The waiting game has started and in rather late fashion, too.
Week 15 pops its crucial head around the regular season corner this weekend, and with it comes a wagon full of meaningful matchups and headline-grabbing stories for even the smallest of NFL fans to grow excited about.
Simply put, this week's affairs should finally outline the big picture.
New York Jets wide receiver Santonio Holmes takes a trip to his former team the Pittsburgh Steelers, Aaron Rodgers looks to avoid the bench after sustaining a concussion last weekend and the Brett Favre saga is still plaguing tabloids with three weeks remaining.
It's all happening in the NFL and, quite frankly, it makes "water cooler" talk all that more enjoyable. Here's a look at the top 10 storylines of Week 15.
Mixing in with some of the season's blockbuster headlines, a small schoolyard scrap broke out between Houston Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson and Tennessee Titans cornerback Cortland Finnegan several weeks ago.
Fittingly on Roger Goodell's part, neither player was suspended. Unfortunately for the two men, though, the cooling-off period has been short-lived since their scuffle in Week 12, as both teams were mathematically eliminated from postseason play in the past two weeks.
Talk about a rough month at work.
So what can we expect when these two fiery characters step between the hash marks this Sunday in Tennessee?
If you're planning to host a fight party, forget it, because strangely enough, both players intend to express a hardy handshake and a formal apology ahead of the 1 P.M. showdown.
"Just clear the air. Let everybody know no hard feelings. Let's just play football," Cortland Finnegan said on Wednesday.
Those of you who are holding your breath for Round 2, there is the slight chance that a fight may break out, but it really doesn't seem likely. Nonetheless, this is a minor headline to focus on as Week 15 quickly approaches.
Broncos quarterback Kyle Orton has been experiencing one of the best seasons of his six-year NFL career . None of that seems to have been enough to silence the faint "We Want Tebow" chants heard by very few throughout Mile High Stadium.
From Florida to Denver, Tebow supporters remain loyal through thick and thin. So far this season, No. 15 has seen limited action on the field, quite an unbelievable factor considering that both Colt McCoy and Jimmy Clausen have endured several starts in 2010.
Forgive me, though, for jumping the gun too soon, because Tim Tebow may be stepping in under center sometime in the next three weeks.
Why is that?
Aside from the fact that Kyle Orton is still struggling with a persistent rib injury, the Broncos new-look coaching system led by Eric Studesville seems intent on allowing Tebow some game time with a meaningless season slowly fading out.
Despite Orton's 3,653 yards and 20 touchdowns on the season, even if Tebow does somehow manage to slip in under center some time soon, it shouldn't hurt Orton's starting role one bit. Keeping in mind, however, that the Broncos Week 15 opponent, the Oakland Raiders, could be the test that Tebow is looking for so late in the year.
We'll wait and see how this story develops as, realistically, Kyle Orton is still the preferred man.
A rather hidden factor of Week 15's marquee games is the fact that several key player matchups are set to get underway, one of which features New Orleans' golden boy Drew Brees and Baltimore's favorite veteran, Ed Reed.
The intrigue behind this player encounter is simple: One is a great passer, while the other is a phenomenal safety. Throw in the fact that this matchup will also test both players heavily all game long and you have the makings of a big-time blockbuster.
On the year, Drew Brees has thrown for 3,855 yards and 28 touchdowns. One of Brees' most famous traits is his ability to locate even the most well-covered receivers, which obviously plays into Ed Reed's hands this Sunday in Baltimore.
Finally, adding a little spice to the situation, both Baltimore and New Orleans need a win to keep their playoff hopes alive. Currently the Saints stand a much better chance at a Wild Card berth, however the threat of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers still looms.
As for Baltimore, the Steelers continue to run away with the AFC North, but Ed Reed's four interceptions on the year have made the Ravens defense that much more commendable.
It's a showdown within a showdown, so don't miss it.
The genius of Mike Shanahan has been ultimately tested in 2010, much of which has come from Donovan McNabb's shaky end to the season that now sees his starting role firmly in question.
When asked about the Redskins quarterback situation, Shanahan partook in his usual stern and stale attitude, not hinting one way or another in regards to his feelings on starting McNabb this Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys.
"We're not committing to tell you who the starters are at any position," Shanahan stated on Wednesday when asked by reporters and media alike, "They've got to get ready for a couple of players. That's good for us."
The other player that Shanahan is referencing is Redskins backup quarterback Rex Grossman, who filled in for McNabb during No. 5's tumultuous game against the Detroit Lions back in Week 8 of the regular season.
From the Dallas Cowboys' standpoint, perhaps Jerry Jones isn't overly concerned about either quarterback. McNabb has been average at best the past few weeks and with 15 interceptions to his name this year, the Cowboys' biggest rival isn't in the best shape of his life.
Until Mike Shanahan states otherwise, there is no answer to this question. Judging by his own uncertainty towards the press, though, it is a fair call to say that Shanahan himself is still unsure on who to place under center.
Due time will tell, but McNabb had best be practicing hard ahead of the Cowboys rejuvenated defense.
A very promising season turned into a major disappointment as the Miami Dolphins now find themselves in a familiar position in the AFC East, sitting third behind the New York Jets and New England Patriots, at 7-6 on the year.
To be fair to Tony Sparano's team, nothing has gone right so far for Miami. Quarterback issues continue to plague Tunatown and just when Chad Henne looked solid behind Brandon Marshall and company, now come uncertain times heading into 2011.
However, on the fortunate side for the Dolphins, a weak opponent now pops up in Week 15, as the Buffalo Bills take a trip down to South Beach. The sight of the Bills is always a promising factor, but considering the Dolphins poor home record this season, maybe not so much.
