The 2012 NFL regular season is in the books. And the best team is...
More so than any season in recent memory, this one has been crazy. The top team in our power rankings throughout the year had a way of losing their very next game. Be it the San Francisco 49ers, New England Patriots, Atlanta Falcons or Houston Texans—we've seen six teams sit in the top spot over the course of 17 weeks.
The NFL wanted parity, and they got it this season. That leaves the 12 playoff teams looking at a landscape in which anything is possible. You could make a damn good argument that the two hottest teams in football are the Seattle Seahawks and Cincinnati Bengals, and both teams have very good chances to win their playoff opener.
With the regular season gone, we'll look back at the last 17 weeks and award Team MVP awards while also giving you a ranking of every NFL team heading into the postseason.
Thanks for hanging out with us for the last four months, and best of luck to all your teams whether it's in the playoffs or the NFL draft.
A season that began with a ton of promise ends with just two wins. The 2012 season wasn't a fun one for Jacksonville fans, but it may be what was needed to bring about much-needed change in the front office.
Team MVP: LT Eugene Monroe
Left tackle Eugene Monroe filled the role of the most valuable player on a weekly basis for the Jaguars. It wasn't Blaine Gabbert or Maurice Jones-Drew, but Monroe, who became a consistent force on offense each week.
It goes unnoticed due to the Jaguars' poor record, but Monroe emerged as one of the best left tackles in the NFL this season. He's a true building block for the front office as they try to improve upon a two-win season.
My preseason prediction that the Kansas City Chiefs would win the AFC West looks awfully foolish right now. This is a better team than their record shows, though, and a new head coach could work wonders with the talent in place.
Team MVP: RB Jamaal Charles
The Kansas City Chiefs didn't have much to cheer about this season, but the play of the offensive line and running back Jamaal Charles were bright spots in an otherwise difficult season.
Charles gained yards at a rate we rarely see in the NFL, and it's a testament to his speed and work ethic that he was able to have such an impact just one season removed from a knee injury that caused him to miss the entire 2011 season.
Charles will be the cornerstone for the rebuilding of the skill players on offense in the offseason, as the Chiefs front office must find a way to get better at quarterback and wide receiver.
A disappointing season ends with just four wins and likely brings about massive changes to the structure of the Philadelphia Eagles. Head coach Andy Reid is likely out, and quarterback Michael Vick is sure to follow.
Team MVP: LB DeMeco Ryans
There wasn't much good to write about for the Eagles. Running back LeSean McCoy failed to get to 1,000 yards rushing. Wide receivers Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson struggled through poor quarterback play. The best player on a team loaded with offense was a defender.
DeMeco Ryans proved to be an excellent pickup for the Eagles, and he performed at an exceptionally high level all season, giving the team the run-stopping linebacker they lacked last year. It's too bad his play was lost on a team that couldn't find consistency on a weekly basis.
Another losing season in Oakland, and this one more disappointing than the last. Reggie McKenzie and Dennis Allen have their work cut out for them.
Team MVP: DE Lamarr Houston
What good can we say about the Oakland Raiders? Not much. This entire season was a major disappointment across the board.
So, who was the MVP? It's easy to point to Lamarr Houston as the most reliable player on either side of the ball. Lining up as a defensive end, Houston was able to pressure the offense and was the team's best run defender from the outside of the line.
Picking a team MVP for Oakland wasn't easy, but Houston deserves the mention.
A 4-0 start inspired false confidence in the Arizona Cardinals, who managed to show their true colors over the next 12 games. The team's 5-11 ending should be an indication that the current front office isn't doing the team any favors.
Team MVP: LB Daryl Washington
You could argue that the most valuable player for the Arizona Cardinals was quarterback Kevin Kolb. The team was 4-0 and rolling before Kolb's injury, and they started a self-destruction unlike anything we saw all season after he went down.
What's most shocking is that the Arizona defense was very good this year. You could make a case for Calais Campbell or Patrick Peterson as team MVP, but when it comes down to it, no player was better than linebacker Daryl Washington.
Washington was a constant force on defense, and on a roster loaded with playmakers on his side of the ball, he stood out most.
One of the most disappointing records you'll see among NFL teams this year, the Detroit Lions managed to go from playoff team to four wins in one year.
Team MVP: WR Calvin Johnson
Breaking a record set by Jerry Rice is quite an accomplishment. Calvin Johnson did that with his 1,964 yards receiving this season. He deserves mention as a league MVP candidate, not to mention the MVP for the Detroit Lions.
