For 20 teams, it's over today.

Some of them - the Detroit Lions, Cincinnati Bengals, St. Louis Rams, and Kansas City Chiefs - will be more thankful than a dehydrated man discovering water in the desert.

Others - the Eagles will likely be at the top of this list - will simply be regretful for the lost opportunity to do something far greater.

Twelve other teams will begin their quest for a Super Bowl title.

Some playoff predictions are forthcoming, but first it's time to hand out the regular-season awards:


Eight weeks into the season, the Indianapolis Colts were 3-4 and Peyton Manning ranked 22d in the league with a 79.0 passer rating, one spot ahead of Detroit's Dan Orlovsky. Manning and the Colts appeared to be a team on the decline.

In the last eight weeks, Manning has completed 71.4 percent of his passes (going 202 for 283), throwing for 2,153 yards and 16 touchdowns with just three interceptions. The Colts have won eight in a row and appear to be the AFC's most dangerous team heading into the playoffs.

Offensive player of the year.

Minnesota's Adrian Peterson will get a lot of support for this award because the second-year running back leads the league in yards from scrimmage after finishing fourth in that department as a rookie. It says here, however, that Carolina's DeAngelo Williams has done more despite picking up fewer yards. Williams leads the NFL with 20 touchdowns and his 5.4-yard average per carry is the best among running backs with at least 200 carries.

Defensive player of the year.

The Eagles played against the league's three best defensive players this season, and the one who had the most impact against them was clearly Baltimore safety Ed Reed, who intercepted two passes and returned one 107 yards for a touchdown. The one who had the least impact was Pittsburgh linebacker James Farrior, who had seven tackles and a forced fumble that was actually a missed call by an official. The pick for the league's best defensive player is the guy the Eagles will see today. One man alone cannot block Dallas' DeMarcus Ware, whose 20 sacks going into the regular-season finale are the most since the New York Giants' Michael Strahan set an NFL record with 221/2 during the 2001 season.

Offensive rookie of the year.

This might be the best cast of offensive rookies in league history, thanks in large part to a trio of local players. Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan, Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco and Houston running back Steve Slaton all are viable candidates for this honor. Throw in Chicago's Matt Forte and Tennessee's Chris Johnson and it really has been a special class of rookie offensive players.

But the winner here has to be Ryan because the Falcons have gone from a tragic disaster to a playoff team in one year, and their rookie quarterback is a big reason why.

Defensive rookie of the year.

There hasn't been a truly great defensive rookie this season, but Jerod Mayo has injected youth into New England's aging linebacker corps and has been better than any other first-year defender in the league.

Comeback player of the year.

Tossed aside by the New York Jets, Miami quarterback Chad Pennington can lead the Dolphins to the most unlikely division title in franchise history if he can earn a win over Brett Favre and his former team today at the Meadowlands.

Pennington is the league's second-rated passer with a 96.4 rating. He has thrown for four fewer touchdowns than Favre, but the Dolphins have had a special season because Pennington knows how to protect the football. His seven interceptions are 12 fewer than Favre's, and the Dolphins' 12 turnovers are the fewest in the league.

Coach of the year.

There have been tremendous coaching performances this year, but you'll have to look outside Philadelphia and Detroit to find them.

Miami, under first-year coach Tony Sparano, has gone from a 1-15 team to needing a win today against the Jets to win the AFC East. Atlanta, under first-year head coach Mike Smith, has gone from a 4-12 unnatural disaster to a playoff team. Baltimore, under former Eagles assistant John Harbaugh, has gone from a 5-11 team to needing a win today over Jacksonville to make the playoffs. You also have to give New England's Bill Belichick credit for keeping the Patriots in contention after losing quarterback Tom Brady on opening day.

If this were a biased pick, Harbaugh would be the winner because he's a quality human being and coach whose presence at the NovaCare Complex was missed this season. But Smith had the most to overcome in Atlanta, so he gets the award.

A look ahead

The playoff field won't be finalized until after today's games, but we'll take a stab at naming the NFC and AFC champions and the Super Bowl winner anyway.

The New York Giants appeared to have no chance of winning the Super Bowl at this time last season, but there they were in Glendale, Ariz., last February beating the previously unbeaten New England Patriots.

Now, the Giants go into this year's postseason as the team to beat, and the prediction here is that they will be beaten. The Carolina Panthers came close to claiming the home-field advantage with a win at Giants Stadium, and will win the rematch at the Meadowlands in the NFC championship game.

Over in the AFC, the road to the Super Bowl will go through Nashville, and the Tennessee Titans will be tough to beat at home. But the Indianapolis Colts will be able to do it and advance to their second Super Bowl in three years.

The Super Bowl winner will be the Panthers.