With NFC seedings up for grab and seven AFC teams still mathematically in with a chance of securing a playoff spot, there was a lot to play for on the final Sunday of the regular season.
Of the 16 games scheduled for Sunday, nine had meaning for at least one of the teams involved. Four games were vital for both parties.
There were four meaningful 1 p.m. games—three in the AFC and one in the NFC.
The Jacksonville Jaguars and Houston Texans both knew they needed to win their respective games to have any shot at one of the two remaining AFC Wild Card spots, while the Pittsburgh Steelers and Miami Dolphins were battling each other in Florida with the loser knowing they would definitely be eliminated with a loss.
In the NFC, the Vikings could clinch the second seed with a win against the Giants.
In the late starts, the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys battled for the NFC East crown while the Baltimore Ravens and New York Jets knew they would be in with a win.
Here are the key moments of Week 17 as the day unfolded.
1:26 p.m. While it is not a score update, the New England Patriots' Wes Welker has been carried off the field with an injury. With a playoff spot already set in stone, this is a huge blow for the Pats. Fans will no doubt ask why the Patriots starters were in the lineup.
2:15 p.m. Cleveland extends their lead to 13-3 against the Jaguars on Josh Cribbs' 14-yard touchdown run. The TD gives them a two-score advantage over the Jaguars who needed not only a win but for four other teams (Pittsburgh and Houston in the 1 p.m. games, and Denver and Baltimore at 4:15 p.m.) to lose too.
To make the highly improbable almost impossible, Pittsburgh is winning 17-10 and Houston leads 14-10.
2:23 p.m. Minnesota takes a commanding 31-0 lead against the hapless Giants on Brett Favre's third touchdown pass of the day, all but securing their second seed in the NFC.
2:54 p.m. New England's Darius Butler returns an interception for a touchdown, snapping a 13-13 tie and putting the Texans on the brink of elimination. A Houston loss would benefit the winner of the Miami-Pittsburgh showdown.
3:04 p.m. Pittsburgh effectively puts Miami out of contention with a Heath Miller touchdown to make it 24-10. With Houston losing 27-13, the Steelers would still need the Jets or Ravens to lose in the evening games. Pittsburgh has lost five games after leading in the fourth quarter...will they shut the door on the Dolphins?
3:30 p.m . Houston shows signs of life with a touchdown with just under 10 minutes to play in their final regular season game. Even if the Texans win or tie, Pittsburgh could still get into the playoffs with losses from the Jets, Ravens, and Broncos.
3:45 p.m. The Miami Dolphins make things uncomfortable for the Steelers with Davone Bess' touchdown to move within a field goal. That's 14 points in the last 2:47 for the Dolphins who are fighting with all their heart to keep their season alive.
3:50 p.m. With 6:56 remaining in the game, the Dolphins force a fumble out of Ben Roethlisburger to get the ball on the Pittsburgh 13-yard line. On 2nd-and-13 the Dolphins' Thigpen throws an interception at the Steelers' two-yard-line.
3:53 p.m. Arian Foster rushes for his second touchdown in less than three minutes to give the Texans a remarkable 34-27 lead over the Patriots. A Houston win would cut the Steelers' chances even further regardless of whether they beat Miami.
3:59 p.m. The Vikings beat the Giants 44-7, confirming their second seed.
4:06 p.m. The Texans beat New England to keep their hopes alive. Tom Brady sat on the bench during the Patriots' final, potentially game-tying drive. Houston will anxiously await the Jets, Ravens, and Broncos games starting in about 10 minutes to see if they can get the three losses they need.
4:07 p.m. Cleveland beats Jacksonville 23-17, eliminating the Jaguars from playoff contention.
4:11 p.m. Miami's third-string quarterback throws a season-ending interception with 26 seconds remaining. Pittsburgh is still hoping for a miracle, but the Dolphins fall to 7-9 and finish their season with a defeat.
4:15 p.m. Four more key games with playoff implications kick off around the league. Philadelphia gets under way against the Cowboys knowing a win would give them the NFC East title and a first-round bye. The Cowboys however would win the division if they won.
Arizona knows they won't be playing for a first-round bye because of Minnesota's victory earlier today, but opponents Green Bay are playing for either the fifth or sixth seeding.
In the AFC, the Ravens are in the playoffs if they beat Oakland, while Denver knows they have a range options to make the playoffs even if they lose to Kansas City. Their chances have been reduced with Houston's win against the Patriots.
4:48 p.m. Aaron Rodgers completes a 51-yard pass to Jordy Nelson and then rushes up the middle for a touchdown to give the Packers an early 14-0 lead against the NFC West champs.