It's unfortunate that the team around him couldn't hold up their end of the bargain by helping him out. What Johnson was able to do despite the team having no No. 2 wide receiver, and with Matthew Stafford regressing considerably, makes his new single-season receiving record all the more impressive.
Another double-digit losing season will likely bring about coaching and front-office changes in Cleveland as new owner Jimmy Haslam and football operations guru Joe Banner bring in their own guys. The good news is this team has the talent to turn things around quickly.
Team MVP: LB D'Qwell Jackson
If you wanted to make a case for offensive tackles Joe Thomas and Mitchell Schwartz as co-MVPs, I wouldn't argue. Same for wide receiver Josh Gordon or cornerback Joe Haden—both of whom were amazing in 2012. But the best player on this team, no question, was linebacker D'Qwell Jackson.
Jackson was a lock-down linebacker in the middle of the Cleveland defense, earning himself the notoriety and recognition he's deserved for so long as the man directing an underrated Browns defense.
A season marred by offensive inefficiency and injuries on defense ends with a disappointing record, but this was perhaps the most impressive coaching job of Rex Ryan's career.
The Jets may choose to part ways with their leader, but that would be a colossal mistake considering the coaching job Ryan has done this season.
Team MVP: CB Antonio Cromartie
Who else would you mention as team MVP? Darrelle Revis got hurt, the offense did nothing to contribute to the success of the season and the front seven was largely inept.
Once Revis went down, Cromartie stepped up. He stopped talking and started playing—and he played very well. Cromartie was arguably one of the game's top cornerbacks in the second half of the season, helping the New York defense overcome the loss of the game's best cornerback in Revis.
Owner Bud Adams surely expected more than six wins, but injuries to Jake Locker and a disappointing defense put the team at No. 24 here. Fixing that will be Adams' priority in the offseason.
Team MVP: RB Chris Johnson
While it's been easy to pile on Chris Johnson as overrated, he was the best option for the Tennessee offense this season. There were definitely bad games, but Johnson was also running behind an offensive line that needs to retool both guard spots and the center position.
With the defense underperforming and Jake Locker not taking off this year, the Tennessee's wins rested on the legs of Johnson more and more each week.
Getting to six wins may be enough to save the jobs of general manager Buddy Nix and head coach Chan Gailey, but it should be clear that the team performed well below expectations on both sides of the ball. At a minimum, change is coming at quarterback.
Team MVP: RB C.J. Spiller
It wasn't easy to watch the Buffalo Bills offense for much of the 2012 season, but running back C.J. Spiller made it a whole lot easier every time he touched the football.
Spiller wasn't just the Bills' team MVP, you could make a case for him as the most exciting running back outside of Adrian Peterson in the entire league. Spiller made big plays very often, but the coaching staff failed to realize this and/or take advantage of the talent they had at their disposal.
You can bet that whomever is coaching the Bills in 2013 will find more ways to utilize the best offensive weapon on the roster.
It would be fair to call this first season under Joe Philbin a success. The Miami Dolphins have found their franchise quarterback in Ryan Tannehill and also uncovered young studs like OT Jonathan Martin, DE Olivier Vernon and WR Brian Hartline. Now it's time to finish what they started.
Team MVP: DE Cameron Wake
You wouldn't get an argument from me if you wanted to place Ryan Tannehill here, but defensive end Cameron Wake was the heart and soul of the defense all season.
Wake had one of his best years yet (53 tackles, 15 sacks), and this came after a position change moved him back to defensive end in the team's 4-3 scheme. Wake was dominant, playing better than any other defensive end who lines up in a four-man front.
It's been an All-Pro season for Wake, who has earned the team MVP award.
If there is such a thing as a moral victory, the 2012 season for the Buccaneers may be just that.
Tampa Bay rebuilt after losing 10 straight games in 2011, and with a new coach in place, the Bucs rediscovered the ability of quarterback Josh Freeman while uncovering a roster full of young stars on both sides of the ball.
Team MVP: RB Doug Martin
There is no shortage of players this award could go to. Gerald McCoy and Lavonte David both dominated on defense, and Freeman, for his ability to come back from a terrible 2011 campaign, is equally deserving. But no one player did more to aide the Buccaneers in 2012 than Doug Martin.
The "Muscle Hamster" was unstoppable, doing things that rookie running backs aren't supposed to do. While he did fade somewhat down the stretch, imagine what Martin can do next year with a healthy Carl Nicks leading the way.
