The 2011 NFL season (and year) is now officially under wraps. 12 teams are moving on to the big dance, while 20 others head into an offseason filled with questions, stress, accusations and heartbreak.
On each of those 20 teams, there is an individual or group of individuals upon whom the blame will inevitably be placed. Fans and the media will be pointing fingers at these people who are perceived as the reasons for the downfall of their respective teams.
Even on the winning teams, there are those who hindered progress towards a better finish to 2011, and they are no safer than the scapegoats on the losing teams.
Even if it isn't their fault alone, these are the guys who are going to be (or really should be) taking a lot of heat during a very long wait for the 2012 NFL season.
That, of course, is assuming they get to stay with their teams.
Ryan Fitzpatrick started off the 2011 season in a magical fashion for the Buffalo Bills, leading them to a 3-0 start and bringing a spark of hope to Bills fans everywhere.
The Buffalo organization rewarded him with a monster six-year, $59 million extension, and it was all downhill from there.
The man fans had started calling "Fitzmagic" quickly earned the moniker "Fitztragic." Now he's got an offseason filled with questions about why he suddenly forgot how to play at a high level once he got paid.
NFL contracts aren't guaranteed, Ryan.
Tony Sparano was the 2008 Coach of the Year, leading the 1-15 Miami Dolphins to a 11-5 record and wild-card berth.
After his novel use of the Wildcat offense suddenly became useless, Sparano's Dolphins never got their feet back under them.
He simply could not get the production he needed out of a fairly talented Miami roster, and he paid the ultimate price: his job.
Clearly, they needed to shake things up.
The New England Patriots corners are one terrible unit. Among the league's lowest-ranked pass defenses, the Patriots have gotten by on the brilliant offensive production of Tom Brady and his receivers, locking up the AFC's No. 1 seed.
Guess what? They did the same thing last year.
When the Patriots are suddenly eliminated by an upstart 3-6 seed in two weeks, all fingers will be pointing to their secondary.
It is very easy to point the finger of judgement at quarterback Mark Sanchez.
For many, he probably IS the scapegoat of the New York Jets. In actuality, however, that dubious honor should go to head coach Rex Ryan.
Yes, Sanchez was terrible in his third season, regressing to a point where he only completed 56 percent of his passes.
However, Ryan is the true cause of the Jets troubles. Heaping massive expectations on a fragile group of egos was a bad start to the year.
Unable to control his locker room, he caused fissures between his players, a soap opera which seeped out onto the field.
Nobody in their right mind would ever name Santonio Holmes a captain. Ryan's loud mouth also painted a gigantic bull's-eye on the Jets, and every opponent they faced played them that much harder because of it. His defense suffered as well, and the Jets strengths under Ryan suddenly became their weaknesses in 2011.
In 2012, Ryan had better change his act, or he could end up being as homeless as his brother looks.
Peyton Manning had neck surgery. That's not his fault.
Curtis Painter is just bad. Not his fault either.
You could blame Jim Caldwell, but Bill Polian is the real culprit. He clearly has been completely unable to field a talented team for the Indianapolis Colts during Peyton Manning's tenure.
You kind of have to be exposed as a bad GM when your team completely fails to function without the only four-time MVP under center.
Nobody on the Houston Texans did poorly this season. In fact, if you take away all of their injuries, I would call them the third-best team in football.
You also can't blame the medical staff when those injuries were ACL and MCL tears and all kinds of non-conditioning related injuries.
The invisible specter of the injury bug will end the Texans' first playoff run a little earlier than they deserve.
The scapegoat here is fate.
Isn't this one kind of obvious? When you spend an entire summer whining and complaining like a child, forcing a team to make you the highest-paid running back of all time, you had better come out and deliver.
Despite turning in a 1,000-yard season, Johnson didn't pick up his game till the midway point, and it was still the worst season of his career.
Greedy and selfish. Bad teammate. Scapegoat.
You could argue that general manager Gene Smith killed the Jacksonville Jaguars season by cutting David Garrard.
Still, rookie Blaine Gabbert was projected as a possible No. 1 overall pick, and the team traded up to get him.
He showed no spark, no leadership and very little potential en route to a 5-11 record. The Jags are going to heavily consider drafting a replacement quarterback, making him the obvious choice for their woes.
