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Final NFL Playoff Spots Decided in Thrilling Fashion - 2003-12-29

The National Football League playoffs begin next week, and the final berths were decided Sunday during the final regular season games.

In the American Football Conference, the New England Patriots finished with the best record in the league with 14 wins and two losses (winning Saturday, 31-0, over the Buffalo Bills). The AFC East champion Patriots get to rest next week and will enjoy home field advantage throughout the playoffs. The Kansas City Chiefs also get a bye after winning the AFC West division and a final regular season win against the Chicago Bears, 31-3.

The Baltimore Ravens won the AFC North division after the Cleveland Browns beat the Cincinnati Bengals, 22-14. The Indianapolis Colts wrapped up the AFC South with a 20-17 victory in Houston against the Texans. Baltimore will host the Tennessee Titans next week and Indianapolis hosts the wildcard Denver Broncos.

In the National Football Conference, a stunning touchdown by the Arizona Cardinals as time expired eliminated the Minnesota Vikings, 18-17, and gave the Green Bay Packers the NFC North division title. The Packers, who beat the Denver Broncos, 31-3, will host the wildcard Seattle Seahawks in the first round next week.

The Detroit Lions spoiled the Saint Louis Rams' playoff plans with a 30-20 victory sunday. That loss by the Rams gave the Philadelphia Eagles the top seed in the conference and home field advantage throughout the playoffs. But the Rams will still have a bye next week.

The Carolina Panthers, winners of the NFC South, will host the wildcard Dallas Cowboys. Dallas lost Sunday to the New Orleans Saints, 13-7.

Two records were set on the final Sunday of the regular season. Priest Holmes of the Kansas City Chiefs set the NFL record for touchdowns in a single season with 27. Holmes passed Emmitt Smith's record for touchdowns rushing and later erased the overall record of 26 touchdowns set by Marshall Faulk in 2000. Smith's record of 25 touchdowns rushing stood since 1995.

Placekicker Mike Vanderjagt set another record for consecutive field goals with 41 when his 43-yard kick went through the goalposts as time expired to give the Indianapolis Colts the AFC South championship.

In other NFL games Sunday:

Atlanta Falcons 21, Jacksonville Jaguars 14
Miami Dolphins 23, New York Jets 21
Tennessee Titans 33, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 13
San Diego Chargers 21, Oakland Raiders 14
Carolina Panthers 37, New York Giants 24