Seahawks take NFC top seed, Packers and Panthers win

Reuters News
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Posted: Dec 28, 2014 5:03 PM

By Simon Evans

(Reuters) - The defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks claimed the number one seed in the NFC playoffs with Green Bay Packers and Carolina Panthers adding divisional titles after wins on the final Sunday of the regular season.

The Baltimore Ravens also made the postseason, taking the final AFC wild-card berth thanks to a victory over the Cleveland Browns and the San Diego Chargers' loss to Kansas City.

The Seahawks head into the playoffs on the back of six straight wins -- the latest a 20-6 victory over the St. Louis Rams which secured the NFC West divisional title.

The New England Patriots had already secured the top seed in the AFC and they and the Seahawks will enjoy a first round bye and home field advantage throughout the playoffs.

Green Bay won the NFC North for the fourth year in a row after defeating the Detroit Lions 30-20 while Carolina clinched the NFC South thanks to a 34-3 crushing of the Atlanta Falcons.

Baltimore made it by topping the Browns 20-10.

Seattle started slowly against St. Louis, but a nine-yard touchdown run from Marshawn Lynch and a 49-yard interception return by Bruce Irvin in the fourth quarter made sure the road through the NFC playoffs goes through Seattle.

The Packers' delight at their divisional title was tempered by concern over the left calf of quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

Rodgers aggravated a calf injury, which had kept him out of practice during the week, when throwing the first of two touchdown passes to Randall Cobb late in the second quarter.

After going to the locker room, Rodgers, despite a noticeable hobble, returned in the third quarter, finding Cobb again with a 13-yard touchdown pass to restore Green Bay's lead after a second Calvin Johnson touchdown reception for the Lions had tied the score at 14-14.

Rodgers even managed to push himself into the end zone for a touchdown from a yard out as the Packers made sure of the divisional prize, which earns the quarterback a much-needed week off.

LOSING RECORD

The NFC South has been a weak division this year but while Carolina enter the playoffs with a losing record 7-8-1, they have won their last four games.

Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan threw two interceptions, both of which were returned for touchdowns as Carolina's defense dominated.

The San Diego Chargers went into Sunday knowing a victory would be enough to take them into the postseason but their 19-7 loss to the Chiefs opened the door for the Ravens.

Baltimore trailed Cleveland 10-3 at the end of the third.

But quarterback Joe Flacco took control, throwing two touchdowns -- a 16-yard pass to Torrey Smith and a two-yard pass to Kamar Aiken -- as the Ravens took advantage of the Chargers' slip and ended any hope the Houston Texans and Kansas City had of entering the postseason.

The outcome means the AFC North has three teams in the playoffs with the divisional title due to be decided in the late game between the Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers.

Sunday also marked coach Jim Harbaugh's final game with the San Francisco 49ers. The team announced after a 20-17 victory over the Arizona Cardinals that Harbaugh would be leaving.

The Dallas Cowboys head into the playoffs in strong form, crushing of the Washington Redskins 44-17, while Rex Ryan, widely expected to be fired as head coach of the New York Jets, enjoyed a 37-24 victory over AFC East rivals the Miami Dolphins.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will have the first pick in the 2015 draft after finishing with the worst record in the regular season (2-14) following a 23-20 home loss to the New Orleans Saints.

(Reporting By Simon Evans, editing by Gene Cherry)