WASHINGTON: New England and Dallas secured NFL playoff berths with home triumphs Sunday while New Orleans claimed a home-field edge and reigning champion Philadelphia stayed in the title chase.
The NFL post-season picture cleared after the penultimate weekend with four spots claimed and three up for grabs next Sunday.
Seattle beat Kansas City 38-31 and Dallas downed Tampa Bay 27-20 to join New Orleans, the Los Angeles Rams and Chicago in the National Conference playoffs.
The New England Patriots beat Buffalo 24-12 and Houston advanced, despite losing, to join Kansas City and the Los Angeles Chargers in the American Conference playoffs.
New England became the first team in NFL history to reach the playoffs for 10 consecutive seasons as Tom Brady threw for only 126 yards and a touchdown, sparking injury fears for the 41-year-old quarterback, a five-time Super Bowl winner.
“I feel great. I feel 100%. I’m not injured,” Brady said. “We didn’t have our best passing day. But we won, so I think everybody is feeling pretty good.”
The Patriots captured their 10th consecutive AFC East division title, a feat matched only in North American sports by baseball’s Atlanta Braves.
It was also their 16th title in 18 seasons.
Touchdown runs by James White and Sony Michel gave the Patriots a 14-0 half-time lead and Brady tossed a 32-yard touchdown pass to Julian Edelman to thwart a Bills rally as New England (10-5) improved to 7-0 at home this season.
At Dallas, Dak Prescott threw for one touchdown and ran for another while Jaylon Smith returned a fumble 69 yards for a touchdown to power the Cowboys to a third NFC East crown for Dallas in five seasons.
Prescott connected on 20-of-25 passes for 161 yards and Ezekiel Elliott ran 18 times for 85 yards as the Cowboys improved to 9-6.
“We have a very tough defense that gives offenses hell every week. We’re a tough, gritty offense — I think the sky is the limit for us,” Elliott said.
Eagles edge Texans
Philadelphia’s Nick Foles threw for a club-record 471 yards and four touchdowns to lift the Eagles over visiting Houston 32-30 to sustain their hopes of becoming the first back-to-back Super Bowl winner since New England in 2004 and 2005.
Houston’s DeShaun Watson ran for two touchdowns and threw for two more, the last of them a 35-yarder to Vyncint Smith with 2:04 remaining that put the Texans ahead.
The Eagles answered by marching 72 yards in 11 plays and Jake Elliott kicked a 35-yard field goal on the last play to give Philadelphia the victory.
To reach the playoffs, Philadelphia (8-7) must beat Washington next week and have Minnesota (8-6-1), a 27-9 winner Sunday at Detroit, lose to visiting Chicago.
Saints defeat Steelers
New Orleans kept the NFL’s best record at 13-2 but only after a 31-28 nail-biter over visiting Pittsburgh that wasn’t sealed until Saints linebacker Demario Davis recovered a fumble in the final seconds to kill the last Steelers’ drive.
“It was a battle,” Saints quarterback Drew Brees said. “We’re battle tested. We’ve had a lot of these this year and every one of them I feel has molded us and made us stronger. I love finding out how we’re going to win each week.”
The victory ensured the Saints will play at home throughout the playoffs, a distinct edge in the noisy Superdome.
“We love our home. We love the dome,” Brees said. “But we understand every time we step on the field, we have to earn it.”
With the loss, Pittsburgh slid behind Baltimore in the playoff hunt. The Steelers must win and have Baltimore lose next week to advance while the last berth goes to the winner between Indianapolis and Tennessee after Andrew Luck flipped a one-yard touchdown pass to Chester Rogers with 55 seconds remaining to give Indy a 28-27 victory at the New York Giants.
Seattle clinched a playoff spot but Kansas City missed a chance to seal a division crown and home-field edge for the American Conference playoffs.
In other games Sunday, Green Bay edged the New York Jets 44-38 in overtime, Cleveland beat Cincinnati 26-18, Jacksonville defeated Miami 17-7, Atlanta downed Carolina 24-10, Chicago edged San Francisco 14-9 and the LA Rams won 31-9 at Arizona.