While this year's Super Bowl has yet to be played, it's not too early to look ahead to the 2012 season and the teams that are most likely to contend for the NFL title.
Health, player development and roster changes will have a major impact on who is going to stand at the top of the heap in the race for Super Bowl XLVII in the Superdome.
As it stands today, here are the odds for each team's chances at reaching the postseason next year.
The future for Jacksonville is very bleak.
Its quarterback had an uninspiring rookie campaign, which resulted in season in which points were hard to come by. Its new head coach was fired by the Atlanta Falcons as their offensive coordinator. Attendance continues to be mediocre, which could result in a move to Los Angeles should the new owner feel it's necessary.
Besides Maurice Jones-Drew, there isn't much to build on.
Jeff Fisher isn't going to fix this problem overnight.
It could be aided should Sam Bradford remain healthy and the Rams draft an impact rookie with the No. 2 pick in this April's NFL Draft. Justin Blackmon is tempting (of course), but the St. Louis offensive line allowed 55 sacks in 2011.
The Rams also were 22nd in total defense. There are simply too many holes to turn it around in just one year.
Jared Allen is one of the best pass-rushers in the league and he finished 2011 just shy of breaking the single-season sack record.
But aside from him, there are so many questions.
Will star running back Adrian Peterson be fully healthy? Will Christian Ponder develop in year No. 2 as the team's No. 1 quarterback? Is Leslie Frazier the right coach for this team?
All will be answered once September rolls around.
In a heartbeat, the Buccaneers went from a stable team that was coming off a 10-6 season in 2010 to a club that consistently made mistakes en route to a 10-game losing streak to close the year.
With that, young head coach Raheem Morris was shown the door. A new leader hasn't been named, but should be prior to the draft.
Josh Freeman has potential and needs to shake off a dreadful 2011. So does the defense, which looked horrendous at times.
The Browns appeared headed in the right direction prior to 2011. Then came a slight regression.
Colt McCoy's growth was stunted a bit. The second-year quarterback had a lower completion percentage and 11 fumbles. That may entice Cleveland to draft a signal-caller.
The team can hang their hat on a 10th-ranked defense despite being one of the worst at rushing the passer.
As is the case with all the teams at the start of this list, Mike Shanahan and the Redskins have plenty of holes to fill if they want to be a contender.
Among the priorities include obtaining a quality member of the secondary, snatching a good offensive lineman and ensuring that there are improvements to the receiving game.
Task No. 1 must be at quarterback. Rex Grossman and his 20 interceptions is not the answer. Washington's brass is certain to either get one via free agency or through the draft.
All signs point to a Colts overhaul. In turn, that suggests a change at quarterback.
That point was made even more clear in piece by The Indianapolis Star's Bob Kravitz. Reading into the words, it seems that Manning is resigned to the fact that he will soon part ways with the only NFL club he's ever known.
If so, Andrew Luck is the presumptive new man for the job. The likely No. 1 overall draft pick won't have it easy as the franchise rebuilds.
If Bills fans could get the first-half performance of 2011 for all 2012, they'd be quite satisfied.
Too bad they wont.
Ryan Fitzpatrick is who we thought he was. The initial seven games in which the Harvard product threw for 14 TDs and led Buffalo to a 5-2 mark were simply a mirage.
A healthy Fred Jackson isn't enough to vault the Bills past the New York Jets, much less the front-running New England Patriots.
Optimism is high in Carolina.
The Panthers have the brightest young quarterback in the game. Last year's top pick, Cam Newton, proved to be worth the hype...and then some. He broke numerous rookie records and kept his team in contention for victories nearly every week.
Now, they must close the deal. It'll take more than one year to do so, but it'll happen eventually.
Changes are coming in Sunshine State.
While the Tampa Bay Buccaneers seeking a new head coach, the Dolphins have just hired their next one.
