The end of the season forces owners, front office executives and coaches to reassess their respective rosters and make hard decisions based on the performances of their teams.
The 12 teams fortunate enough to make the postseason will conduct similar evaluations at season's end, but the non-qualifiers are already looking ahead to next year.
With each of the teams not in the playoffs enduring their fair share of ups and downs throughout the course of the season, it seems like the perfect time to reflect back by taking a hard look at the good, bad and ugly moments of their seasons.
The Good: Despite being the Rams' only legitimate offensive weapon. Pro Bowler Steven Jackson finished the season as the league's second-leading rusher with 1,416 yards.
The Bad: The Rams' anemic offense averaged only 10.9 points per game. The unit only generated 16 touchdowns, and scored 10 points or fewer in nine of their games.
Where do they go from here? Although the Rams mustered only one win, the team never quit on their coach and played with tremendous effort. With the top overall pick, the Rams have a chance to nab Nebraska DT Ndamukong Suh to fortify their defense.
The Good: The Lions ended their 19-game losing streak with a 19-14 victory over the Redskins. Detroit later notched a dramatic win over Cleveland that signaled the arrival of Matthew Stafford.
The Bad: The team went a second straight season without earning a victory on the road.
The Ugly: The woeful defense surrendered a whopping 30.9 points per game, and allowed three opponents to top the 40-point mark.
Where do they go from here? The Lions added potential gems in Stafford, Louis Delmas and Brandon Pettigrew in last year's draft, and will look add to more difference makers in the 2010 draft. With the second overall pick, the team could nab a dominant defender to accelerate the rebuilding process.
The Good: The Bucs appeared to discover a franchise quarterback in Josh Freeman. Although the rookie experienced his fair share of struggles, his big arm and playmaking ability has fans excited about the possibilities in the near future.
The Bad: Tampa Bay started the season by losing 12 of 13 games.
The Ugly:Raheem Morris fired both of his coordinators (Jeff Jagodzinski and Jim Bates) in the span of three months. The moves lead to numerous questions about Morris' readiness for the gig and his long-term future in Tampa Bay.
Where do they go from here? After turning over the majority of their roster in 2009, the Bucs will look to add a few key pieces on both sides of the ball to help their young lineup. While Morris has been instrumental in helping the Bucs get younger, the team has to decide if he is the right man to lead them into the next decade.
The GoodBrian Orakpo emerged as a Pro Bowler as a rookie. The hybrid-linebacker tallied 11 sacks as a part-time edge rusher, and helped the defense finish among the top ten.
The Bad: The offense scored 18 or more points only five times. The unit was so bad that Jim Zorn was stripped of his play-calling duties, and Sherm Lewis was brought out of retirement to run the offense.
Where do they go from here? The Redskins quietly put Zorn to rest after a season-ending loss to the Chargers, and Mike Shanahan is rumored to be the next leader of the team. The well-esteemed coaching veteran will undoubtedly retool the roster, and the changes could result in a quick turnaround.
The Good: The Seahawks discovered a multi-purpose threat in Justin Forsett. The second-year pro amassed 969 yards from scrimmage, and had two 100-yard rushing games as a complementary back.
The Bad:Matt Hasselbeck suffered through one of the worst seasons of his career while directing Greg Knapp's version of the West Coast offense. He threw a career-high 17 interceptions, and finished with a dismal 75.1 passer rating.
Where do they go from here? First, the Seahawks need to find a general manager to lead the rebuilding efforts after Tim Ruskell resigned last month. The new man in charge will have his hands full in selecting successors to LT Walter Jones and Hasselbeck.
The Good: The Bears opened with a 3-1 start that had the Windy City envisioning another Super Bowl Shuffle. However, Chicago dropped eight of its next 10 games to limp to a disappointing third-place finish in the NFC North.
The Bad:Matt Forte suffered through the dreaded sophomore slump, failing to break the 1,000-yard rushing mark after gaining 1,238 yards on the ground as a rookie.
The Ugly:Jay Cutler threw a league-high 26 interceptions, which ended any chance to lead the Bears into the playoffs. His turnover-prone play led some fans to wish for Kyle Orton.
Where do they go from here? Numerous coaching changes came down Tuesday after the Bears seemingly underachieved under Lovie Smith's direction. While Smith is safe for now, the same wasn't true for offensive coordinator Ron Turner or much of the offensive staff.
While the playoff teams look forward to a run at the Lombardi Trophy, 20 organizations are already focused on 2010. Check out each team's opponents for next season. **More ...**
The Good: The trio of Frank Gore, Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree emerged to give the team an impressive offensive core to build around. Davis, who earned his first Pro Bowl berth, tied for the league lead in touchdown receptions with 13.
The Bad: The 49ers had a chance to earn their first playoff berth since 2002, but were undone by their inability to win close games. The team lost six games by seven points or fewer.
Where do they go from here?Mike Singletary's troops are clearly on the way up, but will need to learn to win close games to take the next step. After another rigorous offseason program, the 49ers should be serious contenders in 2010.
The Good:Steve Smith emerged as a big-time receiver and made fans forget about Plaxico Burress. Smith topped the century mark in receptions (107) and finished eighth in the league in receiving yards (1,220).
The Bad: Brandon Jacobs regressed as the feature back. He looked tentative running and failed to record a 100-yard game as a result. Although Jacobs wasn't solely responsible for the team's dramatic decline on the ground (Giants led the league in rush yards in 2008, but fell to 17th this season), his ineffectiveness between the tackles hindered the offense's production.
The Ugly: The defense was absolutely awful this season under the direction of coordinator Bill Sheridan. The unit surrendered 40 or more points five times despite having a roster that many viewed as one of the most talented in the league. In addition, the sack total dipped from 42 to 32 even with the addition of several players (Chris Canty, Rocky Bernard and Michael Boley) in the offseason.
Where do they go from here? The Giants fired Sheridan at season's end, and are committed to finding their identity as a team. Tom Coughlin and Jerry Reese are evaluating all aspects of their roster, and will likely make a host of changes.
The Good:Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams became the first teammates since the merger to each rush for more than 1,100-yards.
The Bad:Steve Smith recorded only two 100-yard receiving games and failed to surpass the 1,000-yard mark for the first time since 2004. While his play didn't decline, the abysmal play of Jake Delhomme rendered Smith useless for most of the season.
The Ugly: Delhomme ended any chance the Panthers had for back-to-back playoff appearances. He threw 18 interceptions in 11 starts, which led to a 59.4 passer rating.
Where do they go from here? The Panthers enter the offseason with numerous questions regarding their coaching staff (Will John Fox return as a lame duck?) to key personnel decisions involving two longtime stars (Julius Peppers and Delhomme). How these events unfold will greatly impact whether the Panthers return to the ranks of the elite next season.
The Good: The Falcons finished with back-to-back winning seasons for the first time in franchise history.
The Bad: Atlanta was ravaged by injuries to key personnel, and the loss of playmakers prevented the team from building on a 4-1 start that had them in the thick of the NFC race.
The Ugly: The anemic pass rush registered only 28 sacks. John Abraham, who recorded 16.5 sacks in 2008, had just 5.5 this season.
Where do they go from here? The Falcons have become one of the league's better teams by routinely fortifying their roster with savvy offseason additions and solid drafts. With Atlanta on the verge of becoming a legitimate title contender, Thomas Dimitroff and Co. will look to add another key piece in 2010.