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Here comes that word in the NFL again: CLINCH

December 12, 2014

As the NFL regular season winds down, there’s a word most coaches and players try to avoid uttering, yet always are aware of.

Clinch.

The New England Patriots, Denver Broncos, and Indianapolis Colts are on the verge of clinching their divisions, while the Green Bay Packers and Arizona Cardinals can reach out and grab playoff berths this week.

“Coach (Bill Belichick) hasn’t mentioned that. Normally he has,” Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said this week. “You’re playing for a division championship, so it’s a very important game. We’ve worked really hard to get to this point.”

The Miami Dolphins rallied in the heat to beat the Patriots in the season opener, but it won’t be hot in Foxborough on Sunday, when New England will be a hefty favorite to grab its 12th division crown in 14 years.

By winning out, the Patriots also will have home-field advantage for the AFC playoffs.

Miami has little wiggle room in its quest for a playoff spot, but has won two straight against New England.

“It just shows that we can compete with the team,” cornerback Brent Grimes said. “We can give any team a hard time, just pressuring the quarterback and things like that, covering guys.”

The Broncos go to San Diego having won the past three in their series and seven of eight overall. Continuing that trend would give the Broncos their fourth straight AFC West crown.

“It’s a lot on the line,” Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning said. “It’s tough playing there. Every time we’ve played this team, it seems like it’s been settled by a couple of points here or there.”

The Chargers are in control of their destiny, but will need to win two of their final three to have a realistic shot at the playoffs. With regular punter Mike Scifres out, the Chargers signed 35-year-old Australian-born Mat McBriar.

The Houston Texans never have won at Indianapolis in 12 trips, and are 4-21 overall against the Colts. Indeed, Houston’s only defeat in the AFC South this year is to the Colts.

Perhaps their best chance to win is to force some turnovers, something Colts passer Andrew Luck and Indianapolis have struggled with recently. The Texans lead the NFL with 29 takeaways.

The Colts have won 11 in a row within the division and could celebrate receiver Reggie Wayne becoming their franchise record holder for games played and wins, breaking ties with Manning (208 games, 141 wins).

Green Bay, with a win at Buffalo and a combination of losses elsewhere, will secure a postseason spot. But Green Bay has never won at Orchard Park.

On the other hand, the Packers have won five straight games, and nine of 10 overall against everyone.

The Bills almost certainly must win out for any chance at avoiding extending the NFL’s longest current playoff drought to 15 seasons. They do lead the league with 48 sacks.

Week 15 began on Thursday with Arizona remaining the NFC’s top seed in a field goal battle, defeating the St. Louis Rams 12-6. But the injury-ravaged Cardinals lost their second quarterback, Drew Stanton, to a new injury.

Arizona will clinch a playoff spot if Sunday’s Dallas-Philadelphia game doesn’t end in a tie, or with a Detroit loss combined with a Green Bay victory.

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