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: New York Giants
Date of Death: December 30, 2012
Record at Time of Death: 9-7
Contributing Factors to Death:
1. Inversion of Eli Manning
With big brother Peyton staring down the barrel of retirement early in 2012, and kid brother Eli taking home his second Lombardi Trophy/Super Bowl MVP combo, all pretenses of Peyton being the undisputed 'better sibling' seemed to lose their weight.
Eleven months later, with Denver looking like one of the strongest teams in the NFL, and the Giants eliminated, the previous assumption is putting on the pounds once more.
From Week 16 in 2011, through the end of Super Bowl XLVI, Eli Manning threw 13 touchdown passes and just two picks. He beat the Jets to eliminate the Eagles in Week 16, then Dallas a week later in the finale to claim the final playoff spot.
From there, obviously, he led the Giants to four straight wins, including a fourth quarter comeback in the big game, to win his second title.
Manning, like the greatest of quarterbacks, was there when New York needed him to be.
Not the case in 2012.
Take away his evisceration of the lackadaisical Eagles in the final week (5 TD passes), and Manning threw 21 touchdowns against 15 picks in 2012. His rating outside of that final game was 83.6, which would have been his lowest since 2007.
If not for the Eagles game, he would have finished behind Carson Palmer and Cam Newton, and barely ahead of Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Consistency was also an issue, as Manning completed less than 54 percent of his passes in six different games.
2. Defense Proved Inconsistent
Yes, it's a 'passing league' these days. Yes, quarterbacks like Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, and even Matthew Stafford are putting up passing numbers that would made heads explode if they happened with this frequency in the 1980s.
But still, that's no excuse for pass defenses to get walked on in the modern NFL. If anything, defensive schemes need to evolve to match the blitzkriegs that a Rodgers or a Brees can unleash.
On the turnover front, the Giants have been stout at poaching. Their 21 interceptions are third in the NFL (8 for breakout star Stevie Brown) and the Giants are third overall in turnovers (14 fumble recoveries).
But it's feast or famine. If the Giants can't force the opponent to give up the ball, they're prone to getting blasted.
The Giants have given up the fifth most passing yards in the league, 4,068 through the air. And 26 touchdown passes given up are the thirteenth worst total among 32 teams.
As for the run defense, the Giants have given up 140 yards on the ground seven times this season, and New York is 2-5 in those games. New York's given up 2066 yards rushing, the eighth highest total.
3. Second Half Slide
Doubling as the NFC East beat writer for Cold Hard Football Facts, I experienced my own "Dewey Defeats Truman" moment on the night of October 28.
Fresh off a 29-24 win over Dallas, the Giants improved to 6-2, and stood above the wreckage of their division over the Cowboys (3-4), Eagles (3-4), and Redskins (3-5), with nothing but daylight ahead of them for a divisional repeat.
Then November happened.
The Giants would go 3-5 the rest of the way, while the Redskins would win seven straight beginning November 18, winding up 10-6 and taking the East.
As for New York's descent into futility, their second half included narrow losses to Pittsburgh (coming back from down 10 scores late) and the Skins on a Monday night (which helped shape how the division would be decided).
They were also blown out several times, by the Bengals 31-13 (the pass defense crumbled), to the Falcons 34-0 (worst loss by a defending Super Bowl champ), and to a sliding Baltimore team, 33-14.
All the Eagles win on Sunday did was help New York salvage a little dignity.
For other autopsies, such as the Eagles, Steelers, Saints, and more, click here