The Carolina Panthers improved, but it may not be enough to secure the job of head coach Ron Rivera. With general manager Marty Hurney fired at midseason, changes are coming to Carolina, and Rivera may not be able to survive after a seven-win season.
Team MVP: QB Cam Newton
It was a toss-up between quarterback Cam Newton and linebacker Luke Kuechly for this award, but it was easy to see that Newton has the pulse of this team. As Newton goes, so go the Panthers.
In good times and in bad, Newton was the catalyst for the squad. As the team got hot over the second half of the schedule, it was because of the play of their quarterback.
Newton was overshadowed at times this year by other young quarterbacks, but anyone watching in Carolina saw a bright young QB who is continuing to develop into one of the most talented in the game.
In classic Norv Turner fashion, the San Diego Chargers did too little, too late. That will likely result in turnover at general manager and at Turner's head coaching position.
Big changes are finally coming in San Diego, where the team has underperformed for far too long.
Team MVP: FS Eric Weddle
You can't hand this award to Philip Rivers, not after his second less-than-stellar season. Instead, look to the defense, where the Chargers were so good for most of the season. Because of the offensive ineptitude and the play of the defense, it's time to look at the leader of that unit as the team's MVP.
That would be Eric Weddle, who was snubbed for a Pro Bowl vote but did receive my All-Pro vote for the Pro Football Writers of America ballot.
Weddle has been a solid playmaker this season, doing more than intercepting the ball and showing his range as a run defender. He's one of the best all-around safeties in the game, and it's time for him to get that recognition.
A season without Sean Payton resulted in a terrible start and a bad finish. Just seven wins for the New Orleans Saints in a season when many expected them to make a strong run for the Super Bowl.
You can't blame all nine losses on Payton's suspension, though, and general manager Mickey Loomis must spend the offseason improving the offensive tackles and defensive line.
Team MVP: QB Drew Brees
Who else would you give it to?
Even as Brees endured through his worst season with the Saints, he was still the leader of this team from the opening game until the bitter end. Brees is the heartbeat of this team, and he was a big reason why they were able to win seven games.
The 2012 season was an impressive one for Jeff Fisher's St. Louis Rams. In his first season as head coach, the Rams responded and played at a level unseen during previous head coaching tenures. Fisher has the Rams headed in the right direction.
Team MVP: DE Chris Long
The St. Louis Rams managed to perform at high levels all season despite injuries on the offensive line and very few legitimate playmakers on offense. They did that because of a rock-solid defense.
You could pick Janoris Jenkins or Robert Quinn as candidates for team MVP, but no one was better on this team than Chris Long on my board. The big defensive end did it all for the Rams, proving his worth as a pass-rusher and run-stuffer all season long.
If any one player represents what Fisher wants in his football team, that player is Chris Long.
You can't feel good about an 8-8 record and no playoffs, especially not in a season when the Baltimore Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals both made the postseason. It's time for the Steelers to get serious about improving their talent.
Team MVP: QB Ben Roethlisberger
In a year when not much went right, the play of Roethlisberger was at arguably an all-time high. Big Ben was able to orchestrate on offense in spite of an offensive line that was overmatched on a weekly basis, and even with so many wide receivers and running backs going down with injury.
Roethlisberger led this team, and in doing so earned his status as the most valuable Steeler.
Anything short of a playoff berth is disappointing in Dallas, and for the second year in a row, the team came up short in Week 17.
Team MVP: WR Dez Bryant
You may not like him, but Dez Bryant was simply fantastic in 2012.
The Cowboys offense struggled at times due to poor play by the offensive line and injuries to DeMarco Murray, but Bryant kept them afloat. There were bad times, and those tend to be highlighted and exaggerated, but over the course of 16 weeks, Bryant dominated.
It's actually surprising that he wasn't considered more for the Pro Bowl, given his numbers and the spotlight of the team, but Bryant was overlooked this year. We're betting he won't be in 2013.
Put simply, not good enough.
One year after a Super Bowl title, the New York Giants are sitting at home watching the playoffs. That means general manager Jerry Reese and head coach Tom Coughlin have a lot of work and thinking to do.
Team MVP: QB Eli Manning
One position where the Giants are clearly set is at quarterback, where Eli Manning has turned in another top performance.
Manning was his usual self—which is pretty damn good—in spite of a rough season on both sides of the ball for the Giants. While Manning hasn't quite reached the level of his brother or Tom Brady, he's still a top 10 quarterback in the NFL and in some seasons good enough to be considered top five.
