Welcome to 2012 and the end of the NFL regular season. The best way to start the new year off properly is to have a few memorable playoff games for our viewing pleasure. We are now down to the final 12 teams -- some have a good chance to make a Super Bowl appearance, some a slight chance and a few with no chance.
With everyone making resolutions, let's break down all the playoff teams and provide a couple things they need to resolve to make it to Indianapolis on Feb. 5.
Green Bay: For the Packers, they must resolve their inability to find another rusher playing opposite of Clay Matthews. The Packers must get a higher level of play from outside 'backer Erik Walden, or anyone else, so they don't have to always take chances in their calls. The Packers are vulnerable on defense, against the run and pass.
San Francisco: For the 49ers, they must resolve to prove to teams in the playoffs that they can throw the ball effectively and defend the great passers in the league. Can the 49ers win a shootout? They have only allowed an opponent to score more than 20 points in four games this year. Maybe they won't have to win one, but their passing game must be ready if called upon.
New Orleans: For the Saints, they must resolve to be as good away from the Mercedes-Benz Superdome as they are when they play at home. Is this passing game going to be as effective outdoors and on grass? Possibly two of the Saints' playoff games will be outside. But right now, the Saints are really tough on offense and, like the Packers, they must improve on defense.
New York: For the Giants, they must resolve to dominate games with their defensive line and keep pressuring the quarterback without having to blitz and expose their corners. The Giants need to make teams work the ball down the field, as their defensive line can wear down their opponents. Great defensive lines can dominate in the playoffs and the Giants' unit has the potential to be great.
Detroit: For the Lions, they must resolve to be able to find a healthy running back and a better run game so the burden of winning does not always fall onto quarterback Matthew Stafford's right arm. And somehow they must find a way to play better on defense as their defensive line must carry them if they expect to win a playoff game.
Atlanta: For the Falcons, they must resolve to always get their running game going and play from in front as they struggle to protect quarterback Matt Ryan when the game becomes all pass. The Falcons must play their style, which is starting fast. And they must find a way to win on the road, as they now must win three straight away from the Georgia Dome to reach the Super Bowl.
New England: For the Patriots, they must resolve to find a way to play effective defense early in the game and hope their explosive offense can carry them to a win. They also must resolve to win a home playoff game. The past two seasons the Patriots have let the season slip away right in front of their own fans.
Baltimore: For the Ravens, they must resolve to find a more sophisticated passing game as they are too predictable with most every call. They have the worst average yards per attempt (6.66) of any of the AFC playoff teams. The Ravens must improve their offense, in terms of the calls and the way they attack their opponent.
Houston: For the Texans, they must resolve to run the football, play their best defense of the year and never let the game slip away. With a rookie third-stringer at quarterback, the Texans must win with a strong run game, tough defense and field position.
Denver: For the Broncos, they must resolve to find a passing game if they expect to beat the Steelers. Coming off a three-game losing streak, the Broncos backed into the playoffs and now must find a way to move the ball through the air. Running the ball on the Steelers is a challenge, so if Tim Tebow has any magic left this season, he is going to need to use his left arm to make it.
Pittsburgh: For the Steelers, they must resolve to be the best road team they possibly can be as all of their games will be on the road. Can they effectively throw the ball well enough away from Heinz Field? The Steelers must keep Ben Roethlisberger healthy for their entire run. And they must hope the outcome of the game does not come down to the leg of kicker Scott Suisham, as he has been erratic outside of 30 yards and even more so outside of 40.
Cincinnati: For the Bengals, they must resolve themselves in playing their best game of the season against a winning team. The Bengals have not had a quality win against a good opponent. They let games against the 49ers and Texans slip away. They are no longer a young team, they are a playoff team and need to act like one, on both sides of the ball.
Things I loved
» I love how the Giants keep fighting back, regardless of the situation, and especially how the team responds to coach Tom Coughlin. In every locker room scene between Coughlin and the players, you can feel the respect the players have for him and how intently they listen to his words. Coughlin had his team well prepared for the big game against the Cowboys and now the Giants host the Falcons in the playoffs. The Giants are tough to play when they can control the game with their defensive front and Eli Manning is making throws all over the field. Can someone tell me how receiver Victor Cruz is not in the Pro Bowl?
» I love how Packers backup quarterback Matt Flynn has made the most of both times he has been the starting quarterback. He earned himself a ton of money as he moved the ball up and down the field on a really bad Lions defense. Flynn had a career day in only his first start this season, completing more than 70 percent of his passes for well over 400 yards. But more important than yards and completions, Flynn led his team down the field in the two-minute drill and put the ball in the end zone, making the Lions need a touchdown for the win. Flynn was exceptional and the other Packers seem to rally around him and respect his talent. Flynn will get a chance to start for some team next season.
