego (7-7) and Kansas City (6-8) — is still alive.
In the NFC, Green Bay (13-1) finally lost — falling 19-14 to the Chiefs — but need one more victory to clinch home-field advantage throughout the conference playoffs.
“I personally always viewed the undefeated season as, really, just gravy,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “The goal was to get home-field advantage and win the Super Bowl. That’s what we discussed.”
The 49ers (10-3) already have won the West and are battling New Orleans (11-3), which leads the South, for the other first-round bye. The Saints have a two-game division lead over Atlanta and play the Falcons in New Orleans on Dec. 26.
The NFC East is still a bit muddled as Dallas (8-6) grabbed back the lead when it beat Tampa Bay on Saturday night and the Giants lost to Washington on Sunday. The Giants (7-7) can still win the division if they sweep their final two games, against the Jets and Cowboys. Philadelphia (6-8), which routed the Jets 45-19, also can win the division — but only if the Eagles win at Dallas and at home against Washington, and the Giants to lose to the Jets before beating the Cowboys.
“It feels good to still have a chance to even be considered in the playoff race,” Eagles quarterback Michael Vick said. “We’ve been through a lot, but we’re resilient.”
Chiefs 19, Packers 14
At Kansas City, the Chiefs rallied behind interim coach Romeo Crennel and new quarterback Kyle Orton to end the Packers’ pursuit of perfection.
Orton finished 23 of 31 for 299 yards in his first start for the Chiefs, who fired coach Todd Haley last Monday with the team having lost five of its last six games. The loss also ended the Packers’ 19-game winning streak.
Ryan Succop kicked four field goals and Jackie Battle had a short touchdown run with 4:53 left in the game for the go-ahead score.
Colts 27, Titans 13
At Indianapolis, Dan Orlovsky threw a touchdown pass and had the key block on an 80-yard TD run, leading the Colts to their first win of the season.
Indianapolis (1-13) avoided becoming the second team in NFL history to go 0-16, and also dealt a serious blow to the Titans’ playoff hopes. Matt Hasselbeck threw two interceptions, and Chris Johnson rushed for only 55 yards for Tennessee (7-7).
Patriots 41, Broncos 23
At Denver, the Patriots bounced back from an early 17-6 deficit and an awful first quarter in which they were outgained 167-4 on the ground.
And, this time, there was no last-minute magic from Tebow, Denver’s enigmatic quarterback who had guided the Broncos to four straight fourth-quarter comebacks and six wins in a row.
Eagles 45, Jets 19
At Philadelphia, LeSean McCoy ran for three touchdowns to set two team records and keep Philadelphia alive in the NFC East race.
Vick threw for 274 yards and a touchdown, and also ran for a score. McCoy had 102 yards rushing and surpassed Hall of Famer Steve Van Buren with his 19th touchdown of the season and 16th rushing TD.
Lions 28, Raiders 27
Matthew Stafford threw a 6-yard TD pass to Calvin Johnson with 39 seconds remaining to cap a 98-yard scoring drive as Detroit (9-5) rallied from 13 points down late in the fourth quarter at Oakland (7-7).
The win wasn’t sealed until Ndamukong Suh blocked Sebastian Janikowski’s 65-yard field-goal attempt on the final play. Suh threw his helmet in celebration after providing a perfect exclamation in his return from a two-game suspension.
Stafford led two late scoring drives to win it and give the Lions a two-game lead in the NFC wild-card race.
Cardinals 20, Browns 17, OT
At Glendale, Ariz., Patrick Peterson returned a punt 32 yards, and John Skelton threw 32 yards to Larry Fitzgerald to set up a 22-yard field goal by Jay Feely. It was the third overtime win in seven games for Arizona (7-7), which trailed 17-7 entering the fourth quarter.
Seneca Wallace, starting for Colt McCoy, was 18 of 31 for 226 yards, including a 76-yard TD play to Greg Little for the Browns (4-10).
Seahawks 38, Bears 14
At Chicago, Red Bryant returned an interception 20 yards for the go-ahead TD in the third quarter and Seattle (7-7) kept its faint playoff hopes alive.
Marshawn Lynch added two touchdown runs for Seattle, which outscored Chicago 31-0 in the second half.
The Bears lost their fourth straight and played most of the game without wide receiver Johnny Knox, who was carted off the field after injuring his back while scrambling for a fumble early in the game.
Saints 42, Vikings 20
At Minneapolis, Drew Brees threw for 412 yards and five touchdowns to lead New Orleans to its sixth straight win.
Brees is 304 yards from breaking Dan Marino’s single-season record for yards passing with two games to play. He threw two touchdown passes to Lance Moore and one each to Darren Sproles, Jimmy Graham and John Gilmore against the Vikings (2-12).
Redskins 23, Giants 10
At East Rutherford, N.J., Rex Grossman threw a 20-yard touchdown pass to Santana Moss and Washington (5-9) hurt New York’s playoff hopes.
Darrel Young scored on a 6-yard run after one of three interceptions by the Redskins (5-9) and Graham Gano kicked three field goals. It was Washington’s second win in its last 10 games.
Chargers 34, Ravens 14
Philip Rivers threw for one score and reached the 4,000-yard mark for the fourth straight season, Ryan Mathews ran for two scores and hit 1,000 yards rushing, and San Diego kept its slim postseason hopes alive with a victory against visiting Baltimore.
The Ravens (10-4) had their four-game winning streak snapped.
Panthers 28, Texans 13
At Houston, Cam Newton threw two touchdown passes, DeAngelo Williams ran for a score and Carolina ended the Texans’ seven-game winning streak.
Newton completed 13 of 23 passes for 149 yards, outplaying opposing rookie quarterback T.J. Yates. The Panthers (5-9) built a 21-0 halftime lead, then ended Houston’s second-half rally when linebacker James Anderson intercepted Yates’ pass in the end zone midway through the fourth quarter.
Dolphins 30, Bills 23
Reggie Bush ran for a career-best 203 yards and a touchdown to lead visiting Miami past the Bills in interim Dolphins coach Todd Bowles’ first game.
Bowles replaced the fired Tony Sparano last Monday. Miami (5-9) has won five of seven.
The Bills (5-9) have lost seven straight and could finish last in the AFC East for the fourth straight season.
Bengals 20, Rams 13
Rookie A.J. Green had six catches and topped 1,000 yards for the season, and Cincinnati kept pace in the AFC playoff race at St. Louis.
Kellen Clemens was 25 for 36 for 229 and a late touchdown pass to Danario Alexander for the Rams (2-12), who have lost five in a row.