Cowboys clinch NFC East title, top seed in playoffs
The New York Giants have given teams chasing playoff berths a fresh reminder to take nobody for granted, especially division rivals.
As a result, the Dallas Cowboys’ only challenge now as the NFC East champs and the NFC’s top seed is handling the final two regular-season games before a first-round bye.
The Giants only had to beat Philadelphia on Thursday night to clinch at least a wild-card berth, yet Eli Manning was intercepted three times in a 24-19 loss . That started a big celebration by the Cowboys’ faithful, with Dallas now assured of staying in Texas throughout the postseason.
Five division titles remain up for grabs with two weeks left in the season.
Dallas can help out the Giants, the only team to beat the Cowboys all season, by defeating Detroit on Monday night, which would clinch a wild-card berth for New York. The Giants also clinch a spot if Green Bay, Tampa Bay or Atlanta loses.
New England, AFC East title in hand, needs a little help this week to claim home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. The Patriots first must beat the Jets, then wait to see if the Colts can win in Oakland. The Raiders can win the AFC West title and grab their own first-round bye by beating the Colts with Denver beating Kansas City on Sunday night.
Seattle is trying to earn the NFC’s other first-round bye. The NFC West champs must beat Arizona and also need Atlanta to lose or tie and then wait to see if Detroit can win in Dallas on Monday night.
Three division titles have been clinched, with eight playoff berths still up for grabs, and the Pittsburgh Steelers can wrap up the AFC North title by beating Baltimore on Christmas.
The Houston Texans will know before kicking off Saturday night if a victory over Cincinnati will give them their second straight AFC South championship. They need Tennessee to lose to Jacksonville earlier Saturday to avoid playing the Titans on Jan. 1 for the division title.
Atlanta heads to Carolina trying to clinch both a playoff berth and the NFC South title, needing both a win and a New Orleans victory over Tampa Bay to win the division. If they don’t get that, the Falcons could still clinch at least a wild card this weekend.
Green Bay needs a win over Minnesota and help to clinch a playoff berth Saturday. But the Packers only need to win their final two games to take the NFC North title.
The Lions are trying to hang on in that division, and they can clinch the crown Monday night if Green Bay loses to Minnesota. The Lions could have a playoff berth in hand if Washington and Tampa Bay already have lost and Atlanta wins at Carolina. If not, the Saints beating Tampa Bay can allow Detroit to clinch at least a wild-card spot with a win or a tie in Dallas.
Kansas City already squandered one chance to clinch a playoff berth. Now the Chiefs can assure themselves of at least an AFC wild card by beating Denver on Christmas night, putting the Broncos on the verge of elimination. The Chiefs also can clinch a spot if Baltimore loses earlier Sunday.
The Miami Dolphins need a win, with Denver losing or tying. The Dolphins also can leave Buffalo with a tie and clinch if Baltimore, Denver and Houston lose, or with losses by Baltimore, Denver and Tennessee.
Jameis Winston and the Buccaneers also can clinch a playoff berth by beating New Orleans, combined with losses by Green Bay, Detroit and Washington.