NFL Pretenders Set to Become Contenders in 2012

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NFL Pretenders Set to Become Contenders in 2012
Rob Carr/Getty Images

It's the start of NFL training camps, and already the playoff picture is becoming clear. Okay, okay, this is one of those times I wish a special font for sarcasm existed.

The reality is, at this point, the playoffs are but a blurry picture hanging on a distant wall. But that never stops us—writers and fans alike—from making premature predictions. 

Barring any major setbacks—or the Mayan prophecy coming to pass, or a combination of both—it is safe to pencil in the Packers, 49ers, Patriots and Steelers as locks to reach the postseason.

That means the rest of the spots—eight of the 12 total, to be exact—are pretty much up for grabs, and each team will be reaching for the sky. You can expect the usual suspects to be in the race, but don't be totally shocked if a bottom-dweller rises to make a push. 

Look no further than last season for proof that this transformation from pretender to contender is an annual event. The 49ers and Lions, fresh off 6-10 seasons in 2010, both made drastic—and quick—turnarounds to reach the postseason. 

So who are the candidates this year? 

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