Miami has only managed to win one home game all season long, against the Tennessee Titans back in Week 10. Not only is this statistic unfavorable ahead of this weekend's clash, it also spells some potential future trouble for the Dolphins.
Currently Miami ranks 31st in points and 27th in offensive yards. Concerning? Not so much against the Bills, but it is a major question as to how the Dolphins managed to knock off the New York Jets last week, 10-6.
Two straight home games now await Tony Sparano's team, followed by a Week 17 trip to New England. The time has come to rid any home demons ahead of next year before this problem gets out of hand.
The good news for Matt Cassel: He has been practicing. The bad news: He is still day to day.
Scary times for Todd Haley's team have struck in recent weeks, after seeing its star quarterback undergo an appendectomy that sidelined Cassel during the Chiefs Week 14 AFC West clash with the San Diego Chargers.
It may not come as news to you, but the Chiefs lost the game in awful fashion. Shut out 31-0 on the road, backup replacement Brodie Croyle crumbled under the pressure of a promising playoff team, completing just seven of his 17 attempted passes.
Ahead of the Chiefs Week 15 matchup with the St. Louis Rams, a repeat of last week could be in store. Matt Cassel is listed as questionable at this point in time, but according to Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli, Cassel "was encouraging".
One has to think that with no Cassel, the Chiefs will struggle on the road against the Rams. Sure, St. Louis can be hot and cold at the best of times. But with San Diego and Oakland breathing down the Rams' neck, Kansas City knows the pressure is mounting.
Right now we'll give Cassel the benefit of the doubt, but a day-to-day status isn't always a certainty.
The New York Giants had seemingly escaped from their rocky month in November, only to be delivered some crushing news during the week in relation to their go-to wide receiver, Steve Smith.
According to reports, Smith's left knee injury sustained during the Giants big-time win over the Minnesota Vikings on Monday Night Football has resulted in a season cut short, as No. 12 has injured the articular cartilage.
What is the impact of this loss to the Giants?
Easy. It is devastating.
The Giants offense has been one of the stronger points of their 2010 season and, even though the defense has stolen the limelight, through the thick of it all, Tom Coughlin's team ranks seventh in points scored throughout the league.
It doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize that Steve Smith's loss may bring that number down a little.
New York is preparing to take on the Philadelphia Eagles at home this Sunday. The NFC East is ultimately on the line, but Eli Manning will have to depend on the run game a little more now that Smith is out.
The end of the world? Not quite, but it couldn't have come at a worse time.
Sticking with the injury theme, the Minnesota Vikings are also struggling with the latest edition to the team's injury list, as quarterback Tarvaris Jackson is now nursing a turf toe.
Although this injury seems like minor news, the fact that Brett Favre is still a question to start on Monday night against the Chicago Bears still remains to be seen. Last weekend against New York, Favre sat out, ending his 297-game consecutive starting streak and instead he took up some mentoring on the sideline.
If Tarvaris Jackson is somehow the planned starter for Leslie Frazier's offense, a turf toe injury doesn't exactly spell disaster. Still, with only three weeks remaining, the Vikings must become aware of next season and try to develop Jackson while they can.
In all likelihood, Brett Favre will suit up sometime in the near future, but returning against a dominant Chicago Bears defense may not be the smartest move. The season is worthless, but the rehabilitation of Jackson certainly is not.
Concussed for the second time this season, Aaron Rodgers has been in the wars after getting a battering against the Detroit Lions last weekend in the Motor City.
For all of the NFL's talk about head protection, none of the new rules or implications have protected one of the league's best quarterbacks. Most importantly, though, a matter of health and safety is on the line for the Packers, as Green Bay prepares for a trip to New England with its season on the line.
Much of the Lambeau faithful are divided on this matter. Many folks feel that without Rodgers the Packers stand no chance, while others feel that with him, Green Bay can at least post a possible win and keep pace with the Chicago Bears up north.
"I'm not discouraged, because we've still got an opportunity," Packers cornerback Charles Woodson said, "As long as you've got an opportunity, you control it. We've got a big game, and it's a game we feel like we can win, and we've got to win."
Despite Charles Woodson's profound optimism, though, the final decision will come down to head coach Mike McCarthy, who told reporters that Rodgers' health is the team's main concern ahead of the team's trip out east.
"We understand the importance of the quarterback position, but this is about Aaron Rodgers, first, No. 1, being healthy," McCarthy stated, "And then, after that, we'll make a decision on whether he'll play or not."
The Packers are in serious danger of falling right out of the postseason and, seeing as though Rodgers hasn't practiced all week long, chances are No. 12 will be absent against the Patriots. Matt Flynn struggled last week, but a second-chance draw may be awarded against the league's best team right now.
Making his return to the Steel City in Week 15, former Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Santonio Holmes will head back to his original home in one of the week's biggest AFC clashes.
In usual NFL fashion, a return from a former player usually warrants a chorus of boos, funny signs and, of course, week-long speculation by every fan alike. This time around, Santonio Holmes is still a much loved player in Pittsburgh, as he was the main reason for the Steelers win over the Arizona Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII.
Nowadays Holmes is a Jet, and his 620 yards and four touchdowns have provided Rex Ryan's offense with enough juice to remain in playoff contention behind the New England Patriots in the AFC East.
Holmes returns when the Steelers are currently ranked second in point-scoring defense, so he will have to be on the top of his game. To add even more pressure to the situation, Mark Sanchez's wobbly effort last week against the Miami Dolphins only further states how dire New York's situation is right now.
It's a big return for a big player and one that could go either way against such a tough opponent like the Steelers.