You blink once or twice, and the NFL is already gathering itself for the next full season of action, starting with the release of the full 2013 preseason and regular season schedules.
There's been a flurry of activity in the time between the Super Bowl and the days leading up to the schedule release, including longtime stars (Wes Welker, Elvis Dumervil, Charles Woodson) finding new homes on the free-agent market and young, emerging stars (Dwayne Bowe, Phil Loadholt and Fred Davis, among others) signing new deals to stick around with their 2012 squads.
Throw in all of the 2013 NFL draft talk leading up to April's biggest assortment of collegiate prospects under one roof, and these days it almost seems like the NFL action is never-ending.
With the NFL scheduled to release its upcoming schedule sooner rather than later, now is a good time to look at what we know before the league fills in the blanks for the upcoming season.
Release Date (and other upcoming NFL events)
April 18: Official NFL Schedule will be released (via NFL's Greg Aiello).
April 25-27: 2013 NFL draft, Radio City Music Hall in New York, N.Y.
May 20-22: NFL Spring League Meeting, Boston, Mass.
May 13: First day of OTAs, Rookie Minicamps (via Pat O'Brien of USA Today)
June 4: First day of Mandatory Minicamps (via O'Brien)
Aug. 3: Pro Football Hall of Fame Enshrinement, Canton, Ohio
Aug. 4: Hall of Fame Game, Canton, Ohio (Dallas Cowboys vs. Miami Dolphins)
Sept. 5: Start of the 2013 NFL season
Dec. 29: Last day of 2013 regular season
Feb. 2, 2014: Super Bowl XLVIII in East Rutherford, N.J. (MetLife Stadium)
Baltimore Ravens at Cincinnati Bengals
Bet that Cincinnati won't care, especially with the AFC North rivalry firmly established between these two teams and the Bengals firmly stuck in neutral after two straight first-round playoff knockouts at the hands of the Houston Texans.
We know that Baltimore is going to be re-tooling a bit with the loss of big-time playmakers Ed Reed, Lewis, Anquan Boldin, Paul Kruger and Bernard Pollard to other teams (and retirement), but the Ravens did keep Flacco around with a shiny new contract (a nice article on Baltimore's $100 million man via the Baltimore Sun) and have Ray Rice in the backfield, too.
The Bengals also handed Baltimore its most recent loss, a 23-17 Cincinnati win at the end of the 2012 regular season (the second time in a row these two teams played in Cincinnati at the conclusion of the regular season).
With the Super Bowl defending champion title in tow and a group of players hungry to prove the losses won't hurt their 2013 title chances, Baltimore will trounce into Cincinnati at some point to face an even hungrier Bengals defense that could enter the 2013 season as one of the best in the NFL. Sparks are sure to fly.
Minnesota Vikings vs. Seattle Seahawks
Which team has the better blueprint for long-term success?
Former Vikings receiver Percy Harvin is a member of the Seahawks now after an offseason trade between these two teams, while reigning league MVP Adrian Peterson will likely be eager to take down another top defense gearing up to slow him down.
Upon closer examination, these two teams have some major similarities.
Each is developing a young quarterback (Christian Ponder and Russell Wilson), each has a bruising running back (Peterson and Marshawn Lynch) and each team made the playoffs last year despite not finishing first in their division.
It's clear that Minnesota and Seattle are both rising franchises in the NFC, and this matchup could either be a playoff preview or end up deciding where each finishes with respect to the NFC playoff seeding.
Atlanta Falcons at Green Bay Packers
Atlanta and Green Bay have one thing in common—San Francisco sent them home early in the playoffs.
While retribution for those losses will be on each's mind heading into 2013, this game has all the makings of one of those classic NFL battles we've gotten used to over the past few seasons.
Between Matt Ryan and Aaron Rodgers, who will likely both have MVP expectations at some point next season, there will be plenty of offense. Atlanta and Green Bay also feuded for free-agent RB Steven Jackson, who signed with the Falcons earlier this offseason.
With QB play set to be top-notch in this matchup and both teams eager to prove that San Francisco isn't the only team to beat in the NFC, this game could be a chance for early or late-season bragging rights. Expect a rowdy crowd at Lambeau field, and an even better showing on the field.
