The actual NFL season may have been preceded by an abnormally shortened offseason, but that didn't slow the loud and proud August predictions from many of the league's personalities.
Rex Grossman predicted a division title in Washington, while Vince Young referred to the Eagles as a "Dream Team." Jerry Jones actually said, out loud, that Jason Garrett was going to be the Cowboys' head coach in 2011. And that's just the NFC East.
The rest of the league has seen its fair share of disappointment, as well, with offseason hopes wilting into regular season realities. But just because the playoffs are out of the question doesn't mean these five teams won't be playing for pride the rest of the way.
The Panthers may have owned the league's worst record a season ago, and they may be headed for a four- or five-win season at best in 2011, but they're still a tough out for every team they face.
Before folding against the Falcons, Carolina held a 23-7 halftime lead and had a chance to win back-to-back divisional games. Even with the loss, they've already doubled last year's win total.
The playoffs may still be a few years away, but with the way rookie quarterback Cam Newton has played, there's hope in Carolina again. And they'll want to enter the 2012 season with as much momentum as possible.
The Dolphins may have started out as the Colts' biggest competition for the No. 1 pick, but they've since fallen off in that race by winning four of their past six games.
At 4-9, the playoffs are an impossibility, but that hasn't caused any quit in this team. In fact, they played better at 0-8 than they did at 0-1.
The real impetus here might be a late-season effort to save coach Tony Sparano's job. That's a tall order, and owner Stephen Ross likely won't fill it; but a team united over a common cause, especially when that cause involves saving their coach, is always dangerous. They'll want to send him out on a high note, at the very least.
The Eagles have a little bit of that "save our coach" strategy going, but there's almost seems to be a more futile cause.
Still, after myriad injuries, contract issues and general strife, the Eagles have Michael Vick under center again, and DeSean Jackson has relocated the end zone. The NFC isn't particularly tough this season, so even at 5-8, a .500 season is within reach.
And although it may not matter as much as the results on the field, the element of pride is very much in play here. The Eagles spent a lot of money on a lot of big names in the offseason, and one of their own dubbed their team the league's best. They don't want to limp home at 5-11.
The Redskins were their own biggest fans this offseason, with sometimes-quarterback Rex Grossman and his tales of an NFC East Championship leading the way.
And, after a 3-1 start, the rest of the league started to wonder if Grossman knew something they didn't. That wonder turned into laughter, however, as the Redskins reminded everyone that, well, they're still the Redskins.
Since Week 6, they've gone 1-8, and a shot at a division crown left the D.C. area a month ago. Still, head coach Mike Shanahan and his offensive coordinator son, Kyle, need to finish strong or at least show some improvement if they want to stick around next year.
With a likely lofty draft spot and a bevy of first-round caliber passers almost sure to be on the board, the Shanahans can't afford to miss out on a chance to develop a top young quarterback.
I'm not saying there's any pride out there left to be had by the Colts, but it is clear that there's nothing else they can play for at this point.
If the rumors of passing Peyton Manning to make room for Andrew Luck are true, then this team needs to show that there's some fight on the roster not wearing number 18. Otherwise, this is a likely 0-16 team that has proven to be all passer ready to head into 2012 with a rookie quarterback and no one else.
Besides, at Manning's age, there's no guarantee that he'll ever be good enough again to hide this club's holes. If Indy can't win at least one game with a backup quarterback, they'll have found a way to do the seemingly impossible and cast a pall over the arrival of Luck.