LOS ANGELES: The Buffalo Bills are headed back to the NFL playoffs for the first time since 1999 thanks to a 22-16 win over the Miami Dolphins in their regular-season finale on Sunday (Monday in Manila) — and a little help from the Cincinnati Bengals.
The Bengals stunned the Ravens in Baltimore, where a win would have sent the hosts into the post-season and eliminated the Bills.
The Ravens had rallied from a 24-10 third-quarter deficit and led 27-24 when Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton connected with Tyler Boyd for a touchdown on fourth down and 12 yards with 44 seconds remaining.
Prior to Sunday, the Bills had the longest active playoff drought in all four major US team sports.
They had done all they could with their win in Miami, despite a third-quarter ankle injury to six-time Pro Bowl running back LeSean McCoy.
The Dolphins threatened late with 13 straight points. Miami recovered an onside kick with 1:52 remaining, but Bills safety Jordan Poyer came up with an interception to seal the win, and when the Bengals produced their late-game heroics Buffalo had the sixth and final AFC playoff spot.
“I watched the end of the Bengals game next to (McCoy),” Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor said. “I can’t even think of the words to describe what our locker room was like.
“The best part is that this is just the beginning.”
Bills head coach Sean McDermott relished the “emotional moment.”
The Tennessee Titans had booked their AFC wild card in more straightforward fashion, holding on for a 15-10 victory over the AFC South champion Jacksonville Jaguars — who will host Buffalo next week.
Ryan Succop booted three field goals and quarterback Marcus Mariota found Derrick Henry with a 66-yard touchdown pass and the Titans defense delivered a strong performance to put Tennessee back in the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
The Titans booked a first-round clash in Kansas City, and also extinguished the hopes of the Los Angeles Chargers, whose 30-10 win over the Oakland Raiders proved insufficient.
As four teams scrambled for the last two AFC spots, the Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots locked up home field advantage as the top seed in the conference with a 26-6 victory over the New York Jets.
Superstar quarterback Tom Brady and the Pats, already assured of the AFC East division title and a first-round bye, secured the No. 1 seed for the second straight season and the seventh time overall.
New England’s victory over the lowly Jets, in frigid weather in Foxboro, Massachusetts, meant the Pittsburgh Steelers settled for the second seed in the AFC, despite a 28-24 victory over the hapless Cleveland Browns.
In another game played in arctic conditions, the Steelers rested quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and running back Le’Veon Bell.
Even so, the Browns claimed a dubious place in NFL history, joining the 2008 Detroit Lions as the only teams to finish an NFL season 0-16.
The Atlanta Falcons, stunned by the Patriots’ astonishing comeback in last season’s Super Bowl, kept their bid for redemption alive with a 22-10 victory over the Carolina Panthers.
The defeat meant the Panthers go into the post-season as a wild card team, with the New Orleans Saints grabbing the NFC South division title despite a 31-24 loss at Tampa Bay.
The Saints, who beat the Panthers twice during the season, will host their division rivals in the first round of the playoffs next Sunday, with the Los Angeles Rams hosting the Falcons in the other NFC wild card game.
The Minnesota Vikings will have a week off after securing a first round bye with a 23-10 victory over the Chicago Bears.