Finally, we can dispense with the phony interest in exhibition football, players on the bubble and the practice squad. The first week of the regular season is here. We're days away from the season opener between the Ravens and the Broncos, a full Sunday's worth of games and even a Monday night doubleheader.
What better way to kick off a brand new year, than with these totally accurate, can't-miss power rankings!
To begin our weekly exercise in the arbitrary ordering of all 32 NFL teams, we went to the experts: SB Nation's NFL bloggers. They cast their votes, we tallied them up and here are the results.
It's hard to believe this will be Colin Kaepernick's first full season at quarterback. He lost Michael Crabtree, but should find a new friend in Anquan Boldin. The defense has been overshadowed by all the Kaepernick talk , the pistol, tattoos and whatnot. Overlook that group at your own risk. San Francisco finished the season with the second best defensive DVOA according to Football Outsiders, and there is nothing to suggest that will change this year.
There's a pattern at the top of these rankings. An impressive young quarterback backed by a talented running game and an airtight defense. Russell Wilson and Co. host San Francisco in Week 2. Blow off whatever other lame plans you have that might prevent you from watching this game.
A reliance on 1980s communications technology and a six-game suspension for Von Miller help keep the Broncos out of the top spot. Peyton Manning and a trio of 1,000-yard receivers will have to overpower opponents through the first six games. Fortunately, the only 2012 playoff team on the schedule during that stretch will be their Week 1 opponent, Baltimore.
The Packers landed on top of these preseason power rankings last year. A 5-2 finish to the season made that prediction look prescient, and then Dom Capers learned about the read option the hard way in a one-sided Divisional round loss to the 49ers. Did the Packers figure out how to keep mobile young quarterbacks in check during the offseason? We'll know soon enough. Green Bay opens the season with a rematch against the 49ers followed by a visit to Lambeau Field by RGIII.
The Falcons were four points away from an NFC Championship last year. Atlanta's lineup looks a little different this season after replacing aging running back Michael Turner with slightly less aging Steven Jackson, and pass rusher John Abraham with Osi Umenyiora. There's little doubt that a healthy Falcons team will go to the playoffs; it's how deep they can go that remains to be seen.
Tom Brady lost more than 60 percent of his receiving targets from last season. Did you forget this was the same quarterback who once made Reche Caldwell a No. 1 wideout? The offense will be fine, helped by a talented group of running backs. The defense has the potential to be the best it's been since the middle of the last decade.
Don't look now, but Gary Kubiak's team finally has a complete offense, including a quality second receiver. The defense gets Brian Cushing back, so anything less than a AFC Championship will be a disappointment.
Oh, hello, reigning world champs. This year's defense is a healthier, more talented bunch than last year's, although things are more suspect on the other side of the ball without Boldin and Dennis Pitta.
Meet your "hot pick" for 2013. Hey, there's a reason trends get started. A pair of rookies, running back Giovani Bernard and tight end Tyler Eifert, add to a group headlined by A.J. Green. Geno Atkins leads a defense that that should again be one of the league's stingiest. It looks like this could be the year a team besides the Ravens or the Steelers wins out in a bruising AFC North.
Sean Payton returns to the sideline after a year in exile. Will the head coach and a third straight 5,000-yard season from Drew Brees be enough to overcome a defense in transition and short on pass rushers?
It's finally unofficially official that RGIII will be the Week 1 starter, not that you ever had any doubts. Washington has holes in the lineup, notably in the secondary, but a healthy year from Griffin could be enough for another NFC East title.
12. New York Giants (Big Blue View)
Eli Manning's numbers came down a little from his career highs with the previous year's championship squad. The bigger concern is whether or not the defense can get back to threatening opposing passers the way it used to.
The league's rookie passing records didn't stand a chance against Andrew Luck last year. He looks poised to jump into the league's quarterback stratosphere with more weapons and a better offensive line this season. Will Indianapolis have the defense to challenge Houston for the division crown?
Ben Roethlisberger was putting up MVP-like numbers before injuries derailed his season in 2012. He'll have to put most of the burden on his broad shoulders again this year for the Steelers to get back to the playoffs.
There's a new head coach in town this season. And guess what? This one actually thinks about his team's offense! The Bears brought in help for the offensive line, and expect to get more production from Jay Cutler in the walk year of his contract. On the other side of the ball, Chicago lost Brian Urlacher, but the defense has more than enough talent to again be one of the league's best.
