AFC playoff race tightens with Texan, Bronco victories


AFC playoff race tightens with Texan, Bronco victories

The Patriots didn't get much help in other games on Sunday, leaving them needing to win Sunday night against the 49ers in order to hold onto the No. 2 seed -- which carries with it a first-round bye -- in the AFC playoff hunt.

IN BALTIMORE, the Broncos pretty much ended the Ravens' hopes of gaining a bye in the first round -- but certainly enhanced their own -- with a convincing 34-17 victory. It was Denver's ninth straight win and increased the Broncos' record to 11-3. They are temporarily one-half game ahead of the Patriots, who enter Sunday night's game at 10-3. But if the Pats win, they regain the No. 2 position by virtue of their head-to-head win over Denver earlier this year.

The injury-ravaged Ravens, meanwhile, fall to 9-5. It's mathematically possible for there to be a three-way tie, at 11-5, for the No. 2 seed between Baltimore, Denver and New England, but that might go to the fifth or sixth tiebreaker to determine who gets second seed. And since that involves strength of victory or strength of schedule, it may be impossible to determine who'd be number two in that scenario as of this moment.

We think.

IN HOUSTON, the Texans clinched the AFC South title by beating the mistake-prone Colts, 29-17. They also maintained their hold on the No. 1 seed in the conference by increasing their record to 12-2. If the Patriots win out, however, Houston will also have to win out to stay at No. 1; the Pats have the head-to-head edge on the Texans, as well.

If it ends up with a three-way tie between Houston, New England and Denver for the No. 1 seed, the Pats would win the tiebreaker.

Brown (hip) and Johnson (shoulder) will play in Game 5

Brown (hip) and Johnson (shoulder) will play in Game 5

BOSTON – The Boston Celtics are far from being healthy heading into tonight’s must-win Game 5, but they will have all of their players available with the exception of Isaiah Thomas (hip).

Celtics rookie Jaylen Brown (right hip) was questionable heading into tonight’s game, but he told earlier that he was planning to give it a go tonight.

Boston head coach Brad Stevens confirmed later on that the 6-foot-7 rookie would in fact play tonight.

His presence tonight is one of the many keys to Boston’s efforts to keep their season alive.

They trail Cleveland 3-1 in the best-of-seven series, with a loss tonight ending their season and with that, sending the Cavaliers to the NBA Finals for the third straight season.

Boston’s Amir Johnson (right shoulder) did not play in Game 4, but will be in uniform and available to play tonight. Stevens said the 6-foot-9 veteran was healthy enough to play in Game 4 but Stevens elected to keep him out of the game because he wanted Johnson to have more than one day to rest his shoulder before potentially playing him again.

In other injury-related news, Stevens confirmed comments made earlier in the day by Danny Ainge regarding Isaiah Thomas’ right hip injury which led to the Celtics shutting him down for the playoffs after the injury proved to be too much for him to play through at halftime of Boston’s Game 2 loss.

Speaking during 98.5 the Sports Hub’s Toucher & Rich show, Ainge said there was “a lot” of inflammation around the affected joint on Thomas’ right hip.

“It had gotten worse from the MRI’s he had before,” said Ainge who added that it would have been “irresponsible to allow him to play anymore.”

Said Stevens: “It sounds to me like the course of action right now … is let the inflammation go down a little bit.”

Ainge said earlier that because of the inflammation, it will likely be at least a couple weeks before Thomas and the Celtics will know if he will require surgery or whether another form of treatment will be needed.

Because of that uncertainty, Ainge stressed that Thomas would not return to play in this series even if it were closer.

“No. No way. He’s done (for the season),” Ainge said.