Tony Romo's late heroics set up another winner-take-all showdown
• So the Seattle Seahawks can lose at home. The Arizona Cardinals still might not wind up making the playoffs, but they might have given every NFC postseason qualifier hope with that 17-10 upset of the Seahawks in Seattle.
The Cardinals limited the Seahawks to just 192 yards of offense and made Seattle really work for even that. And now the Seahawks have to beat the Rams at home next week to assure themselves the No. 1 seed that appeared to be their destiny all season long.
Arizona improved to 10-5 and won for the seventh time in eight games, somehow overcoming four Carson Palmer interceptions. But Palmer tossed the game-winning 31-yard touchdown pass to Michael Floyd with 2:31 left, and the Cardinals got a controversial Karlos Dansby interception to make the margin stand up.
Suddenly the Seahawks look more vulnerable than they have at any point this season, losing twice in the past three weeks, both times to an NFC West opponent. For a team with a stout defense, like Carolina or San Francisco, going into Seattle and winning in the playoffs looks a little less insurmountable today than it did before Week 16.
• Nobody looked like a bigger playoff imposter in Week 16 than the Dolphins, who went belly up in Buffalo, to the tune of 19-0. If Miami enters the offseason with the knowledge that two losses to the Thad Lewis-quarterbacked Bills made the difference between going to the playoffs and not, it's going to be a long winter in South Florida.
The Dolphins (8-7) could still make the playoffs if they beat the Jets at home next week and get some help via a Ravens and/or Chargers loss, but it's hard to believe that was the same Miami team that produced a signature victory over New England last week. Just imagine if the last-place Bills would have had starting quarterback E.J. Manuel or big-play receiver Stevie Johnson healthy and in the lineup.
• It was ugly for a while there in Houston, but it turns out the Broncos are who we thought they were: the clear-cut No. 1 seed in the AFC, from early September on. Denver's 37-13 conquest of the Texans locked up the AFC West title and a first-round bye for the Broncos, with a road win at Oakland next week (count on it) adding the top seed to Denver's haul.
The Broncos absorbed a blow with the first-quarter loss of linebacker Von Miller to a possible torn left ACL injury, but at least Denver proved during the first six weeks of the regular season that it can win without him. His pass pressure will be tough to replace, but ultimately the Broncos will rise or fall this season based on their high-powered offense, not their defense.
And that offense made another dose of history on Sunday in Reliant Stadium, when quarterback Peyton Manning threw four touchdown passes to shatter Tom Brady's 2007 single-season record of 50. Manning has 51 with next week's game to go, and it was the third time in 10 seasons that record has been broken: Manning did it in 2004, with 49 touchdowns, beating Dan Marino's record of 48 in 1984; and Brady did it in 2007, beating Manning's 49.
• Where has that Colts defense been all season? Indy shut down the high-powered Chiefs in Arrowhead, and maybe the rest of the AFC will have to take Chuck Pagano's squad seriously in the playoffs after all. I know they got the attention of the Chiefs, their likely first-round playoff opponent in two weeks. Kansas City has been scoring points in bunches of late, but the 23-7 Colts' win featured a first-possession Chiefs touchdown, and then nothing.
Indy sacked Alex Smith four times, and picked him off twice. After gaining 59 yards on that first-drive touchdown, Kansas City mustered just 228 yards the rest of the game.
I really don't know what to make of the AFC playoff field after Denver and New England. It wasn't a great day for some of the conference's qualifiers/contenders, with Kansas City losing so decidedly at home, and Miami and Baltimore going down meekly.
• That Rex Ryan sideline tantrum was an instant classic, but he did seem to have a point with that uncalled late hit on quarterback Geno Smith by the Browns. Ryan was probably ticked off when he got to the ballpark on Sunday, given that he reportedly informed his team Saturday night that the "word on the street'' was that he was going to be fired at the end of the season.
I don't know if Ryan told his team of his imminent demise for motivational reasons, or just to shoot straight with them. But I do think he has good information, and will wind up being correct. Even with New York's nice 24-13 comeback win over visiting Cleveland -- a game the Jets trailed 10-0 at one point in the first half -- the bottom line isn't likely to change. New York (7-8) is out of the playoffs, and Ryan is on the cusp of being out of work, with Jets general manager John Idzik being presented the right to choose his own head coach.
• Make no mistake, just making the playoffs again is not enough for Marvin Lewis and his Bengals this season. But Cincinnati did make it a pretty memorable day at home against Minnesota, beating the Vikings 42-12 to pave the way for a three-pack of accomplishment:
-- The Bengals (10-5) made the playoffs when Miami lost at Buffalo, earning a postseason berth for the third consecutive season, the first time they've reached that level of consistency in the franchise's 46-year history.
-- The Bengals clinched their first AFC North title since 2009 when Baltimore lost at home to New England.
-- And the win sends the Bengals into the playoffs on something of a high note, with quarterback Andy Dalton throwing for 366 yards and four touchdowns against a Vikings team that took apart Philadelphia at home last week. The Bengals rolled up 429 yards of offense against Minnesota and improved to 7-0 at home this season.
• Loved the Brad Meester moment that Jacksonville head coach Gus Bradley orchestrated Sunday against Tennessee. The Jaguars veteran center is retiring at the end of the season, after 14 years in Jacksonville, and Bradley made sure he went out with a nice memory. Meester reported as an eligible receiver, and the Jaguars called his number on a 9-yard screen pass, with Meester catching it for a first down, setting up a 14-yard Marcedes Lewis touchdown on the following play.
The Jacksonville crowd loved the move, and Meester, one of the game's good guys, finally got his hands on a ball that he didn't have to snap.