The Dominant Dozen is no more – with all things sorted out for the 2006 season, we're left with the Indianapolis Colts and everyone else. One winner, 31 losers – that's how it goes in this crazy, mixed-up game we call professional football.
We've dissected the Colts' win from every angle imaginable, and found them to be worthy champions.
But will they stay together? They already lost secondary coach Leslie Frazier to Minnesota, where he'll be defensive coordinator, and four of their key Super Bowl starters on defense are free agents (DE Dwight Freeney, LBs Cato June and Rob Morris and CB Nick Harper) along with should-have-been-MVP Dominic Rhodes
Anything short of a Peyton Manning motorcycle crash in the offseason (Break! That! Skull!), and the Colts will start the 2007 season where they ended this one – atop our power rankings.
Until August ...
THE WONDERFUL ONE:
1. INDIANAPOLIS (previous rank: 4)
Playoff epitaph: Here lie the 2006 champions. The defense rests.
Cold, Hard Football Facts: With their four postseason wins, the 2006 Colts have won 57 games overall the last four years – tied for third all-time with the 1989-1992 49ers.
Offseason storyline: Will the Gridiron Gods be on Indy's side for another run? Is Bob Sanders the next big thing? Did you hear the Colts moved out of Baltimore?
THE THROWAWAY THIRTY-ONE:
2. NEW ENGLAND (previous rank: 3)
Playoff epitaph: The little dynasty that couldn't.
Cold, Hard Football Facts: And who has the most overall wins over a four-year span? The 2003-2006 Patriots (59 wins), tied with the 1992-1995 Cowboys.
Offseason storyline: Brady + Belichick = reload for another run.
3. SAN DIEGO (previous rank: 1)
Playoff epitaph: Did everything but win when it counted. (They'll put that on Schottenheimer's gravestone, too.)
Cold, Hard Football Facts: The Chargers scored 20 or more points in 16 of their 17 games during the 2006 season, best in the NFL. Including the postseason, their three losses came by a total of nine points.
Offseason storyline: Schottenheimer will put the headset back on, but both coordinators are gone. LT will run with great vengeance and furious anger.
4. CHICAGO (previous rank: 5)
Playoff epitaph: The critics were right.
Cold, Hard Football Facts: During the season, 43 percent of the Bears' points (197 of 425) came from special teams and defense; in the postseason, it was also 43 percent (35 of 81 points).
Offseason storyline: Chicago's QB job is up for grabs. So are key free agents on defense.
5. BALTIMORE (previous rank: 2)
Playoff epitaph: The worst defense is a bad offense.
Cold, Hard Football Facts: Since winning it all in 2000, the Ravens have had 27 Pro Bowl berths and one playoff win.
Offseason storyline: Replacing Jamal Lewis (3.5 YPA last two years) should be the focus for Baltimore.
6. NEW ORLEANS (previous rank: same
Playoff epitaph: Not built for snow.
Cold, Hard Football Facts: The Saints haven't had back-to-back winning seasons since 1991 (11-5) and 1992 (12-4).
Offseason storyline: Can Reggie Bush make the leap from intriguing to dominating?
7. PHILADELPHIA (previous rank: same)
Playoff epitaph: Should've gone for it.
Cold, Hard Football Facts: QB Donovan McNabb has thrown 29 touchdowns and 12 interceptions in his last 16 full regular-season games.
Offseason storyline: McRehabb.
(previous rank: 10
Playoff epitaph: They had their chance in 2005.
Cold, Hard Football Facts: Coach Mike Holmgren's Hall of Fame credentials are getting thicker: three Super Bowls, 11 playoff berths and just two losing seasons in 15 years.
Offseason storyline: With 22 Seahawks entering free agency (including the unofficial 2006 MVP, kicker Josh Brown), it should make for an interesting few months.
9. N.Y. JETS (previous rank: 8)
Playoff epitaph: Happy to be there.
Cold, Hard Football Facts: Mangini ties Herm Edwards for best debut season (10-6) by a coach in Jets history. Of course, it has never gotten any better for Herm than it was that first year in New York.
Offseason storyline: With a few key pieces in the puzzle, Mangini could keep the Belichick comparisons alive.
