x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Redskins, Vikings nab last NFL play-off berths

The NFL post-season seeds are set with the Denver Broncos atop the AFC as the No 1 seed and the Atlanta Falcons owners of the best record in the NFC.

Washington Redskins running back Alfred Morris, centre, runs through the Dallas Cowboys line.
Washington Redskins running back Alfred Morris, centre, runs through the Dallas Cowboys line.

Quarterback Robert Griffin III and the Washington Redskins are heading to the play-offs as NFC East champions.

By winning their seventh straight game, the Redskins rolled to their first division title in 13 years with a 28-18 victory over the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday night. Next up for Griffin& Co: a home play-off match-up next Sunday with the Seahawks — the third straight post-season game for Washington against Seattle.

"It's just a mindset change," the rookie quarterback said. "When you have all these guys coming to work every day, putting it on the line, we knew we couldn't afford to lose one game. We made sure we didn't."

Thanks to the Houston Texans' late-season slump, the Denver Broncos and the New England Patriots will have byes when the AFC play-offs begin next weekend.

The Texans fell from first to third in the conference when they lost 28-16 against the Indianapolis Colts, which welcomed back coach Chuck Pagano after nearly three months of treatments for leukaemia.

AFC West champions Denver won their 11th straight game, 38-3 over the Kansas City Chiefs, to secure the top seed. New England blanked the Miami Dolphins 28-0 for second spot.

The Minnesota Vikings edged the Green Bay Packers 37-34 to grab the final NFC wild card, sinking the Packers to the third seed.

Those teams will meet again next Saturday night at Lambeau Field in Green Bay.

The Cincinnati Bengals (10-6) will play at Houston on Saturday and Indianapolis (11-5) go to Baltimore to face the Ravens (10-6) in the early game Sunday in the AFC wild-card rounds.

The divisional-round games will be hosted by Denver and San Francisco (11-4-1) on January 12.

On January 13, Atlanta (13-3) will host the early game, followed by New England (12-4).

Peyton Manning threw for three touchdowns as Denver (13-3) routed the Chiefs.

New England got the second seed despite having the same record as the Houston Texans, because the Patriots beat them head to head as the Texans lost three of their final four games.

Vikings running back Adrian Peterson had 199 yards against the Packers, finishing with 2,097 — just shy of Eric Dickerson's single-season rushing mark of 2,105. But it was rookie kicker Blair Walsh who won it with a 29-yard field goal as time expired.

"Ultimately we got the 'W'," Peterson said. "I told myself to come into this game focused on one thing, and that's winning."

Green Bay would have been seeded second in the NFC by beating Minnesota.

"The road got a little tougher having to play on opening weekend, but we've got a home game and that's why you win the division," Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. "We get to go back home, and the game will be different. They won't have home-crowd advantage and hopefully that will make a difference."

Baltimore Pro Bowl safety Ed Reed is looking forward to a reunion with Pagano. He wishes it would come a little later in the post-season.

"Chuck's like a dad to me," Reed said "He means a lot to me. I would have much rather seen them in the AFC championship game than the first game."

The Ravens had a chance to move up to the AFC's third seed with a win and a New England loss. But Baltimore lost at Cincinnati as both teams played reserves for much of the game.

Pagano coached the Ravens' secondary for three seasons and was promoted to coordinator last year.

Players and coaches in Baltimore have kept in touch, offering encouragement as he fought through the cancer treatments.

"Going back to Baltimore, obviously there's some familiarity there," Pagano said. "We had four great years there as a family. It's a top-notch organisation, you know, really good football club. It's a great challenge and they have a great team and they have great players all over the place."

The Colts were 2-14 last season and chose quarterback Andrew Luck with the top selection in the draft. Luck and offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, who stepped in as interim coach with Pagano sidelined, led the turnaround.

Next week, Pagano goes up against former boss John Harbaugh in Baltimore.

"I love his family, and he's one of my closest personal friends in coaching," Harbaugh said. "What he's been through is phenomenal, but we're all competitors so that gets set aside."

Houston beat Cincinnati in the opening round of last year's play-offs.

"I think it will be good," said Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton, who grew up in suburban Houston. "We played there last year and know the atmosphere and what it's going to be like. The experience last year will definitely help us."

The defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants are out of contention. When the Chicago Bears beat the Detroit Lions 26-24, the Giants (9-7) were eliminated, even though they routed the Philadelphia Eagles 42-7.

"It hurts," said Giants quarterback Eli Manning. "Each year you want to make the play-offs to give yourself an opportunity to win a championship; 9-7 last year was good enough. It wasn't good enough this year and we knew it wouldn't be."

Minnesota's win eliminated Chicago.


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