American Football: Colts canter first into play-offs after cutting Titans down to size

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The Indianapolis Colts have become the first side to clinch a place in next month's play-offs, following a 35-3 thrashing of Tennessee Titans on Sunday night. More significantly, the result means that the Colts remain on course to emulate the 1972 Miami Dolphins, who are the only team in history to have registered a perfect season.

Indianapolis have won 12 in a row, and with only four contests remaining in the regular season, the odds about the Colts repeating the Dolphins' feat are narrowing by the week.

Elsewhere, the race to claim an invitation to the post-season party has begun to intensify. The Carolina Panthers enhanced their prospects at the expense of the Atlanta Falcons, with the running back DeShaun Foster making a key contribution in their 24-6 win.

After 15 years in the wilderness, the Cincinnati Bengals are on the threshold of the play-offs after a 38-31 triumph against their deadly rivals, the Pittsburgh Steelers. The quarterback, Carson Palmer, threw three first-half touchdowns, while the running back Rudi Johnson added two further scores in the second half.

The New York Giants can also see the winning post following their 17-10 victory over their closest rivals, the Dallas Cowboys. Like Atlanta and Pittsburgh, the Cowboys' loss means they are now in considerable trouble, although the Dallas head coach, Bill Parcells, is refusing to panic.

"If you look at this like it's a disaster, then that's what it will turn out to be," he said. "If we look at it like we can bounce back, then that's probably what will happen."

The Seattle Seahawks qualified without even playing as their nearest challengers, St Louis Rams, lost to the Washington Redskins, while the Kansas City Chiefs and San Diego Chargers remained firmly in contention, beating the Denver Broncos and Oakland Raiders respectively.