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.
“We don’t worry about it,” quarterback Matt Ryan said. “We try not to think that far ahead. One of the things I’ve learned in my five years is that if you’re worrying about what you’re going to do in January in September, October, November and December, you’re wasting your time.”
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.
“We’re very happy, I can tell you that,” Texans coach Gary Kubiak said of the franchise’s second playoff berth. “But I think they expected to get there, and they got there today. There’s a lot more to work on. We’ve got to continue to push our group.”
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.”
Also Sunday, it was Seattle 23, Chicago 17 in overtime; St. Louis 16, San Francisco 23 in OT; Pittsburgh 23, Baltimore 20; Green Bay 23, Minnesota 14; Cincinnati 20, San Diego 13; Dallas 38, Philadelphia 33; Buffalo 34, Jacksonville 18; the New York Jets 7, Arizona 6; and Cleveland 20, Oakland 17.
The New York Giants (7-4) are at Washington (5-6) in a key NFC East game Monday night.