Former Green Bay offensive coordinator Joe Philbin takes the reins...and may have a new starting quarterback once the offseason concludes.
Miami played hard in the second half of the season, even though any hopes of the playoffs had vanished. That commitment would be helpful at the start of next season.
They've apparently hired a new head coach, but it's uncertain whether or not their problems will be solved.
The silver and black faltered down the stretch, missing out on golden opportunities to take either the AFC West or a wild-card slot. These kind of things can have a lingering affect on a ball club.
A healthy Darren McFadden and an improved Carson Palmer can refute that theory.
Mike Munchak deserves plaudits for rejuvenating a seemingly lifeless Titans club and their veteran quarterback.
Now, this question has to be posed. When will it be time to transition starting duties from Matt Hasselbeck to second-year player Jake Locker?
That may be a midseason move if Tennessee takes a downward turn.
The Chiefs can lament physical ailments for their downturn this season.
Kansas City was hopeful when 2011 began. But after injuries to Jamaal Charles, Eric Berry and their starting quarterback Matt Cassel, Kansas City is hoping that next year brings better luck.
With a strong young secondary and the return of key components, the Chiefs hope they can duplicate 2010's showing.
Give Pete Carroll credit. With less-than-average quarterback play and a team filled with mostly unknowns, the Seahawks had faint playoff chances until the end. Not many thought that was even possible earlier in the season.
Carroll should give most of his thanks to a rejuvenated Marshawn Lynch and a quality defense that lacks stardom.
Get a decent quarterback, and Seattle's postseason hopes become brighter.
Recovering from a 1-5 start, Arizona finished at the .500 mark and in second place in the NFC West.
The main reason for the Cards' poor open? Probably Kevin Kolb, the prized addition in this past offseason.
Conversely, John Skelton was responsible for the midseason turnaround.
So, is it possible that a relative unknown could lead Arizona in 2012? If he keeps his winning ways, then yes.
You can bet John Fox is happy he listened to the Denver fans.
The city pleaded for Tim Tebow to start at quarterback from the start of the season. In Week 5, those calls were answered.
Behind Tebow, the Broncos went on to win the AFC West and their QB became a national phenomenon.
But that hasn't silenced the doubters, as many expect Tebow to come back to Earth in 2012. He defied the odds with his miracle finishes in 2011.
So, why is it so hard to believe he won't improve his skills for next year?
When was the last time the Cowboys played above expectations?
That's a trick question, of course.
Each season, Dallas is deemed a Super Bowl contender. And each season, Dallas falls flat on its face.
So, let's lower the expectations and get with reality. The Cowboys have stability at quarterback and defensive end. Other areas (secondary, offensive line) must get better in order to make the Kool-Aid-drinking pundits look sensible.
The soap opera that is the New York Jets sees its main storyline be that of the team's most important player: Mark Sanchez.
After two solid years to start his pro career, the former USC Trojan regressed in year three. In turn, the Jets dropped their final three contests and find themselves sitting at home come playoff time.
Serious questions surround Sanchez's ability to remain New York's starting QB. If he falters early in 2012, expect a quick hook from Rex Ryan.
The defense can only get them so far. The Jets need Sanchez to take a step forward if they want to fulfill their head coach's annual prophecy.
For a team widely expected to be at the cellar, the Cincinnati Bengals were one of the year's most pleasant surprises.
Leading the way for Marvin Lewis' club was a pair of rookies: quarterback Andy Dalton and wide receiver A.J. Green.
So, it's only natural that we could envision more of the same for Cincy in the near future.
Without them, they were anemic on offense and struggled to win games.
So, it's safe to say that the health of those two stars is imperative for Chicago's success.
For Forte, the Bears simply hope he's on their roster. The Tulane product is now a free agent and hoping for more money.
As the NFL's great underachievers, San Diego's six-game losing streak prevented it from reaching the playoffs.
Another year of Charger disappointment would probably mean the end of Norv Turner's tenure as head coach...right?
