The Panthers stayed perfect thanks to Can Newton, and three more playoff spots were claimed on Sunday. Here’s what we learned in Week 15 of the 2015 NFL season:

Cam Newton Probably Clinched The NFL MVP Award

Carolina Panthers v New York Giants
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Cam Newton threw for five touchdowns; ran for 100 yards and led a final drive that set up Graham Gano’s game-winning 43-yard field goal as time expired, and the Carolina Panthers remained undefeated with a 38-35 win over the New York Giants in New Jersey on Sunday.

Carolina (14-0) built a 35-7 lead in the third quarter before New York (6-8) reeled off the game’s next 28 points, including Odell Beckham Jr.’s 14-yard TD reception with 1:46 to play that tied the score. Beckham and Panthers’ cornerback Josh Norman sparred fiercely all day, with Beckham all but shut down until the fourth quarter.

The victory all but assured Newton of the 2015 NFL MVP award. Elias Sports Bureau reported that he became the first player in NFL history with five passing touchdowns and 100 rushing yards in a single game. Only Atlanta and Tampa Bay stand in the way of the Panthers’ completing the NFL’s second 16-0 regular season.

The Giants dropped a game behind Washington in the NFC East race with just two weeks left in the 2015 season.

The Packers, Bengals & Seahawks Clinched Playoff Spots

Green Bay Packers v Oakland Raiders
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Three teams — the Packers, Bengals and Seahawks — each clinched a playoff spot on Sunday. While none of those teams have secured their respective division title, each guaranteed itself a return to the NFL’s postseason.

Having already locked up a playoff berth after the Giants and Buccaneers lost earlier in Week 15, Green Bay (10-4) outlasted the Raiders, 30-20, on Sunday. The Packers rallied from a 20-17 second-half deficit to knock Oakland (6-8) out of playoff contention for the 13th consecutive season.

Raiders wide receiver Amari Cooper became the first rookie in team history to break the 1,000-yard plateau with his 120-yard day that included two touchdowns. Oakland’s Derek Carr threw two costly interceptions in the first quarter, including one that was returned 43 yards for a score by Damarious Randall.

Jeremy Hill ran for two touchdowns and the Bengals rolled over the 49ers, 24-14, on Sunday. Cincinnati (11-3) clinched a playoff spot for the fifth straight year, albeit under the direction of backup quarterback AJ McCarron. San Francisco (4-10) had four turnovers and a field goal blocked in the loss.

Russell Wilson threw for 249 yards and three touchdowns, including two to Doug Baldwin, and the Seahawks beat the Browns, 30-13, on Sunday. Seattle (9-5) clinched a playoff spot for the fourth consecutive season. Cleveland (3-11) drew closer to the No. 1 pick in the 2016 NFL Draft.

With the Panthers, Cardinals and Patriots having already clinched postseason spots before Week 15, half of the NFL’s 12 playoff berths have now been claimed.

The Steelers Are Surging

Denver Broncos v Pittsburgh Steelers
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Ben Roethlisberger threw for 380 yards and three touchdowns, and the Steelers rallied from a 17-point deficit to beat the Broncos, 34-27, on Sunday. With the victory, Pittsburgh (9-5) moved past the Jets in the AFC wild card race.

Denver (10-4) led the Steelers 27-10 at halftime, but the NFL’s best defense couldn’t contain Big Ben’s aerial attack in the second half. Antonio Brown caught 16 passes for 189 yards and two scores, including the go-ahead touchdown with 3:34 to play. Pittsburgh has won three games in a row and five of six.

Broncos quarterback Brock Osweiler threw for 296 yards and three touchdowns, but he couldn’t rally his team after the Steelers knotted the score at 27 in the fourth quarter.

Pittsburgh and Denver each remained in contention for their respective division titles.

The Redskins Control The NFC East

Buffalo Bills v Washington Redskins
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Kirk Cousins threw four touchdown passes and ran for another score, and the Washington Redskins beat the Buffalo Bills, 35-25, on Sunday. As a result of the win — and losses by the Giants and Eagles — Washington (7-7) seized sole possession of first place in the NFC East.

Buffalo (6-8) was eliminated from postseason contention for the 16th consecutive year. The Bills fell behind by three touchdowns before halftime and never made it a close game in the second half.

On Sunday night, David Johnson ran for 187 yards and three touchdowns and the Cardinals routed the Eagles, 40-17. The victory gave Arizona (12-2) its first NFC West title since 2009.

After tying the game at 10 in the second quarter, Philadelphia (6-8) allowed the Cardinals to score 27 consecutive points, including Deone Bucannon’s 39-yard interception return for a touchdown that sent Philly fans toward the exits. The Eagles fell a game behind Washington in the NFC East race with the loss.

Elsewhere in the NFC East, the Jets 19-16 win over the Cowboys on Saturday night kept New York in the AFC wild card chase and eliminated Dallas from postseason play. Randy Bullock’s 40-yard field goal with 36 seconds left to play gave the Jets the win, though the four interceptions by Cowboys quarterbacks — one by Matt Cassel and three by Kellen Moore — helped, too.

New York (9-5) remained in the AFC wild card chase, but fell behind Pittsburgh after the Steelers beat Denver on Sunday afternoon. Dallas (4-10) will likely have a top 10 draft pick next May.

The Chiefs Are The Hottest Team In The AFC

Kansas City Chiefs v Baltimore Ravens
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Kansas City returned both a fumble and an interception for a touchdown and the Chiefs beat the Ravens, 34-14, in Baltimore on Sunday for their eighth consecutive win.

Once mired at the bottom of the conference at 1-5, Kansas City (9-5) has rebounded into an AFC wild card position. They still have a chance to win the AFC West, pending the play of Denver (10-4).

The Ravens only highlight was a “Hail Mary” touchdown pass from Jimmy Clausen to Kamar Aiken at the end of the first half. Clausen completed 26 of 45 passes for 281 yards, two scores and two interceptions — including one that was returned 90 yards for a score by Marcus Peters to seal the win for KC.

Baltimore (4-10) lost its third consecutive game and is entirely out of playoff contention.

Of Course, Brandon Weeden Led The Texans To A Key Win

Houston Texans v Indianapolis Colts
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Well-traveled reserve quarterback Brandon Weeden stepped in for T.J. Yates, who was playing for injured starter Brian Hoyer, and the Houston Texans edged the Indianapolis Colts, 16-10, on Sunday. Houston (7-7) took over sole possession of the AFC South lead as a result of the win.

Weeden entered the game after Yates left late in the first half with a left knee injury. A former Browns and Cowboys cast-off, Weeden led the Texans to all 16 of their points, including Nick Novak’s field goal with 1:56 left.

Indianapolis (7-7) lost to Houston at home for the first time in 13 games. Colts quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, who continues to spell injured starter Andrew Luck, threw for just 147 yards, with one touchdown and one interception.

Other Scores

Thursday, December 17
St. Louis 31, Tampa Bay 23

Sunday, December 20
Minnesota 38, Chicago 17
Atlanta 23, Jacksonville 17
New England 33, Tennessee 16
San Diego 30, Miami 14

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