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Schmuck: Patriots prove that there really are no sure things in the NFL, and other Week 17 storylines

The NFL prides itself on the notion that any team can beat any other team on any given Sunday, but seldom has the concept been so thoroughly endorsed than it was on Sunday afternoon at Gillette Stadium.

The New England Patriots were all set to enjoy two weeks off with the No. 2 seed in the AFC playoff draw. All they had to do was beat the lowly Miami Dolphins on a chilly day in Foxborough with all but a couple of hands on deck.

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You remember the Dolphins. They were the preseason train wreck that the Ravens dropped 59 points on in the regular-season opener. They were the team that was supposed to end up with next year’s top draft choice, and — with Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow looking like a can’t miss No 1 pick — they might live to regret that they weren’t really that bad.

Maybe if they were still in play for the worst record, the Patriots might still be getting a weekend off, but the frightful fish came to play and the Patriots apparently took them for granted. The Dolphins led for much of the game, fell behind late in the fourth quarter and then staged a dramatic closing drive to knock the Pats right into the wild-card round with a 27-24 victory.

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The Kansas City Chiefs jumped over the Patriots and will get the second bye, but their home game against the Los Angeles Chargers was no gimme either. The Chargers held the lead twice and it was a three-point game in the fourth quarter before the Chiefs locked it down with a touchdown in the final minutes.

Finally, some AFC wild-card clarity

The final wild-card slot in the AFC was an open question for much of the day, since the teams with a chance to grab it were all scheduled during the late afternoon segment of the schedule. There was even a longshot scenario that could have pulled the 7-8 Oakland Raiders into the postseason, which would have been quite a way for the team to bid farewell to its Oakland fan base.

The most likely scenario played out and there wasn’t really a lot of suspense. The Tennessee Titans needed only to win to get in. The Steelers needed to beat the Ravens and hope for a Titans loss, but the Ravens took hold of the game early on and the Titans took care of business against a Houston Texans team that was content to rest key players and get ready for next week.

Cowboys finally show up, but Eagles hold serve

The Dallas Cowboys needed to win to keep hope alive for the NFC East title, and they took out a season of frustration with a lopsided 47-16 victory over the Redskins.

If only the Philadelphia Eagles had cooperated, maybe Jerry Jones would have been able to convince everybody that he doesn’t need to make big changes over the offseason. But alas, the Eagles shook off a so-so start and ruined Eli Manning’s likely sendoff at MetLife Stadium.

Their 34-17 victory locked up the division title and No. 4 seed.

Top NFC seeds remained unsettled all day

The Patriots and Chiefs provided the only real AFC postseason intrigue during the early afternoon portion of the Week 17 schedule, but there were a couple of meaningful NFC games, one of which nearly ended in an upset that would have been almost as stunning as the Patriot loss.

The Green Bay Packers, who entered the day hoping to prevail in a byzantine battle with the Saints, 49ers and Seahawks for the two playoff seeds in the NFC, were supposed to walk over the woeful Detroit Lions.

For most of the game it appeared the Pack was going to stumble over them instead, but Aaron Rodgers brought his team back with a couple of 20-plus touchdown passes to push the game into overtime and the Packers won the game on a 33-yard sudden-death field goal by Mason Crosby.

Meanwhile, the only other top-seed candidate to play in the early afternoon was the New Orleans Saints, who were heavily favored to make short work of the Carolina Panthers and did just that. Drew Brees added three more touchdown passes to his all-time NFL career record in a 42-10 victory in Nashville.

NFC after hours

The complete seeding for the NFC side of the playoff bracket wasn’t in place until nearly midnight Sunday, when the San Francisco 49ers stopped a last-gasp drive by Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks to lock up the NFC West title and claim the No. 1 seed, a bye next week and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

The 49ers rushed out to a 13-point lead and the Seahawks did not score until the second half, but Wilson drove them to two fourth-quarter touchdowns and had his team on the doorstep in the final minute before tight end Jacob Hollister was stopped on fourth down just inches from the goal line.

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The Seahawks, who infamously squandered a chance to win the 2015 Super Bowl at the goal line against the New England Patriots, made another huge mistake that probably cost them this game. Wilson completed a fourth-down pass to the 1-yard line four plays earlier, but lost track of the play clock and was called for delay of game, pushing the Seahawks back to the 6 and taking short-yardage back Marshawn Lynch out of the equation.

So, the Packers ended up with the No. 2 seed. The Seahawks fell into the first wild-card slot and have to travel to Philadelphia to face the Eagles next week. The Minnesota Vikings will travel to New Orleans to face the Saints.

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