American football: AFC trio look to be making up the numbers

Three AFC teams clinched their places in the play-offs but none of them did it in such a way on Sunday to suggest they will be around for very long.

Least impressive were the Indianapolis Colts, who qualified for the post- season despite being beaten 31-24 by Cincinnati. Jeff Blake found Tony McGee for the winning touchdown in the fourth quarter but Kansas City's loss to Buffalo meant the defeat was immaterial: the Colts travel to Pittsburgh on Sunday but will do so as heavy underdogs.

Bills were not much better. In what was virtually a play-off game with the Chiefs - the winners would be definitely through, the losers probably out - both sides paraded the full range of their attacking limitations. It was close, if jaw-droppingly dull, for three quarters before Jim Kelly threw for a couple of scores and the Bills won 20-9.

The Chiefs did not help their cause with a game plan that was not so much conservative as neo-Nazi. Marty Schottenheimer, their head coach, has lost all confidence in quarterback Steve Bono, and until his side were behind he had virtually ruled out the penetrating pass as an offensive option. No wonder they were unable to find the end zone.

The Bills now play host to the Jacksonville Jaguars, whose 19-17 defeat of the Atlanta Falcons was, if anything, even less convincing. The Jags, in their second season in the league, dominated much of the game but allowed the hapless Falcons to rally in the fourth quarter. They would have lost had the Falcons' Morten Andersen, the league's best kicker, converted a 30-yard field goal with four seconds left.

Even a Falcons victory was unlikely to have saved the job of their head coach, June Jones, who, with Dan Reeves of the New York Giants, yesterday became the latest victims of the unfestive tradition of head coach culling. The two Riches, Kotite of the Jets and Brooks of St Louis, were first to go at the weekend and it will be a surprise if Detroit's Wayne Fontes, Oakland's Mike White and New Orleans' Rick Venturi (who was only a temporary appointment) make it to the new year.

Indeed, there is every indication that it could be a bumper crop for there is also talk of a change at Kansas City despite Schottenheimer's extraordinary record of success, while Minnesota and Dallas may be considering their options once their interest in the play-offs is over.

Meanwhile, the prize for least-seasonal greeting goes to Chicago's Alonzo Spellman after his side's 34-19 loss at Tampa Bay. "That team's awful," he said of the victors. "Terrible, they know it and we know it. Today was a fluke. Fluke. Can you spell that?"

NFL PLAY-OFFS: AFC Jacksonville at Buffalo (Saturday); Indianapolis at Pittsburgh (Sunday). NFC Minnesota at Dallas (Saturday); Philadelphia at San Francisco (Sunday).

Packed up: Brad Johnson, Minnesota's quarterback, is sacked by Green Bay's Sean Jones on Sunday Photograph: AP

NFL STANDINGS

AMERICAN FOOTBALL CONFERENCE

EASTERN DIVISION

W L T PF PA

*New England 11 5 0 418 313

*Buffalo 10 6 0 319 266

Indianapolis 9 7 0 317 334

Miami 8 8 0 339 325

NY Jets 1 15 0 279 454

CENTRAL DIVISION

W L T PF PA

Pittsburgh 10 6 0 344 257

*Jacksonville 9 7 0 325 335

Cincinnati 8 8 0 372 369

Houston 8 8 0 345 319

Baltimore 4 12 0 371 441

WESTERN DIVISION

W L T PF PA

Denver 13 3 0 391 275

Kansas City 9 7 0 297 300

San Diego 8 8 0 310 376

Oakland 7 9 0 340 293

Seattle 7 9 0 317 376

* through to play-offs; won divisional title

NATIONAL FOOTBALL CONFERENCE

EASTERN DIVISION

W L T PF PA

Dallas 10 6 0 286 250

*Philadephia 10 6 0 363 341

Washington 9 7 0 364 312

Arizona 7 9 0 300 397

NY Giants 6 10 0 242 297

CENTRAL DIVISION

W L T PF PA

Green Bay 13 3 0 456 210

*Minnesota 9 7 0 298 315

Chicago 7 9 0 283 305

Tampa Bay 6 10 0 221 293

Detroit 5 10 0 288 344

WESTERN DIVISION

W L T PF PA

Carolina 12 4 0 367 218

*San Francisco 11 4 0 374 243

St Louis 6 10 0 303 409

Atlanta 3 13 0 309 461

New Orleans 3 13 0 229 339

won Conference title

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