Philip Rivers is coming off an aberration of a season in 2011. Chances are he reverts back to his old form in '12. Still, that doesn't mean that the rest of the team plays up to expectations.
The roar was restored in 2011. Detroit should continue to make noise in the years to come.
The pieces to compete are there: Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson and Ndamukong Suh.
Among the challenges include a porous pass defense, along with strong competition within the NFC North (Green Bay and Chicago).
The Falcons certainly have the capability of reaching the postseason.
Winning a game there is a different story.
Atlanta's fans won't be satisfied unless its team gets a victory in the playoffs. Matt Ryan and Mike Smith are among the best QB-coach combos in the game. And those two areas are vitally important for long-term success.
Has the window closed for Baltimore?
The AFC Championship Game loss is crushing, but could be made even more so if the Ravens don't return to the brink of a title in short order.
It's going to get harder for the Ravens to keep up with vets like Ray Lewis and Ed Reed getting older.
That could change if they can maintain Ray Rice and get an improved Joe Flacco. The latter will have plenty of pressure on him next year.
With all due respect to third-string QB T.J. Yates, the Texans would have beaten Baltimore had Matt Schaub been healthy for that contest.
Instead, it was the Texans falling just short of getting within one game of the Super Bowl.
Houston got over the hump that is the postseason; now it seeks much more. The Texans have the defense and the running game to do it. They just have to hope the injury bug isn't after them again next year.
After the "Dream Team" went through insomnia in 2011 to the tune of an 8-8 season, some may sleep on them to contend on 2012. Big mistake.
Give the Eagles an offseason to mesh all the talent they possess and it can should result in a bounce-back season.
This is all still mostly dependent on if Michael Vick remains healthy and can continue to improve as a passer. And that's a big "if."
The way the 49ers season ended was heart-wrenching. But ask any fan, and the thought of an NFC Championship Game appearance would have been deeming ludicrous.
Jim Harbaugh was outstanding in his first year as San Francisco head coach, lighting a fire under revived quarterback Alex Smith. The former No. 1 pick still has room to improve, as was seen in the late going against the Giants.
The defense and special teams, on the other hand, is hard to lament. With those elements in place, plus a still-mediocre division, the Niners return with a stronger club than before.
Had this been done in early December, and the Giants odds would have been slightly worse.
Now, the NFC representative in the Super Bowl looks like a worthy champion.
New York is going to have big challenges from the Eagles and Cowboys in the NFC East. However, they have the front four and the quarterback to stave them off again.
Annual participants in the Super Bowl chase, there's little reason to believe the Steelers won't be back in it again next year.
It's a good bet that Ben Roethlisberger gets nicked up. That, however, has never seemed to bother him.
Granted, there are many veteran players that have seen their best days pass by. But Pittsburgh has one of the best front offices in the game and will do what's needed to keep the team at the top.
Free agent-to-be Drew Brees isn't going anywhere. There's no price too small to pay for the man who helped revive pro football in the Bayou.
Sean Payton is responsible for the Saints' winning ways as well, and the two should continue to be a potent combo for opposing teams.
Time will tell if Steve Spagnuolo can improve a defense that played a role in preventing the Saints from reaching the NFC Championship.
Tom Brady isn't going to become a talentless player overnight. He's on the back nine of his amazing NFL career, but he's still better than just about every other quarterback in the game.
As long as Bill Belichick is wearing his grey hoodie roaming the sidelines, New England has an edge in the coaching matchup.
If the Patriots acquire some talent on defense (especially the secondary), there's no doubt who will be sitting atop the AFC East again.
The Packers could go one of two ways in 2012. They could either become a victim of a severe hangover after their crushing loss to New York in the divisional round after a 15-1 regular year. Or, they could come back even stronger and determined to right their wrong in the previous postseason.
Here's saying that the latter is much more likely to occur. There's way too much talent on this club for them not to succeed again.