Bills, Cowboys among biggest winner Sunday, securing No. 2 seeds
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Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys made sure they’ll start the playoffs at home, where they’re undefeated. Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills are going home with a division title instead of heading back to Miami for a rematch.
The NFL playoff field is set. Fourteen teams will compete for a trip to Super Bowl 58 in Las Vegas next month. The postseason starts with six games across three days over wild-card weekend.
The Bills rallied for a 21-14 win over the Dolphins on Sunday night to clinch their fourth straight AFC East title and the No. 2 seed. The Packers and Buccaneers got in with wins earlier in the day. The Steelers secured their spot when the Jaguars collapsed in Tennessee. Jacksonville’s loss gave the Texans a division title, completing their last-to-first turnaround.
No. 1 seeds Baltimore and San Francisco rested several starters in Week 18. The Lions and Eagles didn’t because they had a shot at the NFC’s No. 2 seed and both teams suffered potentially significant injuries.
Patrick Mahomes sat while backup Blaine Gabbert guided the defending Super Bowl champion Chiefs to victory with the AFC’s No. 3 seed already locked up. Matthew Stafford watched Carson Wentz lead the Rams to a comeback win over the 49ers to clinch the NFC’s sixth seed. Joe Flacco and other starters didn’t play for the Browns in a meaningless loss as Cleveland prepared for just its second playoff appearance in 21 seasons.
Six teams are in the playoffs — Browns, Lions, Packers, Texans, Rams, Steelers — after missing out last season. At least four teams who failed to qualify one season have reached the playoffs the next every year since 1990.
A few reunions highlight the opening round.
Stafford, who was 0-3 in the playoffs with the Lions, goes back to Detroit with the Rams (10-7). The Lions (12-5) tied a franchise record for wins in a regular season and will seek their first playoff victory since beating Dallas on Jan. 5, 1992. They will play on Sunday night.
Detroit lost rookie tight end Sam LaPorta to a knee injury in a 30-20 win over Minnesota. Lions coach Dan Campbell said “it’s not good news ” but not as bad as it seemed when LaPorta was carted to the locker room.
Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy will face his former team when Jordan Love leads the Packers (9-8) to Dallas on Sunday afternoon. The Cowboys (12-5) routed Washington 38-10 to clinch the NFC East title and will host Green Bay aiming to stay unbeaten at home this season.
“They’ve had a good year,” McCarthy said of the Packers. “I haven’t watched them a whole lot. The drama of it, I’m sure you all will love. I will not participate this year. It’s playoff time. It doesn’t matter who we play, to be honest with you.”
Miami’s loss dropped the Dolphins (11-6) to the sixth seed. Instead of hosting Buffalo again next week, they have to visit Kansas City (11-6) on Saturday night. Dolphins superstar wide receiver Tyreek Hill plays against the team he helped win a Super Bowl four years ago. The Chiefs beat the Dolphins 21-14 in Germany in Week 9.
The Buccaneers (9-8) secured their third straight NFC South title with a 9-0 win at Carolina and they’ll host struggling Philadelphia on Monday night. The Eagles (11-6) played like a team that already quit in a 27-10 loss to the Giants. The defending NFC champions limp to the playoffs after a late-season collapse, having lost five of the last six games.
Star wide receiver A.J. Brown left the game with a knee injury, though coach Nick Sirianni is hopeful he won’t miss time.
The Buccaneers beat the Eagles in a wild-card playoff game two years ago in the last of Tom Brady’s 35 career playoff wins. Baker Mayfield and a tough Tampa Bay defense led by safety Antoine Winfield Jr. stand in Philly’s way now.
“We have a lot to fix; we have a lot to do better,” Eagles center Jason Kelce said. “This is our worst stretch of football since Nick has been here and it is very, very frustrating, but we are in the playoffs and it’s one-and-done and you’re out. We have the Buccaneers next week and we are going to focus and prepare to try and go win the game.”
The Browns-Texans matchup kicks off the postseason on Saturday afternoon. The teams met in Week 16 with Cleveland routing Houston 36-22 but C.J. Stroud didn’t play in that game. The sensational rookie quarterback finished off an impressive regular season with an outstanding performance in a 23-19 do-or-die win at Indianapolis on Saturday night.
Buffalo (11-6) finished off a dramatic turnaround by defeating Miami for its fifth straight win to close out the regular season. The Bills will host the Steelers (10-7) on Sunday afternoon.
"If you would’ve told me at the beginning of the year, 11-6, AFC East champions, No. 2 seed, sign me up,” Allen said. “It may have been ugly. We’ll take it.”
Thirteen games to go. Thirteen teams will go home with a loss. One team will hoist the Vince Lombardi Trophy on Feb. 11.
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