It's tough to argue with 10 wins, but in Chicago, that's not always good enough. Lovie Smith's seat will remain hot until the Bears get back to a Super Bowl.
Team MVP: CB Charles Tillman
What a season by cornerback Charles Tillman.
Not only did Tillman emerge as one of the better man-coverage cornerbacks in the NFL, but he also showed off his knack for creating fumbles. Tillman was an all-around playmaker for the Chicago Bears this season, and his ability on defense kept the team alive in many games when hope seemed lost.
The Minnesota Vikings are headed to the playoffs. With 10 wins and a Week 17 victory over the Green Bay Packers, Adrian Peterson and Jared Allen are headed to the postseason as the NFC's No. 6 seed.
Team MVP: RB Adrian Peterson
When you rush for over 2,000 yards, you get the team MVP award. Easily.
If you missed it on Twitter, Peterson won more than just the Vikings' MVP award from me: I also voted for AP as the league MVP. Again, when you rush for 2,000 yards on an offense with no passing threat and very little talent at wide receiver, you get my MVP vote.
Peterson did something no one thought likely, and he did it months removed from surgery to repair a torn ACL and on a team with little offensive talent otherwise. Team MVP. League MVP.
It's tough to be upset about a 10-win season, but the Baltimore Ravens were set up before the season began to do better than this.
Still, winning an AFC North championship without Ray Lewis or Lardarius Webb means something. With the playoffs here, don't sleep on the Ravens.
Team MVP: RB Ray Rice
With injuries to Lewis, Webb and Terrell Suggs, the Baltimore defense wasn't able to carry the team as it had in years past. Instead, the offense was asked to shoulder the load this year.
While quarterback Joe Flacco was good in spurts, he was no where near the elite quarterback he proclaimed he would be in the preseason. With Flacco struggling, the burden fell to Ray Rice.
Rice didn't see epic production this year, as two offensive coordinators limited his work, but he was still the most valuable player—even when acting like a decoy.
Rice's importance to this team can't be understated, and for the Ravens to have a chance in the postseason, they'll need to rely more on their best offensive weapon.
What an incredible season for the Indianapolis Colts. After just two wins in 2011, the Colts have turned in 11 wins and are on their way to the playoffs.
Team MVP: QB Andrew Luck
None of this would be possible without quarterback Andrew Luck. And that's probably an understatement. Luck has been brilliant for the Indianapolis offense this season, setting records for most comeback wins from a rookie and most passing yards in a rookie season.
That's why Luck is more than just the Colts' MVP; he was my vote for Offensive Rookie of the Year.
How about some credit to Daniel Snyder and Mike Shanahan? One year after using the No. 2 overall pick on quarterback Robert Griffin III, the team is in the playoffs as NFC East champions.
Team MVP: QB Robert Griffin III
The incredible turnaround in Washington wouldn't have happened without rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III. Period.
Of course, Griffin had help from newcomers like fellow stud rookie Alfred Morris and wide receiver Pierre Garcon, but the No. 2 overall pick in the 2012 draft lived up to the expectations of the many people who placed their faith in his ability.
As far as the Redskins have gone this year, Griffin is to credit for that.
It's amazing that the Houston Texans started the year 11-1. With a 1-3 record down the stretch, the team limps into the playoffs, where there's a very good chance they won't be favored to win at home in the Wild Card Round.
Team MVP: DE J.J. Watt
I could make a case all day for Arian Foster as the team's most valuable player, but if you take J.J. Watt off of this Texans defense, they are a shell of themselves.
Watt's impact has been amazing all season. He's a force against the run, posted over 20 sacks and still managed to lead the league in passes batted down.
On every down, Watt is an impact that offenses must be aware of. That's good enough for team MVP, an All-Pro selection and maybe, just maybe, league MVP.
Remember back when the Cincinnati Bengals were a fluke? Back in August, no one was taking this team seriously.
They'd never be able to keep pace with the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens. Those same Steelers who missed the playoffs. And, yep, the Ravens who posted an identical 10-6 record.
Team MVP: DT Geno Atkins
The Bengals owe their back-to-back playoff berths to many players—Andy Dalton and A.J. Green namely—but the biggest impact for the team in 2012 belongs to defensive tackle Geno Atkins.
If you can find a better defensive tackle in the NFL right now, I'd love to see him. Atkins was a dominating force for the Bengals defensive line—leading all defensive tackles in sacks and showing great vision when stuffing the run.
