NFL Scores Week 17: Breaking Down Early Games with Biggest Playoff Implications

Matt Fitzgerald@@MattFitz_geraldCorrespondent IIIDecember 30, 2012

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - DECEMBER 30: Indianapolis Colts fans hold signs supporting head coach Chuck Pagano during the game against the Houston Texans at Lucas Oil Stadium on December 30, 2012 in Indianapolis, Indiana. The Colts defeated the Texans 28-16. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

There was quite a shakeup in the NFL playoff picture after the early games came to an end in Sunday's Week 17 action, particularly in the AFC. The Indianapolis Colts were inspired by head coach Chuck Pagano's return to beat the AFC-leading Houston Texans at home to cap off one of the greatest stories in league history.

That's a tough act to follow, but there were other matchups with a Super Bowl contender that had an underwhelming performance in the season finale, and two other division foes gearing up for a playoff run.

Here is a breakdown of that AFC South battle between Indy and Houston, as well as the other most important games from Sunday's 1 o'clock showdowns.


Colts 28, Texans 16

After taking a 14-6 lead into the locker room at halftime, the Colts began to lose grip. Ten unanswered points had the Texans on top, but Deji Karim took the ensuing kickoff 101 yards to the house to put the Colts ahead for good.

Andrew Luck made it through his third consecutive game without a turnover, which is extremely encouraging. He also kept getting it done on third down, converting nine out of 15 chances.

The biggest one of those came early in the fourth, when Luck hit fellow rookie T.Y. Hilton on a 3rd-and-23 on a perfect pass over the top of the Houston defense. Hilton utilized his blinding speed to run the rest of the way to the end zone for what turned out to be a 70-yard touchdown.

That electrifying play was too much for the Texans to overcome. With the top seed in the AFC hanging in the balance, the Texans came up woefully short. Now, they will have to host Cincinnati next week as the third seed and not enjoy the luxury of a bye.

Indianapolis' amazing story continues, and the comeback in Pagano's first game back caps off a storybook regular season that gives the Colts plenty of momentum entering the playoffs.


Buccaneers 22, Falcons 17

Despite already having the NFC South division and the No. 1 seed in the conference locked up, Atlanta played its starters in a divisional clash at home in the Georgia Dome. The results were discouraging to say the least.

The Falcons have been doubted all year even though they have consistently reigned supreme in their conference and division. Those skeptics won't be silenced after a five-point home loss to what was a reeling, non-playoff Bucs team.

What stood out most was the lack of a running game. Michael Turner has hit the age 30 plateau, and he had the worst year of his career in terms of yards per carry. Jacquizz Rodgers couldn't fare much better, leading the Falcons with just 28 yards on five carries. Turner registered 18 yards on six runs, which was aided by a 17-yard touchdown.

To be fair, the game plan was revolving around QB Matt Ryan and the high-flying aerial attack the Falcons have. But even against Tampa's 32nd-ranked pass defense, Ryan and Co. struggled.

RB Doug Martin was a breakout rookie star in the middle of the season for the Bucs, but had been held in check lately. That changed, as Martin ran for 142 yards and a 40-yard TD.

There are plenty of reasons to be concerned in Atlanta. Thankfully, Mike Smith's team has a bye week to figure out what went wrong and avoid another one-and-done playoff performance.


Bengals 23, Ravens 17

Baltimore had already sewn up the AFC North championship, and opted to rest many of its starters.

That was the main reason the Bengals were able to win, but nevertheless, this young Cincinnati team has to feel great about beating the division powerhouses Pittsburgh and Baltimore in consecutive weeks.

Bengals QB Andy Dalton also went to the sideline early to be relieved by Bruce Gradkowski. But the biggest concern has to be the recently improved rushing attack, which has been so key to the team's turnaround in the second half of the season.

Starting RB BenJarvus Green-Elllis due to a hamstring tweak in pregame warm-ups (h/t Fox News).

While the time frame of his return isn't known, It certainly would have been encouraging for the Bengals to have a better performance on the ground than last week against the Steelers. In that battle at Heinz Field, Green-Ellis had only 14 yards on 15 carries.

A rematch of last year's playoff game with the Houston Texans now looms, which should get Cincinnati pumped for the opening round.

Meanwhile, the Ravens will face former defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano at home in Round 1. Pagano's familiarity with the team should work to the upstart Colts' advantage. That gives Baltimore plenty to worry about, too.