Dallas is taking the committee approach to calling plays this season, with Bill Callahan ostensibly in charge. Of course Tony Romo and Jason Garrett will have some say in the matter, and Jerry Jones still has a hotline from the owner's box to the sideline, for better or for worse, usually worse when it comes to the Cowboys.
Who gets fired first, Jim Schwartz or Ron Rivera? For the Lions head coach to avoid that fate, he'll have to coax his team into something closer to the 2011 version that snapped an 11-year playoff drought. Reggie Bush gives the offense another dimension it's needed for so long. The defensive tackle duo of Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley should be fun to watch.
Ron Rivera is promising to run the ball some more this year. Unfortunately, the Panthers won't have Jonathan Stewart to start the season. Cam Newton has the talent, but his receivers are lacking, outside of ageless wonder Steve Smith. At least the much improved defense looks able to score some points of its own.
No more excuses for Sam Bradford. He has a legit offensive line and talented receivers around him. However, the receivers and running backs have fewer than 2,000 career yards from scrimmage between them. Jeff Fisher has built a defense capable of hanging with division rivals San Francisco and Seattle. Can the offense do the same?
When Matt Cassel is ushered out of town and Alex Smith is greeted like a conquering hero, you know it's been a rough stretch for fans. Andy Reid takes over a talented team that underachieved last year. But it will still be a year or two before the Chiefs can challenge the Broncos for division supremacy.
This is the lowest spot for any of last season's playoff teams. Adrian Peterson became the seventh running back to break the 2,000-yard mark. Of the six other men who topped that mark, only Barry Sanders managed to reach even 1,400 rushing yards the next season. That puts the onus on quarterback Christian Ponder, who has yet to prove he can carry an offense on his own.
Chip Kelly spent the last month tormenting NFL writers by not revealing exactly what kind of offense he plans to run. We do know that it will be a fast one capable of taxing opposing defenses. That might be the only way of balancing out the ledger with a piecemeal defense.
23. Miami Dolphins (The Phinsider)
Our bloggers gave Miami one vote for 17th in these rankings and one vote for 29th. This is tough team to predict. On the one hand, they have a talented young quarterback in Ryan Tannehill. On the other hand, they have a big hole in the offensive line, especially at left tackle. History hasn't been kind to the offseason's big spenders.
Someday, making his defense crash through a victory formation is going to make Greg Schiano look like a genius. Someday. For now, he'll have to hope that Josh Freeman can be a more consistent quarterback, not prone to late-season meltdowns.
Of all the teams in the bottom third of this list, it's the Browns that have the best chance of making us all look silly by Thanksgiving. Ray Horton's defense is the wildcard here. It looks right at home in the black-and-blue AFC North. They just need quarterback Brandon Weeden to be a good-enough short term solution. That feels like an iffy proposition.
This looks like it's going to be another tough year for Philip Rivers, who still lacks protection up front and has too many question marks among his receiving options.
There's a familiar recipe here. Hire a successful offensive-minded head coach, and bring in a talented veteran quarterback looking for a late-career rebound. It worked with Ken Whisenhunt and Kurt Warner. Will it work with Bruce Arians and Carson Palmer?
Guards. Interior linemen defined Tennessee's offseason. The Titans signed free agent Andy Levitre and drafted Alabama's Chance Warmack. They also brought in Rob Turner to take over at center. It's all about making Chris Johnson the centerpiece of the offense again.
The most exciting offseason move the Bills made was hiring Mike Pettine to be the defensive coordinator. There wasn't a better candidate out there for extracting some value out of last year's $100 million man, Mario Williams. On the other side of the ball, Doug Marrone will lean on C.J. Spiller and a blazing group of receivers.
The tragically under-reported Jets had a tumultuous offseason, or so we've heard. At least the team is finally ready to move on from Mark Sanchez, but will the expectations be too much for Geno Smith in his rookie season?
The Jaguars sell more tickets than any other team in Florida. By a healthy margin too. Fans will have to be patient as well as passionate; it's not going to be a quick fix. But at least the team appears to be on the right track, which is more than you can say for ...
Another cap purge this year. And what a rotten draft to have to try and play catch up on a rebuilding resurrection project. They had to choose between Matt Flynn and Terrelle Pryor. The Raiders can get through it. The question is whether or not Reggie McKenzie can.