Almost to the freaking day ... that's how long it's been since we saw the lights go out in the Superdome and -- a quarter and a half later -- on the 2012 season.
Well, real football is just about back. Wonder child Robert Griffin III is starting Monday night. Somebody's child Terrelle Pryor does the same Sunday. And Denver Broncos fans will be going insane on Thursday, as their team hosts Kickoff Night -- with or without Joe Flacco wallpaper decorating their stadium.
Week 1 is always good stuff, and it should be mentioned that the third season of our official NFL.com Power Rankings will try to reflect the best of what makes the opening slate so fun: 32 teams with a chance, each with their own storyline. Read about your club's, read about 'em all. Just remember: The movement of each franchise affects the placement of several others. It's the perfect combination of imperfect symmetry and drama, much like Predator: the Musical.
OK, without further ado, here's 1-32 as it stands today. As always, feel free to provide your thoughts ... @Harrison_NFL is the dropbox.
Let the dissension commence ...
a) Russell Wilson had an up-and-down (but mostly up) preseason. It will be interesting to see how much of a step forward he can take after overachieving as a rookie.
b) Peyton Manning tore the Seahawks' defense up in Week 2 of the preseason. I predicted a Super Bowl between the Seahawks and Manning's Broncos, thinking Seattle's back four could stop the future Hall of Famer. Was I wrong?
c) Rookie running back Christine Michael sure looked pretty -- before stumbling against the Oakland Raiders in the preseason finale (13 carries for 15 yards). And here we were, thinking the Raiders serve as NFL beer goggles for every opposing running back. Not this time.
Well, the starters got a lot of action during Week 3's preseason loss at Dallas, and it wasn't rosy. Andy Dalton didn't play poorly, but he did throw a poor interception deep -- and late -- over the middle. The secondary -- starting with Leon Hall's efforts to stop Dez Bryant -- couldn't cover anyone. Then Miles Austin made himself look like Stone Cold Steve Austin while decimating the Bengals' defense on the Cowboys' second touchdown drive.
Basically, Cincinnati can match up with anyone, even Seattle or San Francisco, on paper -- paper.
Look, everyone is high on Marlon Brown. But can he pick this team up on third downs? Torrey Smith is more Randy Moss than Cris Carter; i.e., he's not the third-and-6 possession guy. Did you know Smith caught nine balls on third down last season -- all season? Tight end Dennis Pitta, the Jay Novacek of this offense last year, is out for 2013. When it comes to the short passing game, offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell must find an answer that is different from Ray Rice, or Rice will catch 90 balls and the Ravens' "Diet"-style attack will contribute to a 9-7 record.
Alright, let's not panic about the Pats. They looked terrible versus the Detroit Lions, but they didn't in their first two preseason games. And Thompkins can play. Let us also not forget this: Tim Tebow being released doesn't matter (despite our own flood of coverage), but the fact that New England finished seventh in the NFL last season in rushing at 136.5 yards per game does. The offense will be fine.
The other key? How will these Vikings fare against the top opposing quarterbacks? Much rests on Harrison Smith. Here are some thoughts on that ...
Dave Hyde of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel wrote a terrific quick-hitter on those and more Dolphins-related topics -- and I nodded my head in agreement at every line. This team can compete, but it had better stay healthy. Meanwhile, if Lamar Miller starts, it has to be because he's solid -- and not merely because Daniel Thomas stinks.
(Thoughts? Hit me up at @Harrison_NFL.)
Now No. 29 just has to hold on to the football and stay out of the trainer's room.
... but because they made too many mistakes. You know, the stupid football kind. Penalties, fumbles, drops and more penalties found their way into Rams preseason football. The club seemed so undisciplined that you wonder if Jeff Fisher shouldn't have locked half the team in a hotel room next to Lamar Odom.
(For the record, we still believe in this team ... mostly because of the defense.)
On another note, I might have goofed in picking Sean Lee over Patrick Willis at middle linebacker on my 2013 All-Pro Team. Just because Willis has been an All-Pro before, that doesn't mean he has season tickets to the squad; consider what Luke Kuechly did to the Ravens. Dominant.
That's worrisome -- unlike the defense, which has looked great and has been the key to this team all along. That's why Detroit gets a boost, as I still think Stafford will deliver this year, now that he's got a healthy No. 2 receiver and Reggie Bush.
Again, though, Carson Palmer barely averaged 6 yards per attempt in the preseason -- and now his offensive line is without first-round draft pick Jonathan Cooper. Defensive coordinator Todd Bowles' group has to give the offense a lift.
Saw where LaVar Arrington talked up Justin Houston on "NFL AM". What an underrated player Houston is. That's why he made this list.
Still, questions prevail at corner and center. And until Tennessee proves its defense is markedly better than the one that gave up 471 points last year, this club will stay parked around No. 27 or 28 in our rankings. This group allowed opposing passers a 90 plus rating in the preseason.