We've made it.
One day from now, it's on to Denver, where the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens will face the Broncos in a season opener that resets the clock for all 32 teams. It won't end well for 31, but for now -- we dream.
You have your own reasons to tune in to the new season. Here come ours:
1. Joe Flacco, golden god or mere mortal?
When we last saw Flacco in a game that mattered, the Ravens quarterback was busy setting the NFL aglow with one of the finer postseason romps in recent memory. His bet-on-myself campaign was pure gold, turning his bank account in a sea of cash money.
Flacco can win the big one. But what comes next? Stripped of tight end Dennis Pitta to start the season and missing playoff sensation Anquan Boldin, Flacco will be challenged to pick up where he left off. We'll get our first look Thursday in Denver.
2. Adrian Peterson's quest for 2,500
Peterson recently said that people are focusing "too much" on his goal of rushing for an NFL-record 2,500 yards this season. "It's a goal, not a promise," he said. We get it, but Peterson -- above all others -- is our generation's finest hope to rush for back-to-back 2,000-yard campaigns, something no player has ever done. Who are we to bet against him?
3. Tom Brady's new-look Pats
Last week I forecast Brady as this year's MVP and picked the Patriots to win Super Bowl XLVIII. Brady's play has been so outrageous, for so long, he's easy to take for granted. But even with Rob Gronkowsi's pending return, Brady will play without four of his top five targets from last season. Outside of Danny Amendola, the fill-ins are rookies, newbies and untested fresh faces -- and we like it. It will be fascinating to watch what Brady achieves with this soup of inexperience.
4. Chip Kelly's Eagles attack
When Adam Caplan of SiriusXM NFL Radio asked Brent Celek about Philly's offense, the Eagles tight end "was not at liberty to tell me what they're going to do, but he said they have not even scratched the surface," per Caplan. Like the Washington Redskins with Robert Griffin III one summer ago, the Eagles have slow-played the league all preseason. Kelly has sprinkled hints and given glimpses of the attack's infrastructure, but no Week 1 matchup is draped in more mystery than Eagles vs. Redskins. Kelly will keep surprising us all season.
5. The Marc Trestman Effect
"The results have been very positive," Greg Cosell of NFL Films said last week. "It will still be a work in progress. People don't change in three weeks ... but when you watch the tape of the (preseason) games, you can clearly see the influence of Trestman on Cutler. There have been many, many throws in which he's dropped back, planted, been on balance, shifted his weight -- delivered the football. The ball's been coming out (and) there's been much more rhythm and timing to their pass game."
Trestman is my pick for coach of the year, and The Quarterback Whisperer will be the talk of the NFL by Week 8.
6. Peyton Manning
Peyton Manning told reporters in April that his arm might never be as strong as it once was, but coach John Fox sees a quarterback who's much more comfortable in Denver's offense. Asked what stood out most about the Broncos' offseason process, Fox told reporters: "Just how much further ahead Peyton is. A year ago this time, we were trying to get him to relearn how to throw. He's way more comfortable, way more ready to play."
It's been a mega-rocky offseason for Denver, but if Manning's even better, it won't matter.
7. Cowboys' secret sauce
During our NFC East preview on the "Around The League Podcast," three out of five of us picked the Cowboys to win the division. I was part of that trio after largely ignoring the festival of hype that oozes annually from Big D. Jerry Jones is still talking trash, Tony Romo is gushing about some type of mechanical tweak and Jerrah's son, Stephen, went on record saying the 'Boys have unearthed the "secret sauce to put this thing back together again and win championships."
The nonsense is dialed up high, but Romo is underrated and Dez Bryant is the division's most dangerous receiver. I'm in.
8. Sleeping giant in Rocky Top?
Asked to name this summer's most improved player on tape, Cosell cited Jake Locker.
"Their offensive coordinator, Dowell Loggains, is doing an unbelievable job," he said last week. "... What they're doing with Locker is all play-action, boot-action, defining the reads, get the ball out quick. If he doesn't see it, he'll run, which is a lot better than then trying to make improvisational plays and throwing picks."
9. Sophomore slump?
It's popular to ask which of these sophomore arms -- Andrew Luck, RGIII, Russell Wilson or Ryan Tannehill -- is set to tumble back to earth in Year 2. My guess? None of the above. Along with second-year starter Colin Kaepernick and Brandon Weeden, every one of these passers is primed to evolve in 2013. We've seen nothing to suggest otherwise. This 2012 class is special. Maybe the best of all time.
10. The fate of the read option
Six months later, it's undergone more study. Just ask the Green Bay Packers, who dispatched their defensive assistants to Texas A&M to solve the option after being fried hardcore in January's playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers. We're just a few days away from finding out if the side work made an ounce of difference.The "Around The League Podcast" is now available on iTunes! Click here to listen and subscribe.