The Associated Press
If NFL executives really adore parity, they must be wincing at the early division clinchings by the Broncos, Patriots and Falcons.
Not to mention the Texans securing at least a wild-card berth, with nearly all of December still remaining.
Sure, there could still be some close races, particularly in the NFC North and for the wild cards. But after Sunday’s action, four teams already can make plans to play in January.
The Broncos (9-3) won their seventh straight, 31-23 over Tampa Bay, to take the AFC West.
“It’s one step,” veteran cornerback Champ Bailey said. “It’s not like we’ve done everything we want to do.”
New England (9-3) won its fourth AFC East crown in a row and the 10th for Tom Brady, a record for a quarterback, when it downed Miami, 23-16.
“It means something,” star receiver Wes Welker said after the Patriots’ sixth win in a row. “I guess you get kind of spoiled at times. It’s kind of just another hat and T-shirt, but they are not easy to come by. You just go out there and try to play well and do the things we do. I think you do get spoiled a little bit with the things we do, but I’ll take them as they come.”
Atlanta (11-1) defeated New Orleans 23-13 on Thursday night, and when the Buccaneers fell at Denver, the Falcons owned the NFC South.
Houston (11-1) didn’t waste any time in its trip to Nashville, winning 24-10 to grab a wild-card slot. The Texans haven’t secured the AFC South yet because they still have two games remaining with runner-up Indianapolis (8-4), which shocked Detroit 35-33 on the final play of their game.
Elsewhere, it was Kansas City beating Carolina 27-21 one day after Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher shot and killed his girlfriend and then took his own life.
“It’s been an incredibly difficult 24 hours for our family and our entire organization,” Chiefs owner Clark Hunt said. “We have so many guys on our team and our coaching staff who are really, really hurting.”
• Andrew Luck, Colts, was 24 for 54 for 391 yards and four touchdown passes and three interceptions in Indianapolis’ 35-33 win over Detroit. Luck has 3,596 yards passing, the most by a rookie in his first 12 games. Luck’s total already ranks third in NFL history for the most by a rookie in a single season, trailing Cam Newton (4,051) and Peyton Manning (3,739).
• Russell Wilson, Seahawks, was 23 for 37 for 293 yards and two touchdowns in Seattle’s 23-17 overtime win over Chicago. Wilson has thrown a game-winning touchdown pass in the final two minutes of regulation or overtime three times. That is the most by a rookie since at least the 1970 merger.
• Aaron Rodgers, Packers, was 27 for 35 for 286 yards with a touchdown and an interception in Green Bay’s 23-14 win over Minnesota.
• Brandon Weeden, Browns, was 25 for 36 for a career-high 364 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions in Cleveland’s 20-17 win over Oakland.
• Adrian Peterson, Vikings, had 21 carries for 210 yards and a career-long 82-yard touchdown in Minnesota’s 23-14 loss to Green Bay.
• Jamaal Charles, Chiefs, had 27 carries for 127 yards in Kansas City’s 27-21 win over Carolina.
• BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Bengals, had 25 carries for 118 yards in Cincinnati’s 20-13 win over San Diego.
• Calvin Johnson, Lions, had 13 catches for 171 yards and a touchdown in Detroit’s 35-33 loss to Indianapolis. Johnson is the first player in NFL history with four consecutive games of at least 140 yards receiving in a season. He had at least 125 yards receiving for the fifth straight game, matching an NFL record set in 1966 by Pat Studstill with the Lions.
• Wes Welker, Patriots, had 12 catches for 103 yards and a touchdown in New England’s 23-16 win over Miami. It was the 17th game in Welker’s career in which he had at least 10 catches, tied with Hall of Famer Jerry Rice for the most in NFL history.
• Brandon Myers, Raiders, had 14 receptions for 130 yards and a touchdown in Oakland’s 20-17 loss to Cleveland. He tied Tim Brown’s franchise record for catches in a game.
• Jason Hanson, Lions, was 4 for 4 on field goals in Detroit’s 35-33 loss to Indianapolis.
• Greg Zuerlein, Rams, made a 53-yard field goal at the end of the regulation and a 54-yarder in overtime in St. Louis’ 16-13 win over the 49ers.
Tom Brady of the Patriots is the first starting quarterback in NFL history to win 10 division titles. The Patriots have won six consecutive games and are assured of their 12th winning season in a row. … Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning tied Hall of Famer Joe Montana for the second-most division titles in NFL history with nine. … The Broncos won their seventh straight game.
Indy’s Andrew Luck and Seattle’s Russell Wilson became the first pair of rookie quarterbacks in NFL history to throw a game-winning touchdown pass in the final minute of regulation or overtime on the same day. … Vikings running back Adrian Peterson is one of only seven players in NFL history to reach 8,000 yards rushing in 85 games or fewer. He joins Eric Dickerson (73), Jim Brown (80), Earl Campbell (83), Barry Sanders (83), Edgerrin James (84) and Emmitt Smith (85). … The attendance of 43,641 was the lowest at Oakland since the Raiders drew 32,218 on Oct. 3, 2010.
MOVE OVER TROY
Tony Romo set a Dallas Cowboys record with his 166th touchdown pass, breaking a tie with Hall of Famer and three-time Super Bowl champion Troy Aikman. Romo’s record-breaking pass was a 23-yard touchdown to Dez Bryant in the third quarter of Sunday night’s game against Philadelphia. It came in Romo’s 89th career start.
“I can’t say there are many Seattle fans in the locker room, but we appreciate the help.” — Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers on the Seahawks’ overtime win over Chicago that gave the Packers (8-4) a share of the division lead with the Bears.