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Scoreboard watching

Posted by Christopher L. Gasper, Globe Staff  January 3, 2010 06:25 PM

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HOUSTON --  While the eyes of Texans fans and Patriots fans were on today's game at Reliant Stadium, which the Patriots lost 34-27, there are other games around the NFL that will have an impact on both teams and the playoff picture, which is now pretty much set, except for the final entry in the AFC.

Both the Patriots playoff seed (either No. 3 or No. 4) and opponent will be determined today. So, we'll keep an eye on the other games around the league for you.

Blame the Colts -- Well, it seems like the Patriots, who we already know are locked into hosting the Baltimore Ravens next weekend, are well on their way to the No. 3 seed and the Jets are on their way into the playoffs. New York leads Cincinnati (or the team masquerading as the Bengals) 27-0 at halftime. Bengals QB Carson Palmer is 1 for 11 of zero yards, that's right zero, and an interception. A Jets win knocks the Texans out of the playoffs and they'll have the Colts to blame. If the Colts hadn't surrendered during the second-half against the Jets last week and finished them off, then the Texans would be preparing for their first ever playoff berth and Patriots fans wouldn't have to deal with the Jets making the playoffs. Then again, maybe if the Colts hadn't pulled Peyton Manning and Co., they would have ended up with a Wes Welker situation.

Patriots to play the Ravens in the playoffs (7:21 p.m.) -- According to this story in the Baltimore Sun, regardless of what happens in the Bengal-Jets game tonight the Patriots will host the Ravens in the first-round of the AFC playoffs. If the Bengals win tonight they get the No. 3 seed, the Jets are out and the Texans get the final playoff spot. Because the Ravens have a 7-5 record in the AFC and the Texans finished 6-6 in the AFC the Ravens would be the No. 5 seed to match-up with the Patriots at No. 4.

If the Jets win and get the final playoff spot, then they're the No. 5 seed on the basis of the common opponent tiebreaker, which would elevate them above the Ravens, who would be the No. 6 seed. The Patriots would be the No. 3 seed with a Jets' win based on a strength of victory advantage over the Bengals, even though the teams have identical 10-6 records.

That sound you just heard is a sigh of relief from both the Patriots and the Bengals, knowing that the defending champions Pittsburgh Steelers are done for the season. Hell did get unleashed, as Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin promised, but it was a little too late to save the Steelers' season.

Ravens are in; Broncos are out (7:15 p.m.) -- The Ravens held on to down the Raiders, 21-13, and are in the playoffs. The Broncos? Not so much. No Brandon Marshall, No Tony Scheffler, no playoffs in the Mile High City. Kyle Orton, whose first interception of the season was made by Randy Moss, threw his third INT of the game, this one in the end zone to Brandon Flowers. The Broncos trailed 44-24 with 1:57 left and lost by that score. It is an ignominious ending to Josh McDaniels' first season as Broncos coach. After a 6-0 start, Denver self-destructed, going 2-8 the rest of the way to become the first team since the 2003 Minnesota Vikings (with a certain big-play wide receiver named Moss) to miss the playoffs after starting out 6-0.

Bronco Bustin' (Chiefs 44-24, fourth quarter, 4:48  -- Uh-oh. It doesn't look like it's a good day for coaches wearing hooded sweatshirts. Denver is in dire straits, their playoff hopes on life-support, after Jamaal Charles ripped off a 56-yard TD run. Charles has a Chiefs franchise-record 259 yards. That opens the door for the Texans.

Run, Willis, Run -- The Ravens are still up 21-13 at the 2-minute warning. On third and 4, they just got a huge 36-yard run from Willis McGahee, who has all three of their TDs. Things are looking pretty good for the Ravens. If they play the Patriots it would be a rematch of the game the Patriots won earlier this season in Foxborough, 27-21.

Ravens-Raiders (21-13, fourth quarter, 3:49) -- The Ravens just had a chance to all but seal their playoff berth, but placekicker Billy Cundiff missed a 51-yard field goal. Now, it's Raiders ball. A TD and a 2-point conversion and they can tie.

Broncos-Chiefs (37-24, fourth quarter, 9:57) -- Broncos quarterback Kyle Orton just threw his third touchdown pass of the day -- unfortunately it was his second one to KC linebacker Derrick Johnson. The linebacker is, you guessed it, a University of Texas grad. The ex-Longhorns are really trying to come through for the Texans. Denver, which started out 6-0, looks like it could be home for the playoffs. Somewhere Jay Cutler has to be smiling.

Ravens-Raiders (21-13, Ravens, fourth quarter, 9:42) -- Bad news for any team relying on a Ravens' loss -- your fate is partially in the hands of JaMarcus Russell. Russell just made another classic Russell mistake. He got strip-sacked at the Baltimore 25 to snuff out a scoring drive for the Oakland.

Broncos-Chiefs (Chiefs, 30-24, fourth quarter, 12:57) -- We're here in Texas and a former Longhorn is having a huge day for the Chiefs. Jamaal Charles has 23 carries for 197 yards and a score. His 30-yard run just helped set up a KC field goal to push their lead to six points. Broncos fans have to be sweating here.

