Winning will bring division championship

Published 1:43 am Monday, December 26, 2011

NEW YORK (AP) — Win and you are in as a division champion.

That’s the easy scenario for the Broncos, Cowboys and the Giants next weekend. And while Baltimore already owns at least a wild-card spot, a victory for the Ravens earns them the AFC North and a first-round bye.

Denver is tied atop the AFC North with Oakland at 8-7, with the Broncos hosting Kansas City and the Raiders at home for San Diego next Sunday. Denver has the tiebreaker, but if it loses and Oakland wins, the Broncos can’t get a wild card.

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The Raiders can if both they and Denver win, as long as Cincinnati and Tennessee lose, or Cincinnati loses and the New York Jets win.

In first place in the NFC East are Dallas and the Giants, who meet at the Meadowlands. A win or a tie gives New York (8-7) the title; neither team can be a wild card.

The Ravens (11-4) swept the Steelers this year, so by winning at Cincinnati (9-6), they get the AFC North crown. Should Baltimore falter, Pittsburgh (11-4) gets the division title and the bye. Both teams already own at least a wild card.

Cincinnati grabs the other AFC wild card with a victory over Baltimore, or with a loss if either the Jets and Raiders both lose, or the Jets and Denver both lose.

AFC East champion New England (12-3) already has a bye, and with a win at home against Buffalo will earn home-field advantage in the conference playoffs. That advantage also would come to the Patriots if both Baltimore and Pittsburgh lose even if the Bills beat New England. However, the Ravens and Steelers both hold the edge over the Patriots for home-field advantage should they finish with the same record.

To get the wild card, the Jets (8-7) need to win at Miami while the Bengals, Titans and Raiders all lose, or the Bengals, Titans and Broncos all lose.

As for Tennessee (8-7), it needs to win at AFC South winner Houston and have one of the following three occur:

—losses by Cincinnati and Oakland, and a win by the Jets;

—losses by Cincinnati and Denver, and a win by the Jets;

—losses by Cincinnati and the Jets, and wins by Denver and Oakland.

In the NFC, New Orleans can clinch the South by beating Atlanta on Monday night, or with a victory on the final weekend over Carolina. The Falcons (9-5) are already assured of at least a wild card because of Chicago’s 35-21 loss to Green Bay on Sunday night that eliminated the Bears from playoff contention.

Should the Falcons win out and the Saints lose out, Atlanta wins the division and New Orleans becomes a wild card.

New Orleans still has hopes for a first-round bye, but must win out for a shot. Detroit claimed the other NFC wild card on Saturday.

NFC North champ Green Bay (14-1) wrapped up conference home-field advantage with its win Sunday night. NFC West winner San Francisco (12-3) gets a bye by beating St. Louis in the finale.