This is when it gets interesting. Thanksgiving’s come and gone. Divisional races heat up. Old rivalries are amplified. The playoffs loom. Every win is more thrilling, and every loss more crushing. As hopes and expectations intensify, LIFE asked five photographers who, collectively, have covered football for close to eight decades to choose a handful of their own favorite pictures — photographs that capture the raw, brutal glory that plays out every Sunday in stadiums around the country.