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Two NFC playoff berths up for grabs

The SportsXchange

With one week to go in the NFL season, only the Atlanta Falcons know exactly where they stand in the playoff picture -- at home throughout -- and some teams now know they will not be in the postseason at all.

The most conspicuous confirmed absentee is the Pittsburgh Steelers, who spent the 40th anniversary of their Immaculate Reception victory being eliminated by a 13-10 loss to the Bengals. Cincinnati is heading to the playoffs for a second consecutive season, a feat the Bengals accomplished just once previously, in 1981 and 1982.

The New York Giants (8-7) stumbled to a 33-14 loss against the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday, leaving the defending Super Bowl champions clinging to slim hopes of a wild-card berth. The Giants will watch the Washington Redskins (9-6) and Dallas Cowboys (8-7) duel for the NFC East title next week.

The Falcons blasted the Detroit Lions 31-18 Saturday night to push their record to 13-2. Atlanta wrapped up the NFC South championship, home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs and a bye during the wild-card round.

Also definitely in the NFC postseason party are the NFC North champion Green Bay Packers (12-4), who blasted the Tennessee Titans 55-7, and two teams from the NFC West, the San Francisco 49ers (10-4-1) and the Seattle Seahawks (10-5).

Seattle demolished San Francisco 42-13 Sunday night to stay in the division race. If the Seahawks can beat the visiting St. Louis Rams next week, and the 49ers oblige by losing at home to the Arizona Cardinals, Seattle would win the NFC West. Otherwise, San Francisco will be the division winner.

The Minnesota Vikings muddied the playoff scene in both conferences by upsetting the Houston Texans 23-6 Sunday. That gave the Vikings a 9-6 mark and a shot at the wild-card spot, although they close against Green Bay next week.

Washington earned its fifth consecutive victory, beating the Philadelphia Eagles 27-20. The Chicago Bears are also 9-6 after beating up the Arizona Cardinals 28-13.

If the Bears beat the Detroit Lions next week, and the Vikings fall to the Packers, Chicago would sneak into the playoffs.

The Vikings' upset dropped Houston to 12-3 and prevented the Texans from locking up the AFC's top seed. However, Houston, the AFC South champion, can clinch home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs with a win against the Indianapolis Colts.

The AFC West champion Denver Broncos are also 12-3 after overpowering Cleveland 34-17 Sunday. The AFC East champion New England Patriots, 11-4 after a 23-16 victory over Jacksonville, are still within reach of the No. 1 seed.

Denver finishes with a home game against the Kansas City Chiefs, while the Patriots will play host to the Miami Dolphins.

Also in the AFC playoffs are the Ravens (10-5), the Colts (10-5) and Bengals (9-6). Indianapolis edged Kansas City 20-13 Sunday.
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