It has been one heck of a ride in the NFL this season. The year 2012 saw five rookie quarterbacks start in Week 1, quarterback Peyton Manning and running back Adrian Peterson both return to dominance, and the New York Jets emerge as the punchline of every league joke.
Manning's resurgence that led the Broncos 11-game winning streak has made him an MVP candidate, and Adrian Peterson's 2,097-yard season has him in the conversation, as well.
At the end of the day, though, it only matters how you finish. You can't finish well if you don't make the playoffs, and these grades reflect how well each team finished the regular season.
Each team is listed in alphabetical order, by their city. Let's give out some grades!
Team: Arizona Cardinals
Key Stat: Scored minus-107 net points and scored the second-fewest touchdowns (25) in 2012.
It's never a good sign when four, count 'em—John Skelton, Kevin Kolb, Ryan Lindley and Brian Hoyer—quarterbacks start for one franchise in a single season. Scoring just 15.6 points per game didn't help, either.
Moving forward, the Cardinals can look forward to owning a high draft selection in 2013. Think they'll consider drafting a quarterback?
Team: Atlanta Falcons
Key Stat: Owned a plus-13 turnover ratio and recorded plus-120 net points in 2012.
The NFC's No. 1 seed in the playoffs, the Falcons will see to it that the road to the Super Bowl will run through Atlanta this January. The Falcons earned an A-minus grade for finishing the season 3-2—not exactly on a hot note.
No team recorded a better win-loss record than Atlanta in 2012 (Denver also finished 13-3), a team that scored 46 touchdowns in the regular season. These birds are flying high heading into the postseason.
Team: Baltimore Ravens
Key Stat: Fifteen different Ravens recorded at least one sack in 2012.
The AFC's No. 4 seed, Baltimore is a team known for dominating defense. In 2012, it was their balanced offense that carried them into the playoffs.
The Ravens averaged 233.7 passing yards per game (15th in the NFL) and 118.8 yards on the ground (11th), scoring 24.9 points a week. Baltimore's B-minus rating would have been higher if not for the team finishing the season with a 1-4 record.
Team: Buffalo Bills
Key Stat: Averaged 138.6 rushing yards per game (sixth-most in the NFL).
Is it time to move on from Ryan Fitzpatrick? The 30-year-old quarterback turned the ball over 22 times this season, earning a 83.3 passer rating.
The bright spot was Buffalo's rushing attack. Third-year running back C.J. Spiller totaled 1,244 yards on the ground, helping the Bills to rank among the league's top rushing attacks.
Team: Carolina Panthers
Key Stat: Finished the season 4-1 after starting the season with an 3-8 record.
The Panthers finished the season on a strong note, but Super Cam's sophomore season was turnover-plauged (he threw 12 interceptions and fumbled 10 times). Moving forward, Cam will have to be more consistent if the Panthers are going to be competitive in the NFC South.
On the bright side, Newton has scored 62 total touchdowns since his rookie season—for all the slack Cam has received this season, his ability to find the end zone cannot be overlooked. Carolina's future rests on Newton's shoulders.
Team: Chicago Bears
Key Stat: Recorded over 40 sacks, 20 interceptions, 25 forced fumbles and scored eight defensive touchdowns in 2012.
This defense is the real deal, but finishing the season 2-3 with quarterback Jay Cutler turning the ball over 18 times is not going to cut it. The Bears didn't deserve to make the playoffs—that's why they receive a B-minus grade.
Team: Cincinnati Bengals
Key Stat: Recorded the second-most sacks on defense in 2012 (51).
The AFC's sixth seed in the playoffs, Cincinnati is entering the playoffs hot, winning four of their last five games. With a defense that can get after the quarterback, a solid rushing attack and a young quarterback that is putting up good numbers, the Bengals have the potential to surprise people in January.
Their first test will be against the 12-4 Houston Texans this weekend.
Team: Cleveland Browns
Key Stat: Scored minus-66 net points in 2012.
Finishing at the bottom of the AFC North, the Browns won just two of their final five games, scoring just 18.9 points per game. The Browns played three quarterbacks, with their 29-year-old rookie Brandon Weeden starting the majority of the season, throwing 14 touchdowns and 19 interceptions.
