It's only July 17, and, collectively, you seem to be in midseason vitriolic form already, oh readers of mine.
I figured it would be this way when I put the Rams 10th, the Lions 13th and the Vikes 31st in my pre-camp power poll. And before I get to your e-mails, I'd like to point something out about columns like mine. It would be fairly easy and extraordinarily uninteresting to take last year's standings, figure in the offseason moves each team has made, and put the teams in logical order based precisely on what appears to be the way the season will go. It'd be a cookie-cutter exercise.
This just in: The season never goes the way we think it will go in July. Never. Every year for the past 10 years -- which I'll illustrate here -- at least one team has come from nowhere to be a major playoff factor the following year. Let's look. 1997:
The Giants and Tampa Bay, both 6-10 in 1996, rebound to go 10-5-1 and 10-6. Both make the playoffs. 1998:
Arizona, 4-12 the previous year, makes the playoffs and wins a road game as a wild card. 1999:
Each NFC division winner -- Washington, Tampa Bay, St. Louis -- comes back from a .500 or poorer season in '98. St. Louis goes from 4-12 to Super Bowl champ. 2000:
The Giants and Baltimore, playoff-less and a combined 15-17 the previous year, reach the Super Bowl. 2001:
Chicago, 5-11 in 2000, goes 13-3 and wins the NFC Central. New England goes from 5-11 to 11-5 and wins the AFC East, then the Super Bowl. 2002:
Tennessee wins the new AFC South at 11-5 after winning seven games the previous year. The Browns make the playoffs. The Browns, people. 2003:
Carolina in 2001 and 2002: 8-24. Carolina in 2003: NFC Champion. 2004:
Pittsburgh and Atlanta, 11-21 in 2003, win divisions in 2004. The Steelers go 15-1. 2005:
The Bucs and Bears improve by six wins and the Giants by five to win their divisions. 2006: Mangenius
takes the Jets from 4-12 to 10-6 and the playoffs. The Saints, 3-13 in '05, become America's Team.
All right, now: Who had the Saints last year as the rising stars? Carolina in '03? The Rams in '99?
The funny thing about my rankings is that, overall, they're incredibly predictable. Who doesn't have Indy, New England and San Diego at the top of their playoff-probable list? They're 1-2-3 for me. Eight of my top nine teams (lone exception: Denver) made the playoffs last year.