Super Bowl Sunday, less than a month out, is a bittersweet moment for those who passionately follow the National Football League.
It marks the end of the on-the-field action and the start of the offseason.
And while six months worth of no games can be rough, there are many events that will most certainly keep football fans interested in the sport until the 2012 campaign kicks off.
Here are just 30 reasons why this upcoming offseason won't be all that bad.
Of course, the NFL draft is the most anticipated event of the offseason.
With the recent changes in format, the first round is broadcasted on Thursday in prime time.
April 26 marks the start of the draft and will feature some of the top college players landing with their first professional team. Each individual selected on this evening is saddled with the expectations of either turning around a poor club or helping sustain the success of an elite organization.
While the opening day of the NFL draft may have all the sizzle, there's still plenty of intriguing elements to the remaining rounds (spread over the weekend of April 28-29).
Teams can stock up on talent and fill needs for next year. More importantly, there's almost always a star who was once a late-round selections (ex: Tom Brady).
This appears to have already been decided.
According to reports, the Indianapolis Colts and owner Jim Irsay plan to take the former Stanford quarterback as the No. 1 pick in April's draft.
If this is true, one major question remains. Will he be the main man in Indy or will he be tutored by the great Peyton Manning?
The NFL draft, especially the first day, is filled with plenty of intrigue as the top prospects from the collegiate ranks make their way to the pros.
It's always interesting to see how the Heisman Trophy winner is scouted by teams and where he goes in the draft order (provided he forgoes his final year of college).
For the 2011 winner, Robert Griffin III, it'll be early on Day 1. The Baylor product has a number of franchises itching to acquire his services, and it may take a trade in order to get him.
While the two quarterbacks previously mentioned will get all the rage in April, one wide receiver is certain to get his fair share of talk.
Justin Blackmon was a star at Oklahoma State and has the potential to be like Calvin Johnson.
A team with an early selection on that Thursday night will be very interested in bringing his talents to its city. He'll also make that club's QB very happy.
In order to get to the draft, we must start at the beginning of this process. That would be the scouting combine, which takes place in Indianapolis from Feb. 22-28.
This writer doesn't care much about how fast a guy can run or how high he can jump, but each of the 32 NFL franchises will be glued in to the happenings at Lucas Oil Stadium that week.
In fact, die-hard football fans can watch what goes on as well, thanks to the NFL Network's wall-to-wall coverage of the combine.
It's hard to believe that free agency in the NFL didn't come about until 1993. Since then, it's been something that has not only changed the game of pro football but has made it into a 365-day following.
Granted, it gives the league a nomadic feel with numerous players shifting from team to team, but it certainly prevents the balance of power from being too one-sided towards certain franchises.
The simple sight of seeing football players in helmet and pads gets fans excited.
It's certainly not the real thing, but these smaller camps geared toward rookies gives all of us a small taste of football...even if it's just for a few days in May. It's also a chance to see the newest draft picks in our team's colors for the first time (provided they're not holding out).
These swaps are not as common as in baseball, and they are mostly enacted during the NFL draft.
Teams add/give away selections in order to move down/up. They also trade off players in order to get a number of picks...or vice versa.
Regardless of the nature of trades, most are performed between February and September.
Each year, the league collectively decides to make alterations that better the safety and overall well-being of the game.
On Sunday, we saw the 2010 rule of overtime in the postseason finally utilized.
For the 2011, there was the implementation of having all kickoffs come from the 35-yard line. Maybe this year than can revert back to the old rule.
Over the first two years of his NFL career, Mark Sanchez saw steady growth as he was a part of two AFC Championship Game clubs.
In 2011, he regressed. More specifically, Sanchez and the Jets wobbled down the stretch to lose their final three games and fall out of the playoffs.
Now, it's easy to wonder if he's the man that should be quarterbacking New York for the foreseeable future. He'll likely get a few games in 2012 to see if last season was a fluke. But don't expect his leash to be long.
It's hard to miss the NFL, even in the dog days of summer. That's especially true if you're watching the channel dedicated to the ultra-popular league.
Daily news shows and replays of games from last year can certainly pass the time.
As new players come in, either via free agency or through the draft, others must be let go.
The strains of a typical NFL roster result in players that are more than qualified to see significant time on the field being cut loose.
What may be one team's trash could be another team's treasure.
To the average person, a football player should be pleased with however much he earns.
But to the individual who's getting constantly battered with no guarantee of long-term health, there is a need for more financial security.
Chris Johnson was the main holdout in 2011. After several months of standing his ground, he finally agreed to an extension with the Titans just days before the regular season commenced. Unfortunately for Tennessee, it took him a good two months before he started to play up to his new salary.