5:15 p.m . Tony Romo throws a strike to Patrick Crayton to give the Cowboys a 14-0 lead and move them one step closer to the NFC East title. Meanwhile the Broncos' Knowshon Moreno just ran the ball home from the one-yard line to tie the game against Kansas City at 7-7.
5:18 p.m. Baltimore's Willis McGahee runs 77 yards for a touchdown to give the Ravens a 14-3 lead against the Raiders. Remember, the Ravens are in with a win. The Texans will need both Denver and the Jets to lose if Baltimore is victorious.
5:30 p.m. With 47 seconds left in the first half, Oakland puts seven points on the board with a Zach Miller TD catch to cut Baltimore's lead to 14-10. Oakland can play spoilers with a win.
5:41 p.m. As the 4:15 p.m. games all reach halftime, Green Bay has a commanding 26-0 lead over Arizona and Dallas leads 17-0 over Philadelphia. Baltimore misses a field goal as time expires but finishes the half up 14-10, while Kansas City and Denver are tied 10-10.
Pittsburgh and Houston have the most invested in the Raiders-Ravens game, with both teams hoping Oakland can come from behind to keep their seasons alive.
Elsewhere, If Denver wins, their best chance at making the playoffs, as it stands right now, would come if the Jets lost. If they lost and Baltimore wins, they would be eliminated.
6:10 p.m. The Broncos knot things up at 17-17 just a few moments after Jamaal Charles rushed for a 25-yard touchdown to give the Chiefs a 17-10 advantage. Remember the Broncos need to beat the Chiefs and see either the Ravens or Jets lose.
6:21 p.m. Dallas all but assures themselves of the NFC East by taking a 24-0 third-quarter lead and Kansas City scores 10 points in 13 seconds on a field goal and interception returned for a TD to go ahead 27-17. Denver's season hangs by a thread.
6:44 p.m. Pittsburgh is 10 minutes away from being officially eliminated from the playoff chase. Baltimore—who clinches with a win—has an eight-point lead and they have just recovered a fumble. Pittsburgh is getting help from Kansas City, but it will all be for naught if Baltimore hangs on.
As things stand, the Houston Texans will go to the playoffs if the Jets lose to the Bengals in a few hours. The Jets, of course, can clinch with a victory.
6:42 p.m . Denver's Kyle Orton is picked off by Chiefs' linebacker Derrick Johnson who takes it to the house for six. KC is up 37-24 and Denver is missing out right now.
7:01p.m. Green Bay secures the fifth seed with a 33-7 victory over Arizona who could not finish better than No. 3 in the NFC.
7:07 p.m. Baltimore beats Oakland 21-13 to set up a first round playoff trip to Tom Brady's New England Patriots.
The victory officially eliminates the Steelers from the playoff race, as they needed Baltimore, Denver, and the New York Jets to lose.
7:22 p.m. Denver is done for the year with a 44-24 defeat to the Chiefs. It was actually over about eight minutes ago when Orton was intercepted in the end zone with about three minutes remaining.
The final playoff spot will either go to the New York Jets, who face the Bengals at 8:20pm, or the Houston Texans, should the Jets lose.
8:35 p.m. New York strikes first with Thomas Jones' one-yard TD run. 7-0 Jets in a 'win-or-go-home' contest.
9:35 p.m. The Jets extend their lead to 17-0 on a Brad Smith touchdown run that went for 32. Ochocinco and the Bengals are barely in the game and the Jets look good for a rematch with Cincy in Wild Card Week.
9:58 p.m. Ten more Jets points in the last seven minutes has killed this game which is awful news for Texans fans who needed New York to lose to keep their season alive for one more week. Mark Sanchez threw to Jerricho Cotchery for a touchdown and Jay Feely kicked a field goal as time expired after an interception.
11:22 p.m. The Jets make it official with a commanding 37-0 demolition of the Bengals—the same team they will face in the first round of the playoffs next week.
The Final Word
In the NFC, New Orleans (13-3) and Minnesota (12-4) receive first-round byes, with Dallas (11-5) claiming the No. 3 seed and Arizona (10-6) ranked fourth. Green Bay and Philadelphia are the Wild Card teams.
Green Bay will face Arizona in the playoffs while the Eagles will travel to Dallas for a Week 17 rematch.
In the AFC, Indianapolis (14-2) and San Diego (13-3) have an extra week free with Cincinnati (10-5) and New England (10-6) ranked third and fourth. The New York Jets (11-5) will join the Baltimore Ravens in the playoffs.
New England will host Baltimore on Sunday on CBS, while the Jets will travel to Cincinnati on Saturday on NBC.