NFL playoff picture: Cowboys win NFC East, Ravens in
January 3, 2010
Dallas won a division title, Baltimore earned a wild-card spot, the Super Bowl champs headed home, and the NFL’s last playoff berth went down to the final game.
Next week’s first round will include at least two rematches of games Sunday, and possibly three. The playoffs won’t include the defending champion Pittsburgh Steelers.
While Tony Romo and the Cowboys romped over Philadelphia 24-0 to help set the NFC matchups, the AFC pairings still were unsettled.
The Ravens (9-7) grabbed one AFC wild-card spot when they beat Oakland 21-13, leaving only Houston and the New York Jets in contention for the other berth.
That left it all up to Sunday night’s game between Cincinnati and the Jets at the frigid Meadowlands. New York gets a wild-card berth with a victory, the Texans get it with a Cincinnati win. A Jets victory guarantees they play at Cincinnati in the first round.
This much was certain: no cold-weather games in the second round. Hosts Minnesota, New Orleans and Indianapolis play inside domes, and San Diego is the other site.
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For the second straight year, the Eagles-Cowboys showdown was a rout. This time, Dallas did the damage.
The Cowboys won the NFC East by defeating Philadelphia 24-0. The teams will meet again next weekend at Cowboys Stadium in the wild-card round. Dallas swept Philadelphia this season to earn the division crown, dropping the Eagles to the sixth seed, both at 11-5.
“They’re going to know us, we’re going to know them,” Romo said. “After winning like we did today, we’re probably going to see a completely different team next week because I don’t think they liked what they saw today. That’s why I think we’re going to see every blitz ever invented.”
A year ago, the Eagles kept the Cowboys out of the postseason with a 44-6 victory in the season finale. That gave Philly a wild-card spot and the Eagles rode it to the NFC title game, where they led late before Arizona rallied to advance to the Super Bowl.
Kurt Warner and the Cardinals will host the Packers next weekend after Green Bay (11-5) beat them 33-7 Sunday. Arizona (10-6), the NFC’s third seed a year ago, will be No. 4 this time.
Baltimore, which began the season 3-0 – as did the Jets – will be at either New England or Cincinnati in the wild-card round.
“We’ve had so many ups and downs, we’ve had so many close games, and now we go forth 0-0,” said linebacker Ray Lewis, whose Ravens lost in the AFC title game to Pittsburgh last January. “That’s the type of message I was trying to tell my teammates before this game. In my 14 years, I’ve never had a pretty road to the playoffs. It’s always been a grind, but there’s no better thing than having that grind and getting to advance.”
Minnesota’s 44-7 blitz of the New York Giants gave Brett Favre and the Vikings (12-4) a first-round bye. New Orleans (13-3) is the NFC’s No. 1 seed, but lost its final three games.
“I think it’s proof of what we’re capable of doing,” said Favre, who completed 25 of 31 passes for 316 yards and four touchdowns in less than three quarters without a turnover. “Where it takes us from here, I have no idea. But it was definitely a momentum boost and confidence.”
Indianapolis, which dropped its last two games, is the AFC’s top seed at 14-2. San Diego (13-3) also has a bye and won its final 11 games.
Houston has never been to the playoffs and its 9-7 record this year makes for its first winning season. It beat AFC East winner New England 34-27 Sunday.
“I just started yelling,” Texans star receiver Andre Johnson said of the winning record. “It was like a sigh of relief. This is something that I’ve been working for since I’ve been here.”
The Bengals already own the AFC North and were resting some regulars, including running back Cedric Benson, for the night matchup with the Jets.
Out of the playoffs are the Steelers, who finished 9-7 but lost out on tiebreakers.
“I’d rather we go out with a win than a loss,” said Ben Roethlisberger, who threw three touchdown passes in a 30-24 win at Miami.
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