10. JACKSONVILLE (previous rank: 13)
Season epitaph: They pissed it all away.
Cold, Hard Football Facts: On Dec. 10, the Jaguars were 8-5 and a red-hot Super Bowl favorite following their now-long-forgotten 44-17 thrashing of the Colts. Then they lost their last three games.
Offseason storyline: Coach Jack Del Rio has built a solid team, but will he get another free pass in 2007?
11. KANSAS CITY
(previous rank: 9)
Playoff epitaph: A playoff team in name only.
Cold, Hard Football Facts: With 720 receptions, Tony Gonzalez is already No. 1 all-time among tight ends; with 107 more catches, he'll pass fullback Larry Centers (826 catches) for the top spot among non-wide receivers.
Offseason storyline: Is Trent Green still the man?
12. DALLAS (previous rank: 11)
Playoff epitaph: Poor Tony Romo.
Cold, Hard Football Facts: Terry Glenn came into the league with a bad reputation (and lived up to it for a while). But he's now 45th all-time in receiving yards and is coming off back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons.
Offseason storyline: All-T.O., all the time. Just shoot us.
13. DENVER (previous rank: 14)
Season epitaph: Goodbye, Jake. Hello, Jay.
Cold, Hard Football Facts: Denver has been ranked in the Top 5 league-wide in rushing yards in eight of Mike Shanahan's 12 years as head coach (8th in 2006).
Offseason storyline: Owner Pat Bowlen will turn up the heat on his coach: The Broncos have just one playoff victory since their back-to-back Super Bowl seasons of 1997-98 – and that was nearly a decade ago, for those of you keeping score at home.
14. CINCINNATI (previous rank: 15)
Season epitaph: They fought the law, and the law won.
Cold, Hard Football Facts: The talented Bengals tooketh, but they also gaveth away – they outgained opponents by a grand total of 16 yards in 2006 (8th in yards gained, 30th in yards allowed).
Offseason storyline: Will the cavalcade of off-field embarrassment continue?
15. N.Y. GIANTS (previous rank: 12)
Playoff epitaph: Manning Lite.
Cold, Hard Football Facts: Tiki Barber closed his career with three straight seasons of 2,000+ yards from scrimmage, including the No. 2 season of all time. (His 2,390 yards in 2005 is second only to Marshall Faulk's 2,429 for the 1999 Rams.)
Offseason storyline: Slumping team marred by locker-room discontent loses best player ... doesn't sound like a story that has a happy ending.
16. PITTSBURGH (previous rank: same)
Season epitaph: Damned motorcycles.
Cold, Hard Football Facts: Every single one of Bill Cowher's 15 Steelers teams finished in the top half of the league in scoring defense and total defense. His best offensive rank was fifth.
Offseason storyline: Can the Steelers survive without "The Chin"?
17. TENNESSEE (previous rank: same)
Season epitaph: The start of something big?
Cold, Hard Football Facts: Tennessee's scoring defense over the last three years has ranked 30th, 29th and 31st.
Offseason storyline: It's Vince Young's world; we just live in it. Get ready for the hype.
18. CAROLINA (previous rank: same)
Season epitaph: SI jinxed.
Cold, Hard Football Facts: The Carolina rush defense has ranked in the top 12 (based upon YPA) in all five of coach John Fox's seasons.
Offseason storyline: It's still a one-man show on offense: Steve Smith was the only 1,000-yard skill player. Can the Panthers find another go-to guy?
19. ST. LOUIS (previous rank: same)
Season epitaph: No longer the "Greatest Show on Turf."
Cold, Hard Football Facts: From 2003-05, QB Marc Bulger tossed INTs with 3.45 percent of his passes, a fairly low number. In 2006, his INT rate fell to 1.36 percent, tied for 12th best all-time.
Offseason storyline: Zzzzzzzzz. Wake us up when the Rams are relevant again.
20. GREEN BAY
(previous rank: same)
Season epitaph: Brett's still the man (sort of).
Offseason storyline: The fourth annual Brett Favre farewell tour is already underway.
21. BUFFALO (previous rank: same)
Season epitaph: At least the wings were good.
