We all know the 12 teams that will be in the NFL playoffs, all of whom (mostly) deserve to be there.
The bigger story may be who won't be in the playoffs. There were several teams that came into the season with big dreams while others had a nice start to the season. Yet they still didn't make it.
New England Patriots
In the 2000s, only one team lost a Super Bowl and made the playoffs the next season. We love pointing that out, but never imagined that could happen to these Patriots. New England just came off an undefeated regular season and lost the Super Bowl in the game's final moments. But all it took was an injury to Tom Brady to put the season in doubt. Matt Cassel did a great job filling in, but injuries to the stable of running backs and a defense that, at times, looked its age forced New England slip up just enough to miss the playoffs.
They will be only the second team with 11 victories to not make the playoffs. To many, it is justice to see the Pats not in the postseason despite having a better record than four teams that will be.
This was the most talented team in the NFL. They had stars on offense, defense, and special teams and blew out to an impressive start. They also had problems. Thatt start was thwarted when the Cowboys lost three of five and Tony Romo suffered a finger injury. There was in-fighting, poor coaching, and a suspension to Pacman Jones that seemed to divide the organization. The signature moments of the season will be the final two weeks: getting beat by the Ravens in the final game at Texas Stadium and getting trounced 44-6 in the season finale. As of now, Jerry Jones says he isn't changing a thing. The first thing he will change is his mind.
Three game lead with three games left to play. The Broncos had the AFC West all but clinched a few weeks back. However, the San Diego Chargers came on strong and the Broncos choked away the division. All Denver had to do was beat either the Panthers, Bills or Chargers to sew up a postseason berth. Daunting, but this was a team that just won in Atlanta and New York. They couldn't get that one final win and will spend the entire offseason wondering just what happened.
New York Jets
The Jets have a similar story. They were 8-3 and coming off a win at Tennessee that gave the Titans their first loss of the season. Then Denver waltzed into New York and pummeled the Jets. That began a string of four losses in five games, with the only win coming because the Buffalo Bills coughed away a certain victory. How quickly did a team that was once believed to be the best in the AFC six weeks ago turn into an also-ran? And how quickly did Brett Favre age before our eyes?
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Sure, they played in the toughest division in the NFL, but they had a playoff spot in their reach. They were 9-3 and were headed into a huge showdown with the Panthers. Carolina ran all over Tampa and the slide began. The Bucs' once-stout defense would give up 41 points at home to the Chargers and 31 points at home to the Raiders. Add in a loss to the Falcons and Tampa would lose its last four games and finish a half a game out of the playoffs.
The Redskins started the season 6-2 and had beaten the Saints, Cardinals, Cowboys and Eagles in consecutive weeks. While they weren't considered to be a team that would challenge for a Super Bowl, they were right there in the conversation. Then the second half of the season happened, when Washington went 2-6 and lost to the lowly Cincinnati Bengals along with others.
Heading into the season, the Jags were supposed to be the team that would unseat the Colts' reign on the AFC South (the Titans did that instead). Jacksonville finished a woeful 5-11 and never found a groove. In their defense, they did have a schedule from hell, but that doesn't excuse losses to the Browns and Bengals.
Green Bay Packers
This season will be unforgettable for Packers fans for a variety of reasons. For one, it was the year they traded Favre. They were coming off hosting the NFC Championship game and expecting big things in 2008. That all came crashing down when they lost to the Cowboys, Buccaneers, and Falcons early in the season. Green Bay would lose seven of their last nine games and began the Aaron Rodgers Era with a 6-10 mark.