NFL round-up: Panthers secure top spot as Jets bite the dust
The Carolina Panthers secured the number one seed in the NFC for the first time in franchise history on a night of drama in the NFL which saw Peyton Manning return to steer Denver to the top seed in the AFC, while Rex Ryan ended the post-season hopes of his former team the New York Jets.
The road to the Super Bowl will go through Charlotte for the first time after the Panthers locked up top spot in the NFC with a 38-10 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Cam Newton threw for two touchdowns and ran for two more. His rushing TDs took him to 43 on his career, tying Steve Young's NFL record. While Young needed 15 season to reach that mark, Newton has got there in five.
Many had thought Peyton Manning's career was over when he was replaced by Brock Osweiler amid injury worries and a rash of interceptions earlier in the season, but with the Broncos struggling against the San Diego Chargers and facing the possibility of dropping into the wildcard round, they turned to their veteran quarterback on Sunday.
Manning replaced Osweiler in the third quarter and rallied his team for a 27-20 win which locks up the number one seed in the AFC after New England's surprise 20-10 loss to the Miami Dolphins earlier in the day.
Ryan Fitzpatrick threw three fourth-quarter interceptions as the New York Jets saw their post-season hopes go up in smoke with a 22-17 defeat to Ryan's Buffalo Bills.
Todd Bowles' side knew a win over Buffalo would secure the AFC wild-card spot, earning their first post-season berth in five years, but they collapsed as their former coach spoilt the party.
The Jets, who were on a five-game winning streak, were playing catch-up throughout and the Bills did enough to keep them at arm's length before Fitzpatrick floundered on his final three drives of the season.
New York's pain was the Pittsburgh Steelers' gain as they clinched the wild-card spot with a 28-12 triumph over the Cleveland Browns, who finished the season 3-13.
Ben Roethlisberger threw for 349 yards and three touchdowns to bring about the victory, with the hapless Browns restricted to just four Travis Coons field goals.
After the game, the Browns announced that general manager Ray Farmer and head coach Mike Pettine had been fired.
The Minnesota Vikings survived a wild finish to beat the rival Green Bay Packers 20-13 and claim the NFC North title.
Adrian Peterson ran in a touchdown and Captain Munnerlyn scored on a 55-yard fumble return, but the Vikings were left hanging on as Green Bay rallied from 20-3 down, and Minnesota had to knock away a long heave into the end zone from Aaron Rodgers as time expired.
Whitney Mercilus and JJ Watt had three sacks each as the Houston Texans clinched their first AFC South division title since 2012, wrapping up the regular season with a 30-6 triumph over the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Houston's win meant there was ultimately no way for the Indianapolis Colts to progress, but they still kept their end of the bargain anyway with a 30-24 win over the Tennessee Titans, who will now pick number one in next year's draft after the loss.
The Cincinnati Bengals tied a franchise record with their 12th win, ending the regular season with a 24-16 victory over the Baltimore Ravens.
Cincinnati are the AFC's third seed going into the post-season, but after New England's surprise lossthey will be ruing last week's loss to Denver. Had they not blown a 14-0 lead to lose to the Broncos they could have had home advantage throughout the playoffs.
The Arizona Cardinals had already locked up the NFC West but ended the regular-season on a bum note as their winning streak was ended at nine in a 36-6 blowout loss to the Seattle Seahawks.
Russell Wilson threw three touchdown passes in the second quarter alone before sitting out the final quarter. Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer did not appear in the second half.
The Kansas City Chiefs will enter the post-season on a 10-game winning streak, having finished the regular-season with a 23-17 win over the Oakland Raiders.
Alex Smith threw two touchdown passes while Raiders quarterback Derek Carr was sacked six times.
Kirk Cousins threw for three touchdowns before leaving the game early as the Washington Redskins warmed up for the playoffs with a 34-23 triumph over the rival Dallas Cowboys.
With Washington already crowned NFC East champions, there was little for the Philadelphia Eagles and the New York Giants to play for, although there has been speculation it could be Tom Coughlin's final game in charge of the Giants.
If that is to be the case his team could not sign off his tenure with a win as the Eagles edged it 35-30 at MetLife Stadium.
Kai Forbath's last-gasp 30-yard field goal earned the New Orleans Saints a 20-17 win over the Atlanta Falcons in a similar NFC South dead rubber.
Phil Dawson's 23-yard field goal in overtime lifted the San Francisco 49ers to a 19-16 win over the St Louis Rams. However, it was not enough to save first-year 49ers coach Jim Tomsula, who was fired after the game.
The post-season begins next weekend when the Texans will host the Chiefs and the Bengals host the Steelers on Saturday.
On Sunday, Seattle head to Minnesota and Green Bay travel to Washington.