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Houston Texans' J.J. Watt celebrates after sacking Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles during the fourth quarter at NRG Stadium, in Houston, Tex., on Dec. 30, 2018.Robert H. Levey 09788862/Getty Images


The Houston Texans clinched the AFC South title as Deshaun Watson threw for 234 yards and ran for a touchdown, and DeAndre Hopkins had 147 yards receiving in a win over the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday. The Texans (11-5) won nine in a row after starting 0-3 to save their season and will make their fifth playoff appearance after winning the division for the fifth time in franchise history. Houston returns to the postseason for the third time in four years after bouncing back from last year’s 4-12 record in a season where Watson and J.J. Watt sustained season-ending injuries. Jaguars owner Shad Khan issued a statement urging his director of football operations, Tom Coughlin, the keep the status quo with coach Doug Marrone and general manager Dave Caldwell – even though the team flopped from a spot in the AFC title game to last place. The Jaguars fell to 5-11.


The Chiefs finally clinched their third consecutive AFC West title and the No. 1 seed in the playoffs, and Patrick Mahomes and the rest of Kansas City’s offence continued to shatter records in a whitewash of the rebuilding Raiders. Mahomes threw for 281 yards, highlighted by a 67-yard TD pass to Tyreek Hill and an 89-yard TD toss to Demarcus Robinson. That gave the first-year starter 5,097 yards and 50 touchdown passes, joining Peyton Manning as the only QBs to hit 5,000 and 50 in the same season. Manning had 5,477 yards and a record 55 TD passes for the Broncos in 2013. Hill finished with five catches for 101 yards, becoming the Chiefs’ single-season leader for yards receiving with 1,479, while adding a fourth-quarter touchdown run. Damien Williams added 51 yards and a score on the ground as the Chiefs (12-4) beat the Raiders for the eighth time in nine games.


Philip Rivers and the Los Angeles Chargers recovered from a slow start to beat the Broncos for their first win in Denver since 2013. The Chargers (12-4) are headed to the playoffs for the first time in five years, but they’ll go in as a wild-card thanks to a last-second loss to the Broncos at home in November. Were it not for that slip-up, the Chargers and not the Kansas City Chiefs would have earned No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs and the first-round bye that comes with it. Rivers was just 14-of-34 for 176 yards and a touchdown and two interceptions. Both interceptions came in the first quarter, something that’s happened just twice before in Rivers’s 15-year NFL career. Instead, the Chargers will hit the road on wild-card weekend.


Tom Brady threw for three first-half touchdowns and New England clinched its ninth straight first-round bye in the playoffs. The Patriots (11-5) finished the season as the NFL’s only undefeated team at home, where they’ll have at least one playoff game. After back-to-back December losses left the Patriots with a losing record on the road, they finished with two straight home wins to avoid playing in the wild-card round for the first time since 2009. In what could be the final game for Jets coach Todd Bowles, New York (4-12) lost for the ninth time in 10 games. Rookie Sam Darnold, who had been playing well since returning from a foot injury, completed 16-of-28 passes for 167 yards, but he also had a fumble that gave New England a touchdown. Brady completed 24-of-33 passes for 250 yards and four scores overall, bouncing back from his worst performance since 2006 – a 48.3 passer rating in a 24-12 win over Buffalo. After punting on their first possession, the Patriots scored on three straight drives.


Dak Prescott threw a 32-yard fourth-down touchdown pass to Cole Beasley on a play that was reversed by video replay and added a winning two-point conversion pass to Michael Gallup with 1:12 to play. In what might have been quarterback Eli Manning’s final start for the Giants, Prescott passed for 387 yards and the season-high four touchdowns, the first three to tight end Blake Jarwin. The Cowboys (10-6) won for the seventh time in eight games. The game was meaningless for the NFC East champion Cowboys, who will host a wild-card game next weekend.


Sebastian Janikowski made a 33-yard field goal on the final play and Seattle beat Arizona, wrapping up the No. 5 seed in the NFC playoffs and a matchup at Dallas. Seattle took a 24-21 lead earlier in the fourth quarter on Janikowski’s 42-yard field goal, but watched Arizona answer with Zane Gonzalez’s third field goal of the game, from 55 yards with 1:49 left to tie it. Gonzalez hit earlier from 36 and 50 yards. After converting a third-and-one early in the drive, Russell Wilson hit Tyler Lockett for 37 yards to the Arizona 25-yard line. After a couple of running plays, Jankowski hit the winner to give Seattle 10 wins for the sixth time in Pete Carroll’s tenure.


The NFC North champion Chicago Bears refused to let up, riding Jordan Howard for 109 rushing yards and two touchdowns and that relentless defence for a victory over Minnesota that kept the rival Vikings out of the playoffs. With the 24-0 win by Philadelphia at Washington, the Vikings (8-7-1) watched the Eagles claim the last wild-card spot and went home wondering what happened to their offence after signing Kirk Cousins for US$84-million guaranteed to be the franchise quarterback. Tarik Cohen scored the last touchdown on a short run with 7:46 left to cap a 16-play drive for the Bears (12-4), who posted their best regular-season record since the 2006 team finished 13-3 and reached the Super Bowl. They’ve won nine of their last 10 games.