The Pittsburgh Steelers turned in yet another great season. However, it wasn't as easy as usual and they gave up the AFC North to the Baltimore Ravens.
This may not have happened if Arians' offensive schemes didn't place Ben Roethlisberger in harm's way all of the time.
This also may not have happened if he didn't give Rashard Mendenhall over 350 touches during the 2010 season and playoff run.
History tells us that running backs suffer terrible seasons following such a massive workload, and Mendenhall did not escape that fate, turning in his worst campaign since becoming the starter.
They'll be missing him in the playoffs. Wearing him out was a bad idea.
Joe Flacco has grown as a quarterback since his rookie season, of that there is no doubt. Still, the young gunslinger shows curious drops in performance when he should be at his best.
The Baltimore Ravens losses this season were all in games they should have been able to win, and it was in those games that Flacco turned in poor performances when asked to throw more than the normal load.
Flacco has yet to miss the postseason, and this is arguably the best team assembled around him since he began his career. If he can't get past the AFC title game this time, he'll have some explaining to do.
Peyton Hillis was the only good thing about the Cleveland Browns last season. That campaign got him onto the cover of the video game Madden '12.
Being on the cover of the game brought the mighty "Madden Curse" down upon him, and he barely contributed anything at all this year.
His loss made the Browns even worse than normal.
In Cleveland, they probably burned their copies of the game.
The Bengals shocked everyone this year by going 9-7 and making the playoffs under rookie second round pick Andy Dalton.
Despite their success, the team failed to sell out most of their home games, including last week's playoff-earning home win where less than two-thirds of the seats in the stadium were sold.
Come on, Cincinnati fans. If your team is winning, go support them. Why should they care about you if you don't care about them?
If the Denver Broncos win, everyone points to Tim Tebow.
If the Denver Broncos lose, everyone still points to Tim Tebow.
No matter how you slice it, Tebow gets all the credit for everything the Broncos do. When and if they are eliminated from the playoffs, you can bet all of the heat will be coming his way.
The Oakland Raiders' medical staff has got to go. Immediately.
Somehow, they managed to fail to get the team's best player healthy enough to play the last two months of the season, despite his injury being a mere sprained foot.
Darren McFadden is an explosive playmaker, and his foot injury may have derailed the Raiders playoff hopes.
Week in and week out, Raider fans and McFadden fantasy owners were tantalized by reports that he could play, and each time all were disappointed.
Sorry, but a medical staff that can't heal a sprained foot in two months shouldn't even be selling band-aids at the corner store, let alone caring for football players.
Todd Haley was as cancerous to his Kansas City Chiefs as T.O. was back when he played for the Philadelphia Eagles.
When a coach ends up in the media multiple times over stints with two teams because his players supposedly hate him, you probably don't want him.
The Chiefs clearly played with more fire for Romeo Crennel, and Haley will be blamed for this lost season after winning the division a year ago.
Norv Turner's San Diego Chargers have underachieved every year. Every single year.
Once again, he failed to make the playoffs despite coaching one of the NFL's most talented rosters.
He will be blamed, and he will be fired.
The New York Giants of 2011 have been a high-flying offense with a pretty bad defense. Perry Fewell's defensive scheme is partially to blame for that.
However, his refusal to change his overly-complicated zone coverage scheme despite it being torched week after week makes the whole thing squarely his fault.
Anyone remember Bill Sheridan? He was Fewell's predecessor in 2009. As the defensive coordinator, he coached the worst defense in New York Giants history, giving up franchise records in yardage and points.
Fewell actually kept portions of Sheridan's playbook for use in the 2010 and 2011 seasons.
Tony Romo actually turned in the best statistical season of his career in 2011. He played terrific football, and the Dallas Cowboys failures are not all on him.
None of that matters.
Everyone in Dallas will be calling for Romo's head, because the perception of him is that he is a choke artist.
Despite losing to the New York Giants in the season finale, their lost bid for the playoffs may have ended differently had he not completely blown two games this year against the New York Jets and Detroit Lions.
He's got some heat coming his way.
Rex Grossman. John Beck. Rex Grossman. John Beck.
Mike Shanahan couldn't make up his mind about which of his two mediocre quarterbacks to use this season, and it cost this bad team even more games than they needed to lose.
Shanahan was hired to give the Redskins an immediate boost, and they have regressed under him.
