Dolphins, Vikings, Chargers win divisions in final week

Far from the imperfect abyss into which the Detroit Lions have fallen, the NFL's latest playoff qualifiers are celebrating.

Shockingly, those party-goers include the Miami Dolphins.

Hours after the Lions became the first team to go 0-16 in a season, the Dolphins, who were 1-15 a year ago, completed a memorable turnaround and won the AFC East at 11-5. That alone should give hope to all of the league's tailenders.

"I don't think words can describe it," running back Ronnie Brown said Sunday after a 24-17 win over the New York Jets. "Earlier in the season, we could only imagine being in this situation.

"It's a great accomplishment. With it comes more motivation to keep winning games. Obviously, now we're in a situation where each one counts and if you lose, you go home."

That begins next Sunday when the Dolphins host the Baltimore Ravens, who earned a wild-card berth with a 27-7 victory over Jacksonville.

"We have an opportunity to prove we're the best team in the NFL," said Baltimore's John Harbaugh, like Miami's Tony Sparano a rookie head coach. "That's what we're going to try to do."

Of course, there are 12 teams looking to prove just that. The playoff qualifiers in the NFC on the final day of the schedule were Minnesota and Philadelphia, joining previous entrants Carolina, Arizona, Atlanta and the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants.

In the AFC, San Diego also got in with a 52-21 romp past Denver to take the West. Already in were Tennessee, Pittsburgh and Indianapolis.

The other games next weekend are Atlanta at Arizona and Indianapolis at San Diego on Saturday, and Philadelphia at Minnesota on Sunday.

On Jan. 10, Tennessee and Carolina will be the hosts. The next day, it will be New York and Pittsburgh.

Dolphins 24, Jets 17

Chad Pennington, cut in the offseason by the Jets to make room for Brett Favre, threw two touchdown passes at the Meadowlands. Miami joined the 1999 Indianapolis Colts as the only teams in NFL history to make 10-game improvements. Miami, which has won five straight and nine of 10, made the playoffs for the first time in seven seasons. It's also the Dolphins' first AFC East title since 2000.

The Jets (9-7) lost four of their last five.

Ravens 27, Jaguars 7

At Baltimore, Le'Ron McClain ran for two touchdowns in the first half and Baltimore (11-5) never let up against the stumbling Jaguars (5-11), who committed four turnovers and were held scoreless over the final 45 minutes. The seven points were a season low for Jacksonville.

Packers 31, Lions 21

At Green Bay, the Lions earned a distinction no team wants: worst in NFL history.

Facing one last chance to avoid their dubious destiny, the Lions lost for the 23rd time in 24 games. The 1976 expansion Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-14) were the last NFL team to complete a full season without a victory.

Vikings 20, Giants 19

Ryan Longwell's 50-yard field goal as the game ended lifted the host Vikings to the NFC North title for their first postseason appearance in four years.

Chargers 52, Broncos 21

At San Diego, LaDainian Tomlinson and Philip Rivers led a romp to the AFC West title, becoming the first team to go from 4-8 to the playoffs. Mission Valley turned into Mediocre Valley for the evening as the Chargers became the first team to win a division at 8-8 since the Cleveland Browns in 1985.

Tomlinson, who didn't return after straining an abdominal muscle in the third quarter, had his first three-touchdown game of the season. Rivers threw his 33rd and 34th touchdown passes to break Hall of Famer Dan Fouts' 1981 team single-season record.

Eagles 44, Cowboys 6

At Philadelphia, the Eagles overcame daunting odds to capture an NFC wild-card spot with a dominating victory.

In a game that become do-or-die for both teams shortly before kickoff when Tampa Bay and Chicago lost, the Eagles (9-6-1) thoroughly outplayed the error-prone Cowboys (9-7). Donovan McNabb threw two touchdown passes and ran for another, and Brian Dawkins forced two fumbles that were returned for scores.

Patriots 13, Bills 0

A nasty wind strong enough to tilt the goal posts didn't make the visiting Patriots flinch.

LaMont Jordan scored on a 2-yard run set up by Matt Cassel's 12-yard completion into the gusts on fourth down, and Stephen Gostkowski hit a pair of field goals.

New England is the first team since Denver in 1985 to go 11-5 and not make the postseason.

Panthers 33, Saints 31

At New Orleans, John Kasay's 42-yard field goal with a second left locked up the NFC South title and the second seed in the conference for the Panthers (12-4). Carolina is the only team to go 8-0 at home this season, and this was the first road win by any team in an NFC South game this season.

Falcons 31, Rams 27

At Atlanta, Jerious Norwood ran for two touchdowns, including the go-ahead 45-yarder with 3:41 left, and the Falcons held off the Rams (2-14) to clinch the No. 5 seed in the NFC. The Falcons improved to 11-5, completing their improbable run to the playoffs after a 4-12 finish in 2007.

Texans 31, Bears 24

At Houston, Andre Johnson had two touchdowns for the Texans, who finished 8-8 for the second straight year.

The Bears (9-7) needed a win to keep any postseason hopes alive. The Vikings beat the Giants to take the NFC North title, but Chicago could have gotten in with a wild-card spot by winning and getting help. They blew a 10-0 lead.

Steelers 31, Browns 0

At Pittsburgh, Ben Roethlisberger gave the playoff-bound Steelers a major scare by sustaining a concussion during what likely was Romeo Crennel's last game as Cleveland's coach.

Cardinals 34, Seahawks 21

Kurt Warner threw four touchdown passes, his most in seven years, then sat out the fourth quarter as the Cardinals spoiled the final game of Mike Holmgren's decade as Seahawks coach.

49ers 27, Redskins 24

At San Francisco, Joe Nedney's game-ending field goal was followed by confirmation that coach Mike Singletary will be back next year. Nedney kicked a 39-yard field goal as time expired, and the 49ers dramatically finished their late-season surge under their no-longer-interim coach. A few minutes after Nedney's kick sneaked inside the upright to cap a cool 60-second drive led by Shaun Hill, the 49ers officially announced Singletary will keep his job.

Colts 23, Titans 0

At Indianapolis, the Colts yanked starters early and still managed to win a ninth straight. It was the sixth straight season Indy has won at least 12 games, and that wasn't the only big achievement for the Colts (12-4).

Bengals 16, Chiefs 6

At Cincinnati, Cedric Benson ran for 111 yards and a touchdown and Cincinnati completed its late-season surge.

The Bengals (4-11-1) will most likely stay the course after their latest losing season. Coach Marvin Lewis has two years left on his contract, and there is no general manager to replace — owner Mike Brown makes the important decisions.

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