- Associated Press - Sunday, January 1, 2012

Sparked by Victor Cruz, New York’s newest football star, the Giants won the NFC East title Sunday night by beating the Dallas Cowboys in their showdown in the final game of the regular season.

Cruz sped 76 yards for one touchdown and, when Dallas got within seven points, made a leaping 44-yard catch on third down to set up a clinching field goal in a 31-14 victory. New York (9-7) also sacked Tony Romo six times to sweep the season series with the Cowboys (8-8).

The Giants won three of their last four games after a four-game slide dropped them to 6-6. Cruz was a big factor in each win, had a 99-yard catch-and-run score last week against the Jets, and made six receptions for 178 yards against the porous Dallas defense.

New York, which last won the division in 2008, will host Atlanta (10-6) next Sunday at 1 p.m. EST.

Even without any Tim Tebow heroics, the Denver Broncos won the AFC West.

They did it despite falling 7-3 to the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday because San Diego knocked off Oakland 38-26. The Broncos and Raiders tied for the division lead at 8-8, but Denver won on the tiebreaker, better results in common games.

Baltimore (12-4) took the AFC North and a first-round bye as a No. 2 seed when it outlasted Cincinnati 24-16. Even though the Bengals lost, their 9-7 record earned them a wild card in a head-to-head tiebreaker over Tennessee, the only other team with that record in the AFC. The Bengals beat the Titans 24-17 in November.

Pittsburgh (12-4) is the other wild card, but lost both games to the Ravens this year to finish second in the division. The Steelers, who beat Cleveland 13-9, will be at Denver next Sunday at 4:30 p.m. EST.

Cincinnati visits Houston (10-6) at 4:30 p.m. EST Saturday.

“It’s kind of weird,” Bengals rookie quarterback Andy Dalton said. “Obviously, we didn’t get it done today, but we still have a chance.”

Tebow’s late-game magic helped Denver turn around its season, from 2-5 to the top of a weak division. He struggled mightily as the Broncos lost their last three games, but they are playoff-bound for the first time since 2005.

“It’s obviously a little bittersweet right now,” Tebow said. “We obviously would have loved to have won that game to have a little momentum going into the playoffs. But I think it’s still a special thing what we accomplished _ to come back and win the AFC West is very special.”

They did it at the expense of the archrival Raiders.

“It’s obviously frustrating when you hear the other outcomes of other games and know what was there to be had just makes it that much worse, that much more difficult,” Oakland quarterback Carson Palmer said.

By winning every game in the second half of the season, the Patriots own home-field advantage in the AFC playoffs. By losing their last three games, the New York Jets won’t be going to a third straight conference title game.

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