Either get John Elway out of retirement or just get rid of this old coach.
The blame for the immensely disappointing Philadelphia Eagles belongs squarely on the cardboard shoulders of Mike Vick.
The grossly overpaid glorified running back failed to turn in a season like the one he had in 2010, and it cost the Eagles dearly.
Bad coaching played a role, but you will never get anywhere if your quarterback is a thug who doesn't lead his teammates, and chooses to whine about referees to the media.
It doesn't help that he was out for a game or two any time he was ever tackled.
Vick deserves the blame, not Andy Reid.
Josh Freeman was a hero in 2010, leading the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a 10-6 record and narrowly missing the playoffs.
As the 2010 season's best fourth-quarter passer, expectations were high this year.
He didn't even come close to matching his magical sophomore year, helping his team lose 12 straight games.
He'd better be ready for a firestorm from fans and media in Florida this offseason.
When you have a freak of nature like Cam Newton under center, your team will click offensively.
So if Newton broke just about every record a rookie quarterback can break, how come they lost so many games?
Terrible defense. If you have Newton and still can't win, you might want to change the defensive scheme.
The Carolina Panthers should consider a change at defensive coordinator.
How do you have a scapegoat after a season like the New Orleans Saints just had?
The only bad thing I can say about Sean Payton is that he didn't use Jimmy Graham enough before this season.
The Atlanta Falcons had a pretty good season en route to the playoffs.
However, if it ends early, blame their offensive line. They allowed 84 hits on quarterback Matt Ryan through 16 games (not all sacks, just hits).
The Green Bay Packers don't have a goat in their organization. They almost went 16-0 for crying out loud.
Romeo Crennel spoiled their shot at history.
I'm sure there is a dart board of his face in their locker room now.
Who else can you blame for the collapse of the Chicago Bears other than offensive coordinator Mike Martz?
His offensive game plan calls for big plays or a quarterback sack, which eventually wore down Jay Cutler until he literally couldn't play anymore.
Then he used Matt Forte to produce over 46 percent of the Bears' offense, resulting in a season-ending MCL sprain right after Cutler went down.
He wore out and injured the Bears' two best players, as assuredly as if he hit them himself.
When the Minnesota Vikings signed Christian Ponder out of the draft, everyone figured he'd make a nice stand-in down the road when he was ready to play.
When the Vikings signed Donovan McNabb, it was generally accepted that they had the talent to maybe compete for a wild card at least.
Instead, McNabb showed he has almost nothing left in the tank, forcing Ponder into a starting role way too soon.
He sucked the hope right out of Vikings fans who were excited for his arrival.
The Detroit Lions don't have anything to be upset about. It's their first playoff berth since 1999.
However, if you have to point at one man who almost derailed their entire year, it has to be their best defensive player, Ndamukong Suh.
His dirty ways attracted the ire of both officials and opposing teams, making all of their games that much harder.
Not having him for two games was even worse, and they lost any chance at making a run at the Green Bay Packers.
He left the glory of the New England Patriots and turned the Denver Broncos into steaming-hot garbage.
Then he went to the St. Louis Rams and turned a promising young Sam Bradford into a sputtering, jumpy Mark Sanchez.
Josh McDaniels is a nightmare. He killed the Rams' already bleak season single-handedly.
The Seattle Seahawks had a strange season. They weren't very good, but you can't really say they underachieved either. They have a very talented roster, though, and you have to figure the only thing missing is a marquee quarterback.
Tarvaris Jackson has surprisingly not been terrible, but if they want to take that next step, they'll need a new passer.
The blame has to fall to Jackson, through no real fault of his own.
Braylon Edwards was brought to San Francisco to play opposite Michael Crabtree and open up the 49ers' passing attack.
It never happened that way. Edwards barely played at all, and when he did he was nothing better than ok.
They had the running game to rely on, but they would have liked a more dangerous passing attack to go with their beastly defense.
The Arizona Cardinals gave it all up to get Kevin Kolb from the Philadelphia Eagles. They gave away their best cornerback in Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, as well as a second-round pick, all based on the idea that Kolb could be their franchise quarterback.
Kolb was mediocre at best this season when he wasn't injured, and when he wasn't in, John Skelton actually outplayed him.
There's got to be some buyer's remorse in Arizona this offseason.