STORY OF THE WEEK
While the AFC division titles are all close to being wrapped up, the race for the conference’s two wild-card berths looks like a doozy. Miami and Denver lost Sunday, but Tennessee and Pittsburgh - which beat Green Bay on a last-second touchdown - hung on to join the Dolphins, Texans, Jaguars and Jets at 7-7, a game back of the Broncos and Baltimore.
If the Ravens - who lost cornerback Lardarius Webb to a knee injury while routing Chicago - repeat their Nov. 29 victory this week at Pittsburgh, they’ll solidify their hold on a wild-card spot and eliminate the defending champs. The Texans-Dolphins loser also would be out, and the Jets and Jaguars would be in deep trouble with losses to the undefeated Colts and the Patriots, respectively.
Denver, which was shocked by Oakland on Sunday, is probably playoff-bound but faces a tough test at NFC East leader Philadelphia before winding up at home against the Chiefs. The Titans, who have won seven of eight but lost top tackler Keith Bulluck to a sprained knee while edging the Dolphins in overtime, also have a big challenge against the Chargers. San Diego has won nine in a row and is on the verge a first-round bye.
TEAM OF THE WEEK
Until Sunday, the Browns had little to celebrate during a dismal season. But Jerome Harrison, filling in for the retiring Jamal Lewis, broke the immortal Jim Brown’s franchise record by rushing for 286 yards (third most in NFL history) to lead Cleveland past Kansas City 41-34. Harrison also ran for three touchdowns, including the 28-yard game-winner with 44 seconds left. The Browns’ two other touchdowns came on kickoff returns of 100 and 103 yards by Josh Cribbs, who broke the NFL record by recording his eighth such score. Cribbs’ two scores also equaled the single-game record for return touchdowns.
FIVE TRENDS FROM WEEK 15
UP: The Cowboys dominated the Saints from the start in pulling the 24-17 upset that kept them a game behind the Eagles in the NFC East. Dallas can clinch the division by winning its final two games.
DOWN: The previously perfect Saints had been playing with fire this month - coming from behind to beat Washington and Atlanta - but that downturn finally caught up with them against a tough Dallas team. New Orleans trailed 24-3 in the fourth quarter as the Cowboys ravaged the Saints’ increasingly vulnerable defense for 439 yards.
UP: It won’t change the facts of a lost season in Carolina, and it might not even save coach John Fox’s job. However, the Panthers (6-8) have to be feeling great after outscoring NFC North champion Minnesota 20-0 in the fourth quarter to win 26-7 as the unknown Matt Moore outplayed legendary passer Brett Favre.
DOWN: Playing a team that had been eliminated from the playoffs the previous night, the powerful Vikings were the ones going through the motions at Carolina on Sunday. Minnesota allowed four sacks and had its 36-game streak of not allowing a 100-yard rusher broken by Jonathan Stewart. The Vikings need to get back in gear before the postseason begins.
UP: Arizona won two consecutive division titles for the first time in 34 years, and it wasn’t easy. The Cardinals blew a 17-0 halftime lead before holding off downtrodden Detroit 31-24. Lions safety Louis Delmas became the first rookie with an interception, safety and touchdowns off an interception and fumble recovery.
NEXT MAN UP
List of big injuries from Week 15: