Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Ravens make sure Steelers won't repeat

Only one NFL division still needs to be decided, and that could happen today. But who has the best chance to win the Super Bowl? That question is as jumbled as the NFC wild-card race.
The only sure bet is it won't be the defending champions.

Baltimore made its case for Super Bowl favorite Sunday with a 31-7 victory over last year's winners, the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Ravens (12-3) can secure home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs with a win over the Buffalo Bills and a loss by San Diego on the final weekend of the season.

The defeat at home eliminated the Steelers (7-8) and made them the first defending champs to miss the postseason since Tampa Bay in 2002.

"We're in a prime position to get home-field advantage," Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis said. "With the way we're playing defense and the way our offense is clicking, we're going to be a hard team to beat in the playoffs."

The Chargers (13-2) retained the inside track in the AFC with a last-minute victory over Seattle. Philip Rivers' touchdown pass with 29 seconds left gave San Diego a 20-17 win.

The host Seahawks (8-7) still celebrated a third straight NFC West title after San Francisco lost to Arizona. New England beat Jacksonville on Sunday to win the AFC East.

Dallas can clinch the NFC East today by beating Philadelphia, while the Eagles would secure a playoff spot with a win or tie. New Orleans routed the New York Giants on Sunday and would join top-seeded Chicago in getting an NFC bye with another win or one Dallas loss.

"That would be a tremendous accomplishment considering everything that happened last year with these guys, what they went through," said Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who joined a team that was 3-13 last year.

No wild-card spots have been determined. The New York Jets and Denver Broncos can clinch the AFC spots if they win out, while Cincinnati, Tennessee, Kansas City and Jacksonville need help.

An 8-8 team will make the playoffs in the NFC. The Giants, Green Bay, Carolina, St. Louis and Atlanta are all alive at 7-8.

"People have continued to lose, and records aren't good in the NFC," Rams guard Adam Timmerman said. "It's been pretty bizarre."