If the Bengals make a run in the postseason, it won't only be because of Atkins, but you can bet he'll be the leading force behind one of the game's most underrated defenses.
With the most wins in the NFC, Mike Smith and his Atlanta Falcons will enjoy home-field advantage as long as they are in the playoffs. After a Week 17 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, it's fair to wonder just how long that will be.
The Falcons haven't played well in the postseason under Smith, but this year has a different feel to it.
Team MVP: QB Matt Ryan
If the Falcons are to finally exercise their playoff demons, it will be thanks to quarterback Matt Ryan. Through the first 11 weeks of the year, Ryan was a leading MVP candidate and looking like one of the elite passers in the game.
That may still be true, but Ryan was forced into multiple-interception games too often. He has to get past that and get back to being the attacking quarterback who led the way to a red-hot start in Atlanta.
Ryan can get the job done, and with targets like Tony Gonzalez, Julio Jones and Roddy White beside him, it shouldn't be too difficult to find ways to exploit defenders in the friendly Georgia Dome confines.
The Green Bay Packers secured the No. 3 seed in the NFC, but they head into the playoffs after a loss. The good news is that they'll have a Week 17 rematch with the Minnesota Vikings in the opening round.
And this time it's in Lambeau.
Team MVP: QB Aaron Rodgers
Aaron Rodgers had a strong case for league MVP, and maybe he'd win it if it weren't for unreal seasons by guys like Adrian Peterson and J.J. Watt.
If you wanted to call Rodgers the best quarterback in the NFL, few would disagree with you, especially considering what he's done in 2012 with so many injuries affecting other parts of the offense.
Rodgers will be the guy we all watch as the Packers head into the playoffs. And rightfully so, as the team's playoff chances are riding solely on his right arm.
Anyone who watched the Seattle Seahawks in 2011 knew that this was a team close to competing. All they needed was a quarterback.
Now they have that quarterback, and upgrades on defense like Bobby Wagner and Bruce Irvin. With 11 wins, the Seahawks are ready to make noise in the postseason.
Team MVP: QB Russell Wilson
Lost in the hype surrounding Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III has been the equally solid play of Seattle rookie Russell Wilson. Luck and Griffin deserve their attention, but so does Wilson for the job he's done without exceptional talent around him.
Wilson has been exactly what the Seahawks needed. It's easy to credit the defense or Marshawn Lynch, but in every game they've won this year, Wilson has been the difference.
He'll take the team MVP award, and if Luck and Griffin aren't watching, he just might steal Rookie of the Year from them too.
Beating the Arizona Cardinals in Week 17 was expected, but doing so to secure the No. 2 seed in the NFC is worth celebrating.
The 49ers will get a week off to heal, and they'll also host their divisional-round playoff opponent. With the wind and rain at Candlestick, that could be the difference between a win and a loss.
Team MVP: DE Justin Smith
Surprised to not see Aldon Smith here? I'm a big fan of Aldon, but the best Smith on the San Francisco roster is Justin.
While he doesn't generate the sacks or buzz that Aldon does, the elder Smith is the man who sets up everything the 49ers can do on defense. It's Justin's strength and impact that allows Aldon to come free on Texas stunts and outside rushes.
Notice that Aldon was held sack-less in the time that Justin missed over the last two games, and you'll see who the most important player on this defense is.
Is anyone surprised that, once again, the New England Patriots are one of the best teams in the NFL? No one should be upset or even a little bit surprised to see Bill Belichick's team here again.
Team MVP: QB Tom Brady
Tom Brady simply does it again.
What you may not have noticed in an exciting 2012 season is that Mr. Brady had one of his best seasons ever. It wasn't quite 2007-level production, but Brady was on fire this season.
It may not be enough for No. 12 to enter the conversation with Adrian Peterson as league MVP, but it's definitely enough to warrant another team MVP title for Brady.
The road to the Super Bowl goes through Denver, where the Broncos have ripped off 11 straight wins. Good luck, AFC.
Team MVP: QB Peyton Manning
There was considerable temptation to list Von Miller here, but when it comes down to it, the Denver Broncos are Peyton Manning's team.
This isn't the same team that limped into the playoffs with Tim Tebow at quarterback last year. This is an exciting, versatile, dynamic offensive team that can beat you in any number of ways. That's a credit to Mike McCoy's offensive coordinator skills and the simple beauty of what Manning brings to the table.
Miller or Manning, you really can't go wrong, but this is Peyton's team.