Kansas City Chiefs at Philadelphia Eagles
And then, there's the obvious connection of head coach Andy Reid, fired by the Eagles at the end of the 2012 season, only to have a new head job with the Chiefs before we could pontificate on which franchises would be the best fit for his coaching style.
The Eagles went the college route to find their new head coach, landing former Oregon Ducks offensive guru Chip Kelly to replace the departed Reid.
Kansas City made an offseason trade for QB Alex Smith and have the first-overall pick in the 2013 draft, while Philadelphia has three QB options (Michael Vick, Nick Foles, Dennis Dixon) preparing to battle for the starting job when training camp kicks off.
While both franchises are clearly in the middle of rebuilding effort, we've seen over the past few seasons that rebuilding can turn into contending very quickly when punching the right buttons (see Indianapolis with Andrew Luck and Washington with Robert Griffin III). We'll see what point both of these teams are at when Reid makes his return to the franchise that made him famous.
Denver Broncos at New England Patriots
While the Patriots have largely dominated games against Manning's teams over the years (9-4 regular and postseason record in favor of Brady, including a 2012 win in Denver), the tables might be turned when these two square off in 2013.
The Broncos must travel to Foxboro—always a tough place to play because of the cold conditions and rowdy fans—but have all of the expectations of a Super Bowl team. Denver added Welker, Louis Vasquez and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie over the course of the offseason shuffle.
Throw in Manning, Denver's already potent WR combo of Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas and a defense that includes Von Miller, and Denver is going all-in for a Super Bowl run in 2013. Brady and the Patriots will always be a road block as long as both QBs are around, making this an exciting 14th installment between the two legendary QBs.
Note: Full listing of team-by-team opponents can be found at CBS Sports, courtesy of Will Brinson.
Reid joins seven other head coaches that will be in place for the first time in 2013, and another five that will be in their second NFL season with their current team.
It's becoming painfully clear that NFL head-coaching longevity is scarce these days.
The league is more cutthroat than ever, and the amount of coaches that were hired/fired at the end of the 2012 season is evidence enough to suggest that the league is moving to a shorter window on its coaching staff.
That should make the honeymoon period for guys like Kelly, Marc Trestman, Rob Chudzinski and Bruce Arians particularly difficult and stressful, especially with the pressure to make the playoffs and win Super Bowls greater than ever in today's NFL.
Should the NFL move a franchise to London?
Goodell has minced no words with his desire to expand the NFL across the Atlantic, and Pittsburgh, Minnesota, Jacksonville and San Francisco will all head across the water to face each other in London next season.
While certainly unconventional, the crowds have been pretty good since the league has been doing this, and there doesn't appear to be any reason to believe that the NFL will stop pushing for cross-country games in the future.
Expect the marriage to be one that continues, and might even lead to a full-time franchise at some point in the future (via CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora).
Quarterback Transitionary Period
Sure, guys like Brady, the Manning brothers and Tony Romo are defying age, but for the most part the position is getting younger. It was clear in the 2012 draft, when five of the selections became starters last season, and it's clear again that youth is being valued more at QB these days.
Transition periods are never fun for hardcore fans, but this one has a chance to be. Luck and Griffin paved the way for the other success stories in 2012, but other young QBs Andy Dalton, Ponder, Jake Locker, Josh Freeman and Colin Kaepernick are all eager to put to rest some of the NFL journeyman stories.
Things could continue to change very quickly. Enjoy the twilight of some of the older QBs in the league, because the young guns are rapidly approaching with their own skills a major draw for long-term success.
The Return of RG3
In the NFC playoffs against Seattle, Griffin went down for the third time in 2012—that time for good.
RG3 tore his ACL, and the recovery process is ongoing for the new face of the Redskins franchise. He's slated to return for the start of the regular season, and already has an Adidas ad campaign pledging that he will be "all-in for Week 1" when the new season opens.
However, fellow Adidas employee Derrick Rose has been the talk of the NBA this season for mostly the same reason.
Like RG3, Rose injured his knee in the playoffs. He still has not returned to the Chicago Bulls' lineup, despite the injury time coming up on almost exactly one year. Since Griffin is clearly the new man in Washington, it will be interesting to see how Mike Shanahan approaches this situation.