Cold, Hard Football Facts: The good news? The Bills were an unlucky 2-5 in games decided by three points or fewer. The bad news? The Bills suck in close games.
Offseason storyline: Are Buffalo's triplets (Losman, McGahee, Evans) stars on the rise or just guys with a jersey?
22. SAN FRANCISCO (previous rank: same)
Season epitaph: A faint light of hope by the bay.
Cold, Hard Football Facts: Since Terrell Owens got dealt away following the 2003 season, the Niners haven't had a receiver go over 733 yards (Bryant in 2006, Lloyd in 2005).
Offseason storyline: They have building blocks, but do the Niners still have what it takes to shape a winner?
23. MIAMI (previous rank: same)
Season epitaph: Guess we should have gone with Brees.
Cold, Hard Football Facts: Despite having the 30th-best passing game (6.06 yards per attempt), the Dolphins were fourth in the league in pass attempts (4th).
Offseason storyline: The Malcolm "Cam" Cameron era begins. Any chance he brought Tomlinson with him?
24. ATLANTA (previous rank: same)
Season epitaph: Michael Vick 1, Head Coach 0.
Cold, Hard Football Facts: Vick has thrown interceptions on just 3.01 percent of his passes, 21st best all-time. No. 1 all-time? Neil O'Donnell.
Offseason storyline: Can the Falcons find Vick a legitimate weapon before he runs out of legs?
(previous rank: same
Season epitaph: Let's pretend that never happened.
Cold, Hard Football Facts: Washington's pass defense was amazingly bad in 2006 – last in interceptions (six), TDs allowed (30), yards per pass (7.18) and defensive passer rating (97.8).
The Redskins need help at quarterback and
at defensive back. Maybe Dan Snyder can dig deep into his pockets and lure Sammy Baugh
out of retirement.
26. HOUSTON (previous rank: same)
Season epitaph: Fourth place becomes us.
Cold, Hard Football Facts: Despite leading the NFL in completion percentage (68.4 percent), the Texans were 25th in yards per pass (6.83).
Offseason storyline: Will the Texans ever challenge in the ultra-tough AFC South? And wouldn't it have been more fun to suck with Reggie Bush on the team instead of Mario Williams?
27. ARIZONA (5-11, previous rank: same)
Season epitaph: We were just who we thought we were!
Cold, Hard Football Facts: The Cardinals have been 22nd or worse in scoring defense in 11 of the last 12 years (29th in 2006).
Offseason storyline: Fantasy football fans, take notice. Real football fans, not so much.
28. MINNESOTA (previous rank: same)
Season epitaph: Three yards and a cloud of suck.
Cold, Hard Football Facts: CB Antoine Winfield led all NFL defensive backs with seven tackles for loss this year.
Offseason storyline: Anybody else think Randy Moss would look good in purple again?
29. TAMPA BAY
(previous rank: same)
Season epitaph: A throwback to the bad old days.
Cold, Hard Football Facts: Former offensive genius Jon Gruden has yet to have a scoring offense better than 18th in his five years in Tampa (31st last year).
Offseason storyline: Are the Bucs the 11-5 playoff team of 2005 or the embarrassment of 2006?
30. DETROIT (previous rank: same)
Season epitaph: Built Ford tender.
Cold, Hard Football Facts: The Lions haven't had a three-game winning streak since 2000, under interim coach Gary Moeller. They're 25-75 in the 100 games since that modest skid.
Offseason storyline: Ooh! Another top-5 draft pick! We dare you to pick a wide receiver, Matt. We just dare you.
31. CLEVELAND ( previous rank: same)
Season epitaph: Still expanding.
Cold, Hard Football Facts: Team nickname is still "Browns."
Offseason storyline: If Charlie Frye ever got time to throw, would he be any good?
32. OAKLAND (previous rank: same)
Season epitaph: Just Puke, Baby!
Cold, Hard Football Facts: Raiders coach Lane Kiffin was born two weeks after the end of the Vietnam War. In addition to being younger than several of his players, he is younger than Enrique Iglesias, Tara Reid and the girl who played Winnie Cooper on "The Wonder Years."
Offseason storyline: Kiffin takes over the worst team in franchise history.