|Bruce Arians took over for Chuck Pagano. (US Presswire)|
Once Sunday evening hits, we officially will say goodbye to 20 of our dearest colleagues -- those NFL teams that didn't make the playoffs. The week after that, four more will join them, and then four after that and so on. With those squads, go some of our favorite players.
And when I write “favorite players,” I don't mean that I cheer for them or care all that much about their accolades or failures. I'm not talking about being a fan. I'm talking about being entertained. I'm talking about enjoying watching and talking to a player who is either so good, so engaging and so compelling that we can't turn away.
Some players on the worst teams entertain us for an entire season, whether their squad is relevant. Those folks that make it fun for us to cover and follow the NFL are the ones who are my favorites. And when the bleak winter of the offseason finally descends after the Super Bowl and we have to wait seven long months until the next NFL season begins, these are the players we'll miss the most.
10. Richie Incognito, Dolphins G: You could barely go a week this season without somebody accusing Incognito of playing dirty, but gosh love him, he stood up for himself and made no apologies about the way he played the game (although he doesn't classify himself as a dirty player). Then, he was voted the Dolphins co-Good Guy award winner for his cooperation with the media this year. Palm Beach Post writer Ben Volin explained: “Incognito not only became a respected voice in the locker room, he made himself available to talk every day of the season, and never backed down from answering tough questions about himself or the team.”
9. Chris Kluwe, Vikings P: Quite possibly, Kluwe is the most interesting punter in the history of the league (at least in a public setting). We've already commended his skills on Twitter, but whether you agree with him or not, he still is one of the few players in the league who truly stands up for what he believes in -- on the conservative side of the political spectrum, Cardinals kicker Jay Feely also was an interesting voice to read, especially during the presidential election.
8. Brandon Ayanbadejo, Ravens LB: For the same reason as Kluwe. No matter what you think of Ayanbadejo's politics, you have to admire him for speaking what he believes.
7. Wes Welker, Patriots WR: Will the Patriots turn their back on a guy who should be paid handsomely for recording at least 100 catches in five of the past six seasons? Or will New England play the bad (but economically smart) guy again and refuse to give Welker, the team's loyal soldier, the multi-year contract extension he desires. Welker has earned it. I'd be surprised if the Patriots give it to him, though. It'll be offseason drama to follow.
6. Ronde Barber, Buccaneers S/Ray Lewis, Ravens LB: Neither man is what he once was, but somehow at the age of 37, they still play at a high enough level to start for NFL teams. How much longer can they keep going? Will Barber find a team to employ him next season? Could they play until they're 40? Why has the aging process been so much slower for them?
5. Russell Wilson, Seahawks QB: He's the most intriguing rookie this year, mostly because we already knew what we were getting with Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin. I mean, we didn't even know that Wilson would win Seattle's starting quarterback job at the start of 2012. But his improvement this season, combined with his talent and his consistency, has made him the one that could possibly spring the upset and win the offensive rookie of the year. Seahawks receiver Golden Tate thinks he should.
4. Rex Ryan, Jets coach: Yes, you might hate Ryan, and yes, this is the second-straight season New York won't make the playoffs with him in charge. But he's one of the most honest coaches in the business, and he's certainly one of the funniest. If the Jets have to fire him at some point, how will we know when it's time to eat a g--damn snack?
3. J.J. Watt, Texans DE: He's been unbelievable to watch this season, racking up 20.5 sacks through Week 16. But I want to see what happens next season. Will he still be as all-powerful as he was in 2012? Will he still dominate like he's doing this very second? Or will he fall off just a little bit, because of injury or an offensive coordinator's adjustments? Remember when Jared Allen was the league's most dominant guy? Or Clay Matthews? Or Elvis Dumervil? Can Watt rise above them and stay dominant for multiple-straight seasons? Those possibilities intrigue me.
2. Richard Sherman, Seahawks CB: He became an emerging star this season, and he probably had the best year of any cornerback in the game (it's a wonder he wasn't selected to the Pro Bowl). Even though we're unsure if he was completely clean this year, we're still talking about a man who talked smack to Tom Brady, lived to tell the tale and beat the Patriots in the process.
1. Bruce Arians, Colts offensive coordinator: It's hard not to be a fan after the job Arians performed this year while becoming the team's interim coach after his close friend, Chuck Pagano, underwent treatment for leukemia. With Arians in charge, Indianapolis went 9-3 and, against most expectations, the Colts earned a playoff berth. As inspirational as the Pagano story has been, Arians was the one who kept the team together in Pagano's absence. Here's hoping he gets a shot at a head coaching job, if he so desires.
For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnNFL on Twitter, and subscribe to our Pick-6 Podcast and NFL newsletter. You can follow Josh Katzowitz on Twitter here: @joshkatzowitz.