Nick Foles’s magic stretched all the way back to Minnesota. Foles did it again, leading the Philadelphia Eagles to a 24-0 victory over Washington and the defending Super Bowl champions earned the NFC’s final wild-card berth when Chicago beat the Vikings on Sunday. The Eagles (9-7) will play at the Bears (12-4) next weekend. Foles tied Philip Rivers’s NFL record by completing 25 straight passes and threw two touchdown passes before a chest injury forced him out of the game. Nate Sudfeld fired a 22-yard TD on his only pass. Foles, the Super Bowl MVP in Philadelphia’s win over New England last February, is 6-0 in must-win games filling in for Carson Wentz. The Redskins (7-9) lost six of seven after leading the NFC East at 6-3.

RAMS 48, 49ERS 32

Brandin Cooks and Josh Reynolds caught two touchdown passes each from Jared Goff, and the Los Angeles Rams secured a first-round playoff bye with a win over San Francisco. Cory Littleton returned one of his two interceptions for a TD as the Rams (13-3) forced four turnovers and wrapped up their winningest regular season since 2001 with a six-game sweep of their NFC West rivals. Goff passed for 199 yards for Los Angeles, which needed a win over the Niners or a loss by Chicago to clinch the No. 2 seed in the NFC postseason. Nick Mullens passed for 282 yards with three touchdowns and three interceptions for the 49ers (4-12), who wrapped up their fifth consecutive non-winning season. San Francisco went winless on the road for the first time since 1979, Bill Walsh’s first season in charge. George Kittle set the NFL’s single-season record for yards receiving by a tight end with 1,377 when he caught a 43-yard touchdown pass from Mullens with 2:20 left, while Richie James also caught a TD pass and Alfred Morris rushed for 111 yards and a score. San Francisco also set an NFL record with just seven takeaways all season after failing to force a turnover by Goff and his teammates.


Matthew Stafford threw for 266 yards and two scores to T.J. Jones and kicker Matt Prater tossed a touchdown pass after faking a field-goal try. With Green Bay trailing 21-0 at the half, quarterback Aaron Rodgers never returned after walking to the locker room early in the second quarter, having suffered a concussion. Both teams had long been eliminated from playoff contention.


Undrafted rookie Kyle Allen passed for 228 yards and two touchdowns before injuring his shoulder against a Saints squad looking ahead to the playoffs. Allen, a third-stringer pressed into service with Cam Newton and backup Taylor Heinicke out, also ran for a short touchdown as Carolina snapped a seven-game slide. He led the Panthers to three TDs and a field goal on the first four drives of his first NFL start. He played until the fourth quarter, when he was hit hard by Saints rookie end Marcus Davenport while releasing an incomplete pass. Carolina (7-9) led 23-0 at halftime, marking the first time since coach Sean Payton was hired by New Orleans in 2006 that the Saints (13-3) were shut out at home in a first half. Having already clinched the NFC’s top seed, Payton scratched several healthy offensive starters, including record-setting quarterback Drew Brees and dynamic second-year running back Alvin Kamara.


Ben Roethlisberger passed for 287 yards and a touchdown, newly acquired kicker Matt McCrane booted three field goals and Pittsburgh edged Cincinnati. Still, it wasn’t enough for Pittsburgh to win its third straight AFC North title. The Steelers (9-6-1) saw their chance at capturing the division end when Baltimore held off Cleveland 26-24. A significant portion of the team remained on the field after the game ended watching Cleveland’s last-ditch drive while the crowd that stuck around chanted “Let’s Go Browns.” A massive groan arose when Cleveland rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield was intercepted in Baltimore territory in the waning seconds. Pittsburgh still had a remote shot to reach the post-season for the fifth consecutive year, but needed Indianapolis and Tennessee to tie on Sunday night. Roethlisberger finished the season with a career-best and NFL-high 5,129 yards passing – the first time in franchise history a Steelers quarterback has won the league passing title by himself.


Matt Ryan’s first career reception went for a touchdown and the Atlanta quarterback also threw for 378 yards and two TDs. Matt Bryant’s second field goal, a 37-yarder as time expired, provided the winning points after Jameis Winston rallied the Bucs (5-11) from a 31-20 deficit to a one-point lead with just over five minutes to go. The Falcons improved to 7-9.


Bills rookie Josh Allen had a career-best three touchdown passes and scored two more rushing, and defensive tackle Kyle Williams closed his 13-year career in Buffalo with a win. Williams had a tackle for a loss and was part of a defence that forced four turnovers, including three by Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill, in a game between two AFC East teams already eliminated from playoff contention. The 35-year-old Williams has been the team’s unquestioned leader and was honoured before the game by being the last player out of the tunnel, and then was greeted on the field by his wife, Jill, and their five children. Williams announced on Friday that he was retiring. The Bills then called timeout with 1:19 left, when Williams walked off the field for the final time and hugged coach Sean McDermott on the sideline. Leave it to Allen, who represents the Bills’ future, to put the finishing touches on a 6-10 season in which Buffalo won four of its final seven games. The 42 points scored were the most by Buffalo since a 45-16 win over San Francisco on Oct. 16, 2016.

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