Only one of the NFL's 32 teams can finish the season with the Lombardi Trophy but there are varying degrees of missed glory. Come the Monday after Week 17, there should be a trio of teams extremely frustrated after squandering excellent shots to prolong their seasons with a playoff bid.
For the three teams below, there are reasons for their failure, but no real excuses after the way the season unfolded. Below we highlight the Lions, Dolphins and Ravens -- all on the playoff brink -- to provide some perspective on which way they should turn their gaze after they recover from what will be a very painful Monday morning.
After Detroit's Week 10 win in Chicago, the NFC North was there for the taking. The Bears' and Packers' starting quarterbacks were injured and the Lions sat at 6-3 with what looked like a very navigable schedule in front of them. But this team imploded and was out of playoff contention after the Week 16 overtime loss to the New York Giants. How does that happen?
What were the causes of the implosion that cost the Lions six of their final seven games? The biggest area of concern is just overall discipline. The Lions got sloppy -- and this isn't new for this team.
Jim Schwartz preaches aggressive play and the Lions have drafted some players with suspect character as they came out of college. Crucial penalties and "finding a way to lose" have been staples of this organization of late. This problem, coupled with some poor in-game coaching adjustments, could cost Schwartz his job. Personally, I think the NFL is far too impatient with coaching decisions, but in this case, a change is needed.