Playoff picture takes shape, GB Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers join the mix

Playoff picture takes shape, GB Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers join the mix

THE NATIONAL Football League  (NFL) playoff picture came into sharper focus on Sunday as the Green Bay Packers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Buffalo Bills and Pittsburgh Steelers kept their respective seasons and Super Bowl hopes alive.

The final day of the 18-week regular season began with 11 teams vying for the final four of 14 playoff spots available across the American Football Conference (AFC)  and National Football Conference (NFC)  and four of the eight division titles up for grabs.

All but one division title have since been decided ahead of Sunday’s NFL regular season finale, a pivotal primetime clash between AFC East rivals the Miami Dolphins and Bills.

Houston, who closed out their regular season with a win on Saturday, clinched the AFC South title for the first time since 2019 and the conference’s fourth seed thanks to the Jacksonville Jaguars’ surprise loss to the Tennessee Titans on Sunday.

Houston, led by standout rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud, will host the Cleveland Browns next week when the playoffs begin.

The Jacksonville loss also sent the Bills and Steelers, who kept their playoff hopes alive with a win over the Baltimore Ravens on Saturday, into the postseason.

There is still plenty at stake when Miami host Buffalo later on Sunday as the outcome will have big playoff ramifications given the winner will earn the AFC East division title and second seed in the AFC playoffs.

A loss for Miami would mean they drop to the sixth seed and open the playoffs at the third seed and reigning Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs while a Buffalo loss would drop them to the seventh seed and set up a rematch at the Dolphins.

Tampa Bay, in their first season without record-setting quarterback Tom Brady, beat the Carolina Panthers 9-0 to secure their third consecutive NFC South title and fourth consecutive playoff appearance.

The Buccaneers enter the postseason as the NFC’s fourth seed and will host last year’s Super Bowl runner-up, the Philadelphia Eagles, in their playoff opener.

The final playoff spot went to Green Bay, whose 17-9 win over the Chicago Bears ended the playoff hopes of the Seattle Seahawks and New Orleans Saints.

The Dallas Cowboys had already secured a playoff berth but with their 38-10 rout of the Washington Commanders on Sunday also locked up the NFC East title and will host their playoff opener against the Packers. The AFC’s Baltimore Ravens and NFC’s San Francisco 49ers, who last week secured their respective conference’s top seed — giving them a bye and home-field advantage for the postseason — will face the lowest-seeded team remaining in the Divisional Round. — Reuters