Moving forward, the Browns can look forward to a high draft selection in 2013 and the return of the promising young Trent Richardson, who rushed for 950 yards and 11 touchdowns as a rookie. Other than those few bright spots, it has been more of the same for Cleveland.
Ah, Dallas. America's Team certainly isn't the top team in the country.
The Cowboys finished the season 3-3 as quarterback Tony Romo proved to be inconsistent once again, looking brilliant one week and throwing the game away the next week. Romo is now 1-6 in win-or-go-home games in Week 17 or the postseason, per Elias (via ESPN).
So, Cowboys fans, is it time to move on from Tony Romo? You decide.
Team: Denver Broncos
Key Stat: Have won 11 consecutive games for the first time since the 1998 season.
No team in the NFL has a longer active winning streak than the Broncos, who are tied for the most wins in the NFL this season (Atlanta is also 13-3). Quarterback is the most important position in the NFL, and the Broncos are well aware of that fact.
The #Broncos finished 2012 with the most sacks recorded on defense (52) and the second-fewest sacks allowed on offense (21).— Jon Heath (@JHeath_DEN) December 31, 2012
Fueled on defense by Von Miller's 17.5 sacks and on offense by MVP candidate Peyton Manning, the Broncos appear to be one of the hottest teams in football as the AFC's No. 1 seed. They'll host a divisional game on Saturday, Jan. 12.
Team: Detroit Lions
Key Stat: Wide receiver Calvin Johnson broke a single-season receiving record with 1,964 yards in 2012.
Records are great, but winning games is more important. The Lions have a great quarterback-receiver combination in Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson. Tthat duo needs to produce W's moving forward.
Team: Green Bay Packers
Key Stat: Scored 53 touchdowns in 2012, the third-most in the NFL.
Finishing the season 4-1 and wrapping up the No. 3 seed in the NFL playoff race, the Packers will face the 10-6 Vikings in the first round of the playoffs. With Aaron Rodgers under center, this team always has a chance to make a run deep into the playoffs.
But can they get past the Vikings and slow down Adrian Peterson? We'll find out this weekend.
Team: Houston Texans
Key Stat: Scored plus-85 net points in 2012.
With two weeks left to go in the season, the 12-2 Texans appeared primed to clinch the AFC's No. 1 playoff seed. After dropping their final two games, however, the Texans are now the No. 3 seed entering the postseason.
Houston, we may have a problem.
A win over the Bengals on Wild Card weekend would mean taking a trip to Foxborough to take on the Patriots in the divisional round of the playoffs. We'll be watching to see how Houston finishes the season after starting out on such a hot note.
Team: Indianapolis Colts
Key Stat: Finished the season with a 4-1 record to earn a playoff berth.
Peyton Manning out, Andrew Luck in.
If the Colts win this weekend and Houston defeats Cincy, Indianapolis would have to travel to Denver for the division round of the playoffs. Manning vs. Luck in the playoffs? Yes, please.
Team: Jacksonville Jaguars
Key Stat: Recorded minus-189 net points in 2012.
The Jaguars gave the Kansas City Chiefs competition for bragging rights for being the worst team in football. After finishing the season 0-5, we're going to give the honor to Jacksonville.
In addition to being named the worst team in football, the Jaguars will receive at least the No. 2 overall pick in the 2013 NFL draft. And according to reports, quarterback Tim Tebow is also expected to join the team next season.
That's great news for Jacksonville, just ask the New York Jets. Wait, never mind.
Team: Kansas City Chiefs
Key Stat: Recorded minus-214 net points in 2012.
How fitting, the two worst teams in the NFL in back-to-back slides. To put it simply, the Chiefs are a train wreck.
Add Kansas City to the list of teams that will be quarterback-searching in 2013.
Team: Minnesota Vikings
Key Stat: Finished the season with a 4-1 record to earn the NFC's No. 6 playoff seed.
Unlike Detroit, the Vikings' star offensive weapon, running back Adrian Peterson, fell just short of breaking a single-season NFL record. The difference here: Minnesota made the playoffs.
Team: New England Patriots
Key Stat: Recorded plus-226 net points in 2012.
After finishing the season with a 4-1 record, the Patriots have secured the No. 2 seed in the AFC playoff race and will have a first-round bye. Like Green Bay, the Patriots are always a threat to go deep into the postseason, led by quarterback Tom Brady.
