The parades are over and the confetti's been cleaned up, which means we have officially hit the offseason.
While the Giants and their fans can still strut around and celebrate their title for a little while longer, the 31 other teams of the NFL are free to turn all their attention toward next season. In that spirit, we've decided to offer up a completely arbitrary and almost completely meaningless ranking of the 12 teams most likely to win the Super Bowl next season.
The best part? There's a pretty good chance that the ultimate winner won't appear on this list -- just as the Giants weren't on the tips of anyone's tongues last February.
Giants: In the immortal words of Ric Flair, "To be the man, you've got to beat the man." A repeat might not be likely, but the defending champ always has to make the list. They weren't the best team over the course of the season, but they were the best team when it ended, and that's the only thing that gets you a trophy.
Packers: Just ask the Packers. They snuck into the playoffs last year before winning a Super Bowl, and then dominated the regular season this season before getting bounced in the postseason. Still, they dominated for 16 weeks, and they should be able to repair their defensive flaws while remaining awfully potent on offense.
Patriots: Although Boston is reacting as if the Patriots had a worthless season, they actually accomplished quite a bit. Like the Packers, they've got work to do on defense, and getting some guys who can rush the passer would be a swell way to start. And it couldn't hurt to keep Gisele from football commentary in the future.
49ers: Alex Smith is a free agent. Peyton Manning might be available. Do the 49ers roll the dice on a team that was a punt off a knee away from the Super Bowl, or do they try to do something different? Bet on another bet on Smith and hope they actually fill the wide receiver position this time.
Texans: They will be healthier than they were this year, their defense was tremendous and plenty of people are going to add those together for a bright outlook for next season. In other words, expect a lot of Texans-to-the-Super Bowl talk this summer.
Saints: If New Orleans had home field in the playoffs, they likely would have gone to the Super Bowl. There are a bunch of key free agents, starting with Drew Brees, and the defense needs work, but they are going to be another popular preseason pick.
Lions: It's still hard to wrap the head around the Lions being something other than a punchline, but we probably have to get used to it. If they find anything resembling a running game, they will be even better than they were last season, and they were plenty good.
Ravens: Getting older on defense, and Joe Flacco has fewer supporters than Roseanne Barr's presidential bid, but Baltimore has been a consistent winner under John Harbaugh. Imagine how different everyone would feel about them if Harbaugh had just called a timeout to settle Billy Cundiff before that field goal.
Bears: A bit high for a team that didn't make the playoffs? They were 7-3 when Jay Cutler was lost for the season and lost their next three games by 15 combined points because Caleb Hanie had no business starting for an NFL team. Sign a strong receiver and this roster looks more than competitive against the rest of this list.
Bengals: Andy Dalton and A.J. Green will have to avoid the sophomore slump, but if they do, the Bengals could be in line for a big jump next season. The defense was really good, Mike Zimmer will be back to run them after not getting a head coaching gig and their only really pressing need is an upgrade to the running game. That should happen and the Bengals should be better next year.
Eagles: Langston Hughes once wondered what happened to a dream deferred. The Eagles might give us an answer to that question this season. The Dream Team didn't coalesce until it was too late in the season, but they did close strong, and a full offseason can't be a bad thing for a team that went through so many changes. They still have to deal with Andy Reid, of course, but there's gobs of talent on this roster.
Titans: Here's the real screwball pick, and it has everything to do with Chris Johnson. The lockout last year begat a holdout that was even more damaging than it would have been in a regular summer, and it led to a terrible season for Johnson. Maybe there were other factors, but he's a pretty good rebound candidate for a team that was able to go 9-7 without much of anything from their best player. Figuring out who starts at quarterback will be key, but a return to form from Johnson would take some pressure off either Matt Hasselbeck or Jake Locker.