Broncos-Chiefs (Chiefs, 27-24, third quarter, 0:12) -- Former Patriots quarterback Matt Cassel just did his best to help his old offensive coordinator, Josh McDaniels, out. Cassel just tossed an interception to another former Patriot-turned-Bronco Ty Law at the KC 40. Law returned it to the Chiefs' 3.  The Broncos just cashed in with a Brandon Stokley 3-yard TD to pull within 27-24. The Broncos need a win and just a Jets loss to get in now that Houston won today.

6:15 p.m. -- Here is an update from Pro Football Talk that says that at this point the Patriots' fate is in the hands of the J-E-T-S because the Buffalo Bills beat the Colts today, clinching the strength of victory tie-breaker for the Patriots if both New England and Cincinnati end up tied at 10-6.

If New York beats the Bengals, which would put the Jets in the playoffs, then the Patriots are the No. 3 seed. If the Bengals defeat the Jets to finish 11-5 to the Patriots 10-6 then the Patriots are the No. 4 seed.

Two possible opponents for the Patriots -- the Ravens, who are in with a win, and the Broncos, who need a win and then some help -- are playing right now and locked in close games in the second half.  Stay tuned.

Pittsburgh-Miami (Steelers win, 30-24) -- The Patriots fall-from-ahead 34-27 loss to the Texans has just made life a lot tougher for the Steelers, who are trying to run out the clock in South Florida and preserve any shot they have at the playoffs. Now, Pittsburgh needs to hold on and have the Ravens, Jets and Broncos all lose to get an invite to the Lombardi Trophy tournament. That is very unlikely. It was interesting that Patriots coach Bill Belichick elected to bring backup Brian Hoyer, who had not played a series in the second half, back into the game when the Patriots had the ball, down seven with 1:47 to go. Cue, the conspiracy theories in Western Pa.

Pittsburgh-Miami (Steelers, 27-24, fourth quarter, 3:14) -- Barn-burner in Miami like here in Houston. Tyler Thigpen threw a 34-yard touchdown pass to Davone Bess to bring the Dolphins within a field goal. Pittsburgh has the ball.

Pittsburgh-Miami (Steelers, 27-17, fourth quarter, 11:32 left) -- The Never Say Die Dolphins aren't going to let the Steelers in that easy. With Chad Henne out and Pat White ineffective injured on a big-time hit by Pittsburgh's Ike Taylor, Miami switched to former Kansas City QB Tyler Thigpen, another Scott Pioli cast-off, a la Texans safety Bernard Pollard. Thigpen marched Miami down the field in seven plays and hit Brian Hartline with a 16-yard TD pass to bring the Dolphins within 10. Stay tuned.

Pittsburgh-Miami (Steelers, 27-10, fourth quarter, 13:57 left) -- Jeff Reed connected on a 21-yard field goal to give the Steelers a 17 point-lead. With Pat White at quarterback that's going to be a tough deficit for the Dolphins to overcome.

Pittsburgh-Miami (Steelers, 24-10, third quarter) -- Things are not looking good for the Dolphins -- or any playoff team that was hoping there would be no shot they'd have to face Pittsburgh in the postseason. Ben Roethlisberger threw his third TD pass of the game, a 3-yarder to Heath Miller to extend Pittsburgh's lead. Plus, the Dolphins are now without Chad Henne, who left the game with an eye injury. Rookie QB Pat White (he of option fame against the Patriots at Foxborough earlier this season) is now at quarterback for Miami.

Pittsburgh-Miami (Steelers, 17-10, Halftime) -- The Steelers are up by seven on Miami at the half. Chad Henne is having a nice game for Miami. He is 16 of 20 for 140 yards and a touchdown with an interception. The interception didn't hurt the Dolphins. As on the very next play, Pittsburgh tried a double-pass with wideout Santonio Holmes lofting a pass deep to running back Rashard Mendenhall. It was intercepted by Miami. The Dolphins will not roll over in this one. They're like Temple men's basketball used to be under John Chaney, a real tough out.

Pittsburgh-Miami (Steelers, 17-10, 2nd) --
The Dolphins and Steelers have traded field goals and Pittsburgh, in a must-win situation, is holding a seven-point lead.

Pittsburgh-Miami (Steelers, 14-7, 1st) -- The Steelers came right back to retake the lead on a 50-yard touchdown reception by Mike Wallace, who had the spectacular game-winning grab against Green Bay two weeks ago to keep Pittsburgh in the playoff hunt. This is a team no one, I mean no one wants to see or play if they make the playoffs. The Patriots can actually help the Steelers by beating Houston. If the Steelers win then a Texans loss, plus a loss by Baltimore or the Jets puts Pittsburgh in the playoffs. Pittsburgh can also get in with a victory and losses by the Jets, Ravens and Broncos.

Pittsburgh-Miami (7-7, 1st) -- The Steelers marched down on the opening drive of the game and took a 7-0 lead on a 5-yard touchdown reception by Santonio Holmes. The Dolphins came right back on their first touch, tying the game on a 11-yard run by Lex Hilliard, which capped a 9-play, 66-yard drive. 
News, analysis and commentary from Boston.com's staff writers and contributors, including Zuri Berry and Erik Frenz.

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