But January is football's cruelest month, and all endured the frustrations of an early playoff exit.
Antoine Bethea, an Indianapolis Colts free safety from Denbigh High, was the first to depart. His seven solo tackles and forced fumble couldn't spare the Colts a 17-16 wild-card loss to the New York Jets.
Bethea is spoiled. He's played all of his five seasons for Indianapolis, a model franchise of stability and success that's made the playoffs nine consecutive years, matching the NFL record set by the Dallas Cowboys from 1975-83.
But Indy's iconic quarterback, Peyton Manning, turns 35 in March, and although he threw for a career-best 4,700 yards, his passer rating this season was its lowest since 2002. The Colts needed to win their final four games just to make the playoffs, and it's certainly fair to wonder if their run is about to end.
Regardless, Bethea's run in Indy is likely to continue. He had a career-high 106 tackles this season and just completed the first year of a four-year, $27-million contract.
Vick's unprecedented comeback from federal inmate to Pro Bowl quarterback has been well-chronicled, and while Green Bay counterpart Aaron Rodgers outplayed him, Vick's playoff performance — 292 passing yards, one interception and one touchdown passing and rushing — was credible and pressed the question.
With Vick a free agent, will the Eagles retain him?
The heir apparent to Donovan McNabb before a concussion in the season-opener, Kevin Kolb is a viable quarterback option for Philadelphia. But considering the rapport Vick established with receivers DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin — there's three-quarters of a formidable 4x100 relay team — do the Eagles really want to let Vick walk?
The hunch is no.
The hunch also was that after an NFL-best 14-2 regular season, the New England Patriots would reach, and win, their fourth Super Bowl of the Bill Belichick-Tom Brady era. But Sunday, working on two weeks' rest, the Pats dropped their playoff opener, 28-21 to the Jets.
So ended the third and finest season of Jerod Mayo's NFL career, leaving Pittsburgh Steelers coach and Denbigh alum Mike Tomlin — his team plays the Jets in the AFC title game — as the Peninsula's sole remaining playoff connection.
A middle linebacker from Kecoughtan, Mayo had by his 2010 standards a below-average outing against the Jets with six tackles. But Mayo led the NFL with 193 tackles during the regular season, the third-most in franchise history.
Not surprisingly, peers and fans voted Mayo to his first Pro Bowl, where he's a reserve for the AFC. But a higher honor was his selection to Pro Football Weekly's All-Pro team.
Named by the magazine's editors and the Professional Football Writers of America, the squad includes 11 defenders, 11 offensive players and five specialists — no second-teamers or honorable mention.
Translation: This isn't Little League, where everyone gets a trophy.
Now consider some of the middle 'backers bypassed in favor of Mayo. Baltimore's Ray Lewis is a lock future Hall of Famer, and Chicago's Brian Urlacher isn't far behind. New Orleans' Jonathan Vilma is no slouch, either.
But Lewis and Vilma have won Super Bowl rings, and Urlacher is preparing for a conference championship game Sunday.
Guarantee Mayo would trade places.
David Teel can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more from Teel, read his blog at dailypress.com/teeltime, and follow him at twitter.com/DavidTeelatDP