Matt Flynn's 480-yard, six-touchdown performance in Week 17 against the Lions gave the Packers their 15th victory of the 2011 season.
More importantly for Flynn was that it ensured the Green Bay backup a big payday this offseason. As a free agent, Flynn will most certainly be getting offers from several clubs in need of a starting quarterback.
His price certainly went up after what he did to Detroit.
With an average career lifespan that lasts shorter than most spend in college, players tend to go into retirement before they have a grey hair.
Some decisions to hang it up are more significant than others.
Jason Taylor's last NFL game came, appropriately, as a member of the Miami Dolphins. The team they beat in that final contest was the New York Jets, a club that may have a significant departure. Running back LaDainian Tomlinson, who gained most of his yardage with San Diego, is contemplating calling it a career.
The yearly release of the regular season schedule, enacted in mid-April, is akin to knowing what will be under the tree come Christmas.
We get to see the prime-time showdowns, the inter-conference matchups and when the rivalry games will take place. Fans also make a habit of predicting wins and losses, even though the course of a season can completely alter a team's power.
The most publicized team in the NFL consistently has an ongoing story.
Right now, the main topic is whether Jason Garrett will remain the Cowboys head coach for next season. Owner Jerry Jones is obviously frustrated with Dallas' struggles to make headway towards another Super Bowl, and he's probably wondering if Garrett is the man that can do it.
Really? Could he? Probably not. But having seen what Brett Favre has done over the years, anything is possible.
Although more uncommon when not on the field, physical ailments can still occur in OTAs and non-football activities.
What's more, long-term injuries that occurred late last season could definitely play a factor on whether a player is up 100 percent when the time comes to return.
A prime example of this situation is Adrian Peterson. The Vikings running back tore his ACL and MCL on Dec. 26 and will be rehabbing to help out Minnesota's offense by August or September.
Now that it seems certain that the Colts will select Andrew Luck with the top pick in April, that leaves Peyton Manning's status in limbo.
It's been a story that grew with each passing Indy defeat and with each week that Manning was on the sideline due to his neck injury. Now, it will unfold during in the next few months.
The Colts and their famous No. 18 could go about a break-up in many ways, some of which may not be popular and some of which may not come with his career in Indy ending this year.
However it goes and wherever he suits up for 2012, it'll be the most significant story of the offseason.
This can occur on any given day, but it's most prevalent in the offseason when there is constant uproar over contracts and overall unhappiness with their current environment.
But regardless of what time of year it is, players will find something to whine openly about.
As it stands right now, the Dolphins, Jaguars, Rams and Bucs are actively seeking new head coaches to lead their respective teams.
These will be occupied sooner rather than later as the clubs look to expedite the process to an improved 2012.
While the NFL Network is one visual way to make the summer days of no on-field action go by just a little bit faster, there are other options.
NFL Films is the standard when it comes to sports entertainment on film or DVD, whether it's highlight movies or classic games in full.
Less time on the field means more time on their computer/mobile device.
It's believed that athletes aren't exactly the smartest humans. And sometimes what they say in the unfiltered world of Twitter confirms that (ex: Rashard Mendenhall).
Just before the real football players embark on a regular season, the virtual players get attention.
The Madden video game, released each August, is widely anticipated each year. Just as interesting is to see which star graces the cover...and will likely endure the dreaded curse.
Whether it's to garner more fan interest, sell more jerseys or to simply revive old glory, alterations to the uniform are always praised and scrutinized.
The Bills won high marks with their "back to the future" change for this season.
The Broncos are set to bring out their orange alternate unis and make them the full-time home threads, recalling the look they had for the majority of their franchise history.
Tebow Time is still not over, as far as the 2011 season is concerned, with the Broncos' thrilling to the Steelers on Sunday.
Tim Tebow's tenure as Denver's starting quarterback, however, still remains in question.
The unconventional signal-caller with a pension for horrid starts and great endings struggled down the stretch, but revived himself with the wild card performance. That victory, however, doesn't mean that John Elway and the Bronco brass won't reevaluate the situation at the most vital position.
When September gets close, the wave of predictions comes in.
Everyone in the media and everyone you know has a say on what will happen over the course of the next five months.
In the end, what makes the league enticing and exciting is that most of us (including the "experts" on TV) will have it all wrong as there are always teams that, for better or worse, defy preseason expectations.
The summer months of 2011 were filled with days upon days of players in suits. It was also filled with constant back-and-forth chatter between Roger Goodell and DeMaurice Smith. Most importantly, fans were consumed with the labor strife and the possibility of regular season games missed.
Thankfully, in the end, little damage was done and there is finally peace in the valley.
We can all rest assured that a 2012 NFL season will go on as scheduled. Now that's something every fan can be excited about.