It's been more than seven months since the Super Bowl, and NFL fans have had to endure months of lockout talk.
That's all over.
The NFL season kicks off on Thursday night when the New Orleans Saints visit Lambeau Field to face the Super Bowl Champion Green Bay Packers.
It won't be Peyton Manning versus Tom Brady, but the quarterback matchup will be one of the best of the year with Drew Brees going up against Aaron Rodgers. Brees is coming off a 2010 season where he threw 22 interceptions -- twice as many as he had in 2009 when he led the Saints to their first Super Bowl title. However, Brees threw for more than 4,600 yards last season, which is his second-best total of his long career.
Rodgers proved his stats the previous two seasons were not a fluke, when he put up similar numbers in 2010, and led the Packers to a Super Bowl win. The 27-year-old had a 101.2 quarterback rating last season, and finished third behind Brady and Philip Rivers.
The Saints go into the game as four-point underdogs. However, New Orleans added some key players in the off-season, and could be the favorites to finish atop the NFC South.
A key addition to New Orleans is Darren Sproles. The former Charger should be Sean Payton's replacement for Reggie Bush. Sproles is coming off a season where he rushed for 267 yards on 50 carries, and had 59 receptions for 520 yards. Brees reportedly kept contacting Sproles during the off-season to lobby for him to join the Saints.
The reason I came here was to get a ring, Sproles said. This team, they know how to win, maybe because they've been here before.
The Saints also added center Olin Kreutz, a six-time Pro Bowl selection and a 12-year veteran. Combined with running back Mark Ingram, New Orleans should be improved on offense.
Defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis may be primed for a big season, and he's joined on the defensive line by end Aubrayo Franklin, who played 16 games for San Francisco last season. The Saints have a great deal of depth, so Payton can expect an improved group this year.
The Packers didn't make many any notable upgrades, but go into their season opener with major depth at wide receiver and tight end, and have two quality running backs in Ryan Grant and James Starks. Rodgers may struggle to get all of these players involved.
Greg Jennings remains the most high-profile receiver after his third-straight season of gaining more than 1,100 receiving yards. Last season, Jennings had a career-high 12 touchdowns, and finished fourth in receiving yards amongst all NFL receivers.
Head coach Mike McCarthy also has one of the best defensive players in the NFL in linebacker Clay Matthews, who may have to step up with the losses of linebackers Nick Barnett and Brandon Chillar. Mike Neal, who is currently injured, will be called upon to fill the void after the loss of defensive end Cullen Jenkins to Philadelphia.
PREDICTION: Both teams have several options on offense, but despite some off-season losses on defense, Green Bay has the more hard-nosed side. It will be a boisterous crowd at Lambeau, and the Packers have a lot of incentive to play hard in their home opener after winning a Super Bowl.
PREDICTED SCORE: Green Bay 28, Saints 21.
Line: Packers by 4; Over-under:47