Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Texans' plunge benefits Broncos, Patriots

Houston falls from AFC's first seed to third after loss to Indianapolis

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THANKS to Houston's late-season slump, Denver and New England will have byes when the AFC playoffs begin next week.

The Texans fell from first to third in the conference Sunday when they lost 28-16 at Indianapolis, which welcomed back coach Chuck Pagano after nearly three months of treatments for leukemia.

AFC West champion Denver won its 11th straight game, 38-3 over Kansas City to secure the top seed. New England blanked Miami 28-0 for the second spot.

Minnesota edged Green Bay 37-34 to grab the final NFC wild-card, sinking the Packers to the third seed. Those teams will meet again next Saturday night at Lambeau Field.

The other NFC matchup will have Seattle (11-5), which beat St. Louis 20-13, at Washington on Sunday.

Cincinnati (10-6) will be at Houston on Saturday and Indianapolis (11-5) goes to at Baltimore (10-6) on Sunday in the AFC wild-card rounds.

The divisional round games will be hosted by Denver on Saturday, Jan. 12, followed by San Francisco at night. On Sunday, Jan. 13, Atlanta will host the early game, followed by New England.

Peyton Manning threw for three touchdowns as Denver (13-3) routed the Chiefs. New England (12-4) got the second seed despite having the same record as Houston because it beat the Texans, who lost three of their final four games.

Baltimore Pro Bowl safety Ed Reed is looking forward to a reunion with Pagano. He wishes it would come a little later in the post-season.

"Chuck's like a dad to me," Reed said "He means a lot to me. I would have much rather seen them in the AFC championship game than the first game."

But Reed will see him next week at Baltimore.

The Ravens had a chance to move up to the AFC's third seed with a win and a New England loss. But Baltimore lost at Cincinnati as both teams played backups for much of the game.

Pagano coached the Ravens' secondary for three seasons and was promoted to co-ordinator last year. Players and coaches in Baltimore have kept in touch, offering encouragement as he fought through the cancer treatments.

"Going back to Baltimore, obviously there's some familiarity there," Pagano said. "We had four great years there as a family. It's a top-notch organization, you know, really good football club. It's a great challenge and they have a great team and they have great players all over the place."

The Colts were 2-14 last season and chose quarterback Andrew Luck with the top selection in the draft. Luck and offensive co-ordinator Bruce Arians, who stepped in as interim coach with Pagano sidelined, led the turnaround.

Next week, Pagano goes up against former boss John Harbaugh.

"I love his family, and he's one of my closest personal friends in coaching," Harbaugh said. "What he's been through is phenomenal, but we're all competitors so that gets set aside."

The defending Super Bowl champion Giants are out of contention. When Chicago beat Detroit 26-24, the Giants (9-7) were eliminated, even though they routed Philadelphia 42-7.

"It hurts," said Eli Manning. "Each year you want to make the playoffs to give yourself an opportunity to win a championship; 9-7 last year was good enough. It wasn't good enough this year and we knew it wouldn't be."

Minnesota's win eliminated Chicago, which the Vikings swept this season.

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 31, 2012 C5

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