x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Losers Seattle are play-off bound

Seahawks celebrate their date with Saints as the first team in NFL history to take division title without a winning record.

Laugh all you want, the 7-9 Seattle Seahawks are going to the play-offs.

The Seahawks are the first division champions with a losing record, taking the NFC West division on Sunday night with a 16-6 victory over the St Louis Rams.

Their reward: a home game on Saturday with the New Orleans Saints, the defending Super Bowl champions.

"We didn't get here the way we all dreamed of getting here, but we got here," Pete Carroll, the Seattle coach, said. "When it came down to it, the guys played a great football game."

It makes for great jokes from critics, and the situation has re-ignited the debate whether division champions should automatically be granted home play-off games. The New York Giants and Tampa Bay have better records at 10-6, but it is the Seahawks who are play-off bound.

And they are not apologising. In his first season as their coach, Carroll was fist-pumping and clapping his way up and down the Seattle sideline in the closing minutes as the Seahawks celebrated their first division title since capping a four-year run of dominance of the division in 2007.

The Rams (7-9) were kept out of the end zone for the second time this season and Sam Bradford, their rookie quarterback, could not complete a St Louis turnaround after they won just one game during the last regular season. Bradford finished 19 of 36 for 155 yards, and threw a costly interception midway through the fourth quarter.

"They played better. They won and we lost. I'm proud of the football team for what they accomplished. ... The disappointment is all we feel right now," Steve Spagnuolo, the St Louis coach, said.

Also on Sunday, Indianapolis, Atlanta and Pittsburgh clinched division titles and Green Bay grabbed the final wild-card berth.

The Colts were already assured of their seventh division crown in eight years when the Jacksonville Jaguars lost to the Houston Texans minutes earlier. It is the ninth consecutive year they have reached the post-season, tying the NFL record Dallas set from 1975 to 1983.

"I think it shows the resolve of this team and our fight," Dwight Freeney, the Indianapolis defensive end, said. "It doesn't matter if we're 6-6 and we have to win our last four, we have to do it. If we have to win the last seven, we'll try to do it. That's just kind of what we are and we've been that for a while."

Atlanta (13-3) won the NFC South with a 31-10 rout of Carolina. The Falcons get home-field advantage throughout the play-offs and a bye next week. They open their postseason the weekend of January 15-16 in the Georgia Dome.

"It's very important," Roddy White, the receiver, said. "We rarely lose in this building. We find a way to win here."

New England already owned the top seed in the AFC and beat Miami 38-7 to finish 14-2, the league's best record. The Patriots won their last eight games.

"The greatest advantage we have is we don't have to play next week and we play at home the following week," Tom Brady, their quarterback, said, "so that's really what we've earned to this point."