With the NFL's No. 1 offense in the NFL, New England will be tough to beat in January.
Team: New Orleans Saints
Key Stat: Recorded just seven net points in 2012.
It was a strange season for the Saints. The team that will be hosting the 2013 Super Bowl in New Orleans had one of the most prolific offenses in the NFL, scoring the second-most touchdowns this season (58), while only managing to post seven net points on the season.
Quarterback Drew Brees led the NFL in yards (5,177) and passing touchdowns (43) but also threw 19 interceptions, as the Saints caught all the bad luck possible in 2012. Moving forward, the Saints know the offense is in working order. It's time to address the defense.
Team: New York Jets
Key Stat: The team's third-string quarterback was likely mentioned more than any other player in 2012.
The Jets' 2012 season has been well-documented and does not even deserve to be highlighted. Moving forward, the team needs, more than anything else, a quarterback.
As the Giants' quarterback played, so played the Giants. It was an up-and-down season for New York, as Eli went from throwing two interceptions one week to throwing five touchdowns just two weeks later.
Moving forward, Manning needs to be more consistent if the Giants are going to be considered legitimate contenders again. With RG3 and Washington rising in stock, the NFC East just became much harder for New York to win in the coming years.
Team: Oakland Raiders
Key Stat: Three quarterbacks played for Oakland in 2012, throwing 16 combined interceptions.
The Raiders have talent, but 2012 was a dismal season for the rebuilding team. As a consolation, the team will receive a high 2013 draft selection.
Team: Philadelphia Eagles
Key Stat: Won just two games at home, finishing the season with a 1-4 record.
Those questions will begin to be answered on Monday. Stay tuned.
Team: Pittsburgh Steelers
Key Stat: Lost five of their eight road games in 2012.
Missing out on the playoffs is not something the city of Pittsburgh is used to. Could this be the beginning of the end for the Steelers' run as one of the top teams in the NFL?
Only time will tell. We do know this: Troy Polamalu and James Harrison aren't getting any younger.
Team: St. Louis Rams
Key Stat: Went 4-1-1 in division play, proving that there is hope for 2013.
The Rams were competitive in the NFC West this season, posting the best division record. This team has potential, but a possible Steven Jackson retirement would create a huge void in their offense.
Team: San Francisco 49ers
Key Stat: Owned the league's No. 4 run offense in the NFL and the No. 4 run defense in 2012.
The 49ers are the only 11-win team to not earn an 'A' grade, because they finished the season on an inconsistent note, ending up as the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoff race. With a stingy defense and an impressive running game, the 49ers have the ability to make a run in the postseason.
But what 49ers team will we see? The one that defeated New England or the one that was trampled by Seattle two weeks ago? We'll find out in two weeks.
Team: Seattle Seahawks
Key Stat: Finished the season 8-0 at home in 2012.
Quarterback Russell Wilson tied Peyton Manning's rookie record of 26 passing touchdowns in a single season and the Seahawks have scored 170 points in their past four games. There may not be a team in the NFL entering the playoffs on a hotter note than Seattle, who have won five straight games.
Team: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Key Stat: Quarterback Josh Freeman threw 17 interceptions and was sacked 26 times in 2012.
Like the Giants, Saints and Chargers, the Buccaneers have talent. 2012 just wasn't their year.
Team: Tennessee Titans
Key Stat: Recorded minus-141 net points in 2012.
Is Jake Locker Tennessee's long-term answer at quarterback? The second-year player threw 10 touchdowns, 11 interceptions and was sacked 25 times in 2012.
Drafting a quarterback two years after taking one in the first round is not advisable, and the Titans likely will not do it. Which will likely result in another disappointing season in 2013.
Team: Washington Redskins
Key Stat: The Redskins led the NFL with 2,709 yards on the ground in 2012.
The Mike Shanahan running back factory has been relocated from Denver to Washington, D.C., where Alfred Morris was the first product assembled at the new location. The rookie back broke Clinton Portis' franchise record with 1,613 rushing yards in a single season.
Meanwhile, quarterback Robert Griffin III has the Redskins on an impressive winning streak as the No. 4 seed in the NFC's playoff race.
Like Seattle, Washington is the type of team nobody wants to face in the postseason. Fittingly, the Seahawks and Redskins will face off in the Wild Card round of the playoffs this weekend.