» I love how Drew Brees is in a zone that few players have ever achieved. Playing in a meaningless game, as the Saints could not improve their playoff seeding unless the 49ers lost to the Rams (a highly unlikely scenario), Brees worked the Panthers secondary by spreading the ball around and destroying the single-season yardage record of the 2000 St. Louis Rams' "Greatest Show on Turf" by more than 400 yards. Brees also destroyed Dan Marino's single-season passing yardage record and made this game look too easy. Playing at home with great pass protection, Brees is becoming unstoppable and had his record-setting 13th 300-yard day passing. Brees should garner many MVP votes and even though the conventional wisdom is that Aaron Rodgers is a lock, both Brees and Tom Brady have also had incredible seasons, leading their teams to 13-win seasons.
Things I hated
» I hated watching quarterback Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos struggle to make a play in the passing game and not be able to score a touchdown in the most important game of their season against the Chiefs. Since the second half of the Patriots game, the Broncos offensively have struggled. They have struggled to protect the ball, struggled to throw the ball and most of all struggled to be consistent. Even though they backed into the postseason, the Broncos don't have the look right now of a playoff team. They can't effectively throw the ball and even though they can run for yards, the run game does not generate points. I don't see how they can beat the Steelers this week without a passing game. The Broncos have been a nice story and went from last to first, but in reality they still are far away from being a solid team.
» I hated watching the Redskins play Sunday and hated watching them most of the year. Since their bye week after their fourth game, the 'Skins are 2-10 and finished the season 2-6 at home. Things are bleak in Washington right now. The defense is regressing as it has allowed more than 30 points four of the past five games. Washington is 1-11 when allowing more than 17 points. And as the Redskins enter the offseason, they don't have a quarterback for the present or the future. Head coach Mike Shanahan is facing the toughest test of his career as he enters year three of his time in Washington and has done very little to show the fans he has improved the team. Shanahan must find the right answers, he must make the right changes and he has to show everyone he has a comprehensive plan for the rebuilding process, not just adding players.
» I hated, and have hated all season, watching the Raiders commit stupid penalties, have horrendous game management at the end of the half and most of all watching them play defense. The Raiders enter the offseason with no high draft picks and a salary cap that won't increase, therefore they will bring back essentially the same team next year. On offense that might be good enough, but on defense where they have allocated most of their money, they must make some changes. Stanford Routt is not a top-five corner, even though the Raiders decided to pay him like one. And they must get faster at linebacker, and find a reduced role for inside 'backer Rolando McClain, a first-round pick in 2010. McClain cannot run, cannot cover and unless he can play in a box, he is a liability when teams spread the Raiders defense. This will be a huge offseason for the Raiders, starting with making the right decision on defense.
Things on my mind
» The Chargers win the AFC West if they don't mess up the snap on Monday night in Kansas City in Week 8 as they were positioning themselves for a game-winning field goal. This is a perfect example of the little mistakes made during the season coming back to haunt a team.
» Cowboys coach Jason Garrett needs to bring in someone to help him offensively and create more diverse ways to throw the ball. The Cowboys are too stagnate in their formations and never make it easy on the receivers. How can the Cowboys be "America's Team" when they lost in all four of their prime-time games?
» The Cowboys chose to hold onto corner Terence Newman in case they did not get Nnamdi Asomugha during the free agency period. I bet they would love to have a do-over. They should have cut Newman, making it easier to sign Asomugha. Had they failed, they could have brought back Newman at a reduced price. Newman got in the way of signing Asomugha and then he got in their way of having a good season.
» Congratulations to Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew for leading the league in rushing this season. Jones-Drew was the best part of the Jaguars and in spite of all the carries throughout this season and his overall career, he looked fresh Sunday running the ball up and down on the bad Colts defense.
» The Colts are bad on both sides of the ball and they cannot get fooled into evaluating their players at home in the Dome. The Colts must use all the away games to accurately evaluate their players because if they don't, they will continue to make mistakes.
» The Browns are drafting fourth overall next year, the Redskins sixth and the Dolphins will either be eighth or ninth. All three teams will be trying to get to St Louis' pick at No. 2 in order to pick a quarterback. All three passed on helping their team at quarterback last year, and now all three are desperate.
» The Jets have issues on and off the field. As an organization, it has struggled to handle success. Sunday they looked like a bad team, making all the same mistakes they made all season on both offense and defense. The offense will take the heat, but they have issues on defense as well. One thing for certain, the Jets better bring in competition for quarterback Mark Sanchez next season and not Mark Brunell.
» In looking back on the season, Philadelphia must not take the last four games and look forward. They must use all 16 games in their evaluation process. If they think all is good now, then they are really delusional. What good team did the Eagles beat down the stretch?
» The Arizona Cardinals love overtime and play well in the extra period. They won right games and finished 6-2 over the last half of the season. With a good offseason and making the right choice at quarterback, the Cards will be able to compete for a playoff spot next season.
» On Sunday, the Rams had their third quarterback limp off the field and never return to the game. After all the changes are made in St Louis, the new regime must start with rebuilding the offensive line.
» I don't care what position he plays: Patriots tight end/H-back Aaron Hernandez is a Pro Bowl player. He is really fast, explosive and is a tough matchup. With Rob Gronkowski getting all the attention, Hernandez has really taken off.
» Congratulations to Gronkowski for the touchdown and yardage record for tight ends. He is an amazing talent.
Follow Michael Lombardi on Twitter @michaelombardi