Essentials from Sunday: 9 spots clinched

Nine teams have sealed up a playoff spot with a 10th on the line Monday night. Plus, a look at some of the standout performances, both good and bad, from the weekend.

With one week and one last Monday Night Football game to play in the 2014 regular season, nine teams have clinched playoff spots with a 10th spot on the line Monday night.

Four spots have been clinched in the AFC, with the New England Patriots (12-3) winning the AFC East, the Denver Broncos (11-3) taking the AFC West and the Indianapolis Colts (10-5) winning the AFC South. The Pittsburgh Steelers (10-5) are also guaranteed a playoff spot after their 20-12 win over the Kansas City Chiefs.

The Cincinnati Bengals’ (9-4-1) game against the Broncos looms large on Monday night. If the Bengals win, they will advance to the playoffs. If the Broncos win, they will clinch a first-round bye.

The Patriots already clinched their first-round bye and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs after slipping past the New York Jets 17-16 on Sunday.

Five teams in the NFC – The Arizona Cardinals (11-4), the Detroit Lions (11-4), the Dallas Cowboys (11-4), the Green Bay Packers (11-4) and the Seattle Seahawks (11-4) – had already clinched a spot at the postseason table before the Seahawks beat the Cardinals on Sunday night.

The Cowboys needed their 42-7 blowout against the Colts for the NFC East title. Detroit secured a playoff spot with its 20-14 Saturday night win over the Chicago Bears. The Packers secured their spot in the playoffs with a 20-3 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday. And the Seahawks had already earned a playoff berth before their Sunday night game, but the Cardinals’ loss to the Seahawks kept them from securing home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

Week 17 will only define the final seedings for those teams.

Next weekend, the NFC North title will be determined when the Lions visit Green Bay, and the downtrodden NFC South will be decided when the Atlanta Falcons host the Carolina Panthers.

  • Should the Panthers be considered the favorite in that game? Recent December history would say so. With their 17-13 win over the Cleveland Browns, Carolina has won 13 of its last 15 December games, dating all the way back to 2011. Since 2002, Carolina has the best record of any NFC team in the month of December (38-18), despite a 66-84-1 mark in all other months combined, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

  • With Bill Belichick’s 230th career win, he surpassed Curly Lambeau for the fourth-most wins in NFL history and the Patriots clinched a first-round bye for the fifth consecutive season, the longest streak of any NFL team since the current playoff format began in 1990.

  • The Cowboys’ 42-7 win over the Colts was their largest margin of victory against a team in sole possession of its division or conference.

  • Jim Caldwell helped his cause for Coach of the Year consideration. The Lions now have 11 wins, the most by a first-year head coach in franchise history since Potsy Clark went 11-3 in 1931 for the Portsmouth Spartans.

  • After catching eight passes for 148 yards and a touchdown in the New York Giants’ 37-27 win over the St. Louis Rams, Odell Beckham, Jr. became the first receiver in NFL history with at least 130 receiving yards and a touchdown catch in three consecutive games. He also has 79 receptions, the most in NFL history for a player in his first 11 career games. Beckham and Tampa Bay’s Mike Evans each have 11 touchdown catches, the first time in NFL history two rookie wide receivers have done so in the same season.

  • Houston Texans receiver Andre Johnson became the 10th player in NFL history to reach 1,000 career catches after hauling in six passes for 65 yards in Houston’s 25-13 win over the Baltimore Ravens. He now has 1,002 catches in 168 games, with only Marvin Harrison getting to 1,000 catches in fewer games (167). Johnson is currently ninth on the all-time receptions list.

  • Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant now has a touchdown catch in 12 consecutive games against the AFC after a 19-yard TD against the Colts, extending the longest interconference streak since the 1970 merger.

  • While we’re on the subject of elite receivers, Detroit’s Calvin Johnson pushed his 100-yard receiving games to 44 in his career, the second-most in a player’s first eight seasons (Randy Moss had 45 in his first eight seasons).

  • Good thing there were so many receivers making their marks, because it was a bad day for some rushing attacks. The Bucs rushed for only 16 yards on 14 carries in their loss to the Packers. It was the lowest rushing total by the Bucs since 1989, and their lowest at home since the eighth game in team history, when Kansas City limited Tampa Bay to 14 yards (Oct. 31, 1976), according to Elias.

  • Worse yet? The Colts netted 1 yard on 14 carries at Dallas, and the Buffalo Bills were limited to 13 yards on 13 carries in their loss to the Oakland Raiders that took the Bills out of playoff contention.

  • QB Aaron Rodgers passed for 318 yards and a touchdown in the Packers’ win, giving him 4,155 yards and 36 touchdowns on the season, the third season he has exceeded 4,000 yards and 35 touchdowns, joining Drew Brees with three such seasons. Only Peyton Manning has more with four.

  • Rodgers has had more help the last two years. Eddie Lacy pushed his season rushing total to 1,039 yards with a 99-yard, one-touchdown performance against the Bucs. He is the first player in franchise history to rush for at least 1,000 yards and score 10 or more touchdowns in each of his first two seasons.

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