This also means we can start to focus more on the actual offseason, meaning free agency and scouting for the upcoming April draft (Scouting Combine in Indianapolis begins on Wednesday).
One key team I will be watching closely this offseason, in addition to Indianapolis and Pittsburgh, would have to be the Houston Texans.
The defending AFC South division champions have two huge impact players lined up to hit the free agency market, and there's a slight chance they could only bring one of those two players back for the 2012-13 season.
Bouncing back after a season-ending injury this season after just five games seems likely for free agent DE/OLB Mario Williams, who is looking to sign a long-term contract with his rookie contract expiring. The two-time Pro Bowler would cost Houston $23 million if he was to be franchise tagged, so it's highly likely he could test the free agent waters, in my opinion.
Houston's other impact player that could walk is running back Arian Foster, also coming off his rookie contract. Foster is a restricted free agent, but he may still receive offers from other teams. If he isn't franchised for some odd reason, Houston could still match any offers he gets from other teams.
All this being said, I would like to think that Houston will retain Foster, the 25-year old back who has run for 2,840 yards and 26 TDs the past two seasons, and let Super Mario walk. Again, Williams played just five games this season before suffering a season-ending torn pectoral muscle in a 25-20 loss to the Oakland Raiders. In six seasons, Williams started 82 games, recording 192 tackles, 53 sacks, 11 passes defensed and 11 forced fumbles.
One of the team's best pass rushers will certainly be missed if they let him go, but there's no question they have proven this season that they can still play top-tier defense without him in the lineup.
Thanks to some breakout performances from young guys such as rookies J.J. Watt and Brooks Reed, in addition to hard-hitting inside linebacker Brian Cushing, the Texans ranked second in overall defense (yards) and fourth in scoring defense on their way to a franchise-record 10-win season.
As for the offensive side of the ball, Matt Schaub should return as the opening day starter at quarterback in 2012 despite rookie T.J. Yates doing a fine job filling in for the injured Schaub. With the duo in Foster and Ben Tate continuing to gain ground, the only huge hole on offense seems to be at the receiver position.
Andre Johnson, Houston's 30-year old five-time Pro Bowl wideout, battled a right hamstring injury all season long, starting just seven games in 2011. He, aside from veteran Kevin Walter and tight end Owen Daniels, is pretty much the only all-star caliber talent Schaub has in the passing game. None of the receiving corps will hit the market, but I wouldn't be surprised to see Houston go after a target or two either in free agency or through the draft.
On the line, center Chris Meyers is a free agent as well, but I have no reason to believe that he wont be brought back this offseason. Other than that, Houston's line seems to be pretty solidified for 2012, with tackles Duane Brown and Eric Winston, and guards Wade Smith and Mike Brisiel anchoring the offensive line for Gary Kubiak's squad.
Don't be surprised if Mario Williams signs a record-breaking contract with a team other than Houston, and we see Houston with a top three rushing attack led by Foster and Tate again in 2012.
Williams: Bob Levey/Getty Images
Foster: Jamie Squire/Getty Images