A total of 15 teams remained standing as the clock struck 1 PM EST on Sunday afternoon, the day before New Year's Eve.
From there, in three or four hour increments, that list whittled down to the mandated 12 necessary to form a playoff pool.
We here at the Football Nation Medical Examiner's Office know how difficult this last week of post-mortem examination can be.
Well, not from an emotional standpoint; that's left for the fans, players, and others to digest. I'm referring to the layers of broken optimism that need to be scraped off the cadavers before we can begin working. Sometimes it's like trying to chip through five inches of solid ice with a plastic spork.
These are the teams that needed just one or two breaks to go their way, and they'd be alive today, vying among a field of a dozen for a trophy awarded only to one.
Instead, they plot their next move, bitterly vowing that they'll be back, better than ever.
But until such opportunity arises, embrace the squalid stench of death. At least in this state, you won't feel a thing when I carve into the remains....
Subject: Chicago Bears
Date of Death: December 30, 2012
Record at Time of Death: 10-6
Contributing Factors to Death:
1. Offensive Line Woes
The image of Jay Cutler disgustedly shoving tackle J'Marcus Webb in the Bears' Week 2 spanking at the hands of Green Bay was replayed at length on the 24 hour sports channels, with many ex-players condemning Cutler. After all, putting your hands on a teammate who was only trying to help you certainly shows a lack of consideration.
Call it what you will, but the Bears gave up 44 sacks on the year, the eighth worst total in the league. Cutler took 38 of them, while short-lived backup Jason Campbell suffered the other 6.
Webb and right tackle Gabe Carimi (a first round pick in 2011) found themselves unable to hold up the way reliable end-pieces should, and Cutler found himself under heavy pressure.
Right guard Lance Louis, perhaps the most consistent blocker of Cutler's this season, was violently taken out by Jared Allen, tearing his ACL. Carimi was forced to move over to guard. Left guard Chris Spencer tore his meniscus in the same game.
After that injury shake-up, the Bears would lose their next 3 games by margins of 6, 7, and 8 points.
2. Defense Bails Out Offense
The 2000 Baltimore Ravens were 10-6, had the defense from hell, and, as a wild card, won Super Bowl XXV with current ESPN analyst/food-reference lover Trent Dilfer.
There are 2 differences between them and the 2012 Chicago Bears: Cutler's a better quarterback than Dilfer, and the Ravens actually made the playoffs.
Other than that, the stellar play of Henry Melton, Lance Briggs, Tim Jennings, Charles Tillman, and, in a Brian Urlacher (in a ceremonial/leadership sense) could have been coached by Mike Ditka, and he would have led those men with pride and confidence.
41 sacks, 24 interceptions, and 9 defensive touchdowns are enough to make the likes of Ray Lewis and Michael McCrary say "well played."
In spite of all that, the offense didn't quite live up to the defense's punishing standard.
Put it like this: the Bears forced 44 total turnovers on defense, and are 8-0 when they force 3+ turnovers in a game.
Conversely, they're 2-6 when they have 2 or less turnovers. They've only had 0 once, and they lost that game 32-7 to the Niners. The 2 wins came against a Rams team just finding its voice, and a 1-point win over the mediocre Panthers.
3. Couldn't Beat Good Teams
Even with this dominant D, judging by how the regular season shook out, there's little chance that Chicago would have held its own in the postseason.
Cold Hard Football Facts keeps track of each team's record against teams with winning records. Atlanta has a 3-0 record against such opponents, while Seattle is pretty impressive with a 5-1 mark versus winning teams.
Chicago, on the other hand, is a mere 2-6, and has the thirteenth worst winning percentage in that category.
The two wins were against Indianapolis in Week 1 (pre-Chuckstrong) and in November over the Vikings.
Besides there, there were a pair of losses to the Packers (including the aforementioned Week 2 spanking), the Vikes getting their payback, as well as defeats to Houston, San Francisco, and Seattle.
The Bears only averaged 11.1 PPG in those six defeats, never scoring more than 17 points.
For more autopsies, including the Eagles, Giants, Steelers, and more, click here