Published December 19, 2010
The Atlanta Falcons didn't need to take the field Sunday to get into the playoffs.
Atlanta got in because the Philadelphia Eagles rallied to beat the New York Giants 38-31. With their 34-18 victory at Seattle later in the day, the Falcons improved to 12-2, first in the NFC South. At worst, they will be a wild card, but they have a two-game lead in the division over New Orleans, which lost at Baltimore 30-24. A win next week at home over the Saints will give the Falcons the division title and a first-round bye.
"It felt good, especially being on the road these last three weeks and us being focused week to week and just going in there and getting the job done and playing consistent football," star receiver Roddy White said.
The Falcons were the only one of seven teams with a chance to secure a postseason spot Sunday who did so by winning. The Bears can do it Monday night by winning at Minnesota if the Packers lose in the Sunday night game at New England; that would give the Bears the NFC North.
And the Steelers got in despite falling 22-17 to the Jets. An hour after that game ended, the NFL said a series of complicated strength-of-schedule tiebreakers lifted them into the postseason.
Jacksonville could have clinched the AFC South, but lost at Indianapolis 34-24. The Colts and Jaguars are tied at 8-6, but the Colts take the division if they win out. They face Oakland and Tennessee.
"It's all about Oakland this week," Peyton Manning said. "If you take a step back these two wins won't mean much, so we hope we can continue to build on the momentum."
Philadelphia (10-4) moved ahead of the Giants (9-5) with a sensational comeback capped by DeSean Jackson's 65-yard punt return on the final play. The Eagles scored the last 28 points in the final 7:28. The Eagles need to win one of their last two games or have New York lose one of its two. Philly hosts Minnesota and Dallas, the Giants are at Green Bay and Washington.
"This is a special one," Eagles coach Andy Reid said of the comeback. "It was an exciting one. It was as exciting for you guys. It was a great day to be a Philadelphia writer."
New Orleans (10-4) is the top contender for an NFC wild card. The Giants and Packers are the other main challengers for a wild card.
Amazingly, Seattle (6-8) could still win the NFC West and didn't lose ground to co-leader St. Louis, which was beaten by Kansas City 27-13. San Francisco (5-9) also is in contention.
The Chiefs (9-5) will win the AFC West by sweeping their final two games, against Tennessee and Oakland. San Diego (8-6) is one game behind and has the tiebreaker if the Chargers and Chiefs finish the season tied.
Pittsburgh's loss to the Jets dropped it into a tie with Baltimore atop the AFC North. But the Steelers still sneaked into the playoffs, and they hold the tiebreaker over the Ravens. Pittsburgh faces Carolina and Cleveland. T
New England (11-2) headed into the night game with a 1½-game edge over the Jets (10-4) in the AFC East.
Baltimore and New York are the leading contenders for a wild-card berth.