The Pittsburgh Steelers overcame a slow start to progress to the next round of the play-offs by disposing of the Cincinnati Bengals 31-17, while the Carolina Panthers had few problems in beating the New York Giants 23-0, as the field in the race for the Super Bowl reduced to eight teams on Sunday night.
There was controversy in Cincinnati, however, as the Bengals' impressive quarterback, Carson Palmer, was forced out of the contest on the third play with a knee injury, following a nasty - though legal - hit by Pittsburgh's Kimo von Oelhoffen.
Palmer had just completed a 66-yard pass to Chris Henry, only to fall awkwardly under von Oelhoffen's onslaught. Like his team, Palmer now faces at least six months on the sidelines.
His replacement, Jon Kitna, led Cincinnati on three scoring drives, but the Steelers maintained their resolve and kept in contact with Ben Roethlisberger throwing two touchdown passes for a 17-14 half-time scoreline. Kitna then fell apart in the face of relentless Steelers pressure, and once the veteran running back Jerome Bettis put the visitors ahead, the result was not in doubt. The final act saw Roethlisberger connect with Cedric Wilson on a 43-yard trick play, destroying Cincinnati's resolve.
Pittsburgh will travel to Indianapolis next weekend, while New England's reward for beating Jacksonville on Saturday is a tough trip to Denver.
The Panthers restricted Giants running back Tiki Barber to a season-low 41 rushing yards and quarterback Eli Manning was intercepted three times and lost a fumble in a dire second half. "I made too many mistakes for us to win today," he admitted. Carolina's Steve Smith caught one touchdown pass and ran in for another, as the Giants became the first home play-off team to fail to score since 1980.
Next stop for the Panthers is a visit to Chicago, while Washington will follow up Saturday's success in Tampa Bay with a daunting trip to Seattle.
* New York Jets head coach Herman Edwards was last night named as Dick Vermeil's replacement at Kansas City Chiefs.
NFL Wildcard play-offs: American Conference: Cincinnati 17 Pittsburgh 31 ; New England 28 Jacksonville 3. National Conference: Carolina 23 NY Giants 0; Tampa Bay 10 Washington 17. Divisional Play-offs schedule: Sat 14 Jan: Seattle v Washington; Denver v New England. Sun 15 Jan: Indianapolis v Pittsburgh; Chicago v Carolina.Reuse content