Relegation and Promotion Predictions, Barclays Premier League 2012-2013
Last year's cliffhanger title race notwithstanding, the intrigue surrounding the drop zone often trumps the chase for the top spots in the Barclays Premier League.
With the season now underway in earnest, let's take a moment to pontificate on the frenetic May fixtures that lie ahead.
Here, we will take a ponderous look at three teams possibly bound for relegation and a few other contenders for that dubious distinction.
On top of that, we'll also have a glance at the nPower Championship's prime candidates for promotion into the top flight.
Sound like fun to all you doting digital darlings? Of course it does.
Having done well to return to the top flight after four consecutive seasons in the Championship, Reading appear most likely to return from whence they came.
Despite having some quality and experience in Jason Roberts, Nicky Shorey and Pavel Pogrebnyak, oddsmakers have them right around even money for a return back down below.
Sorry Reading fans, looks like you might be royally screwed this season.
After six years in the wilderness, this resilient club rose from League One to the Premiership in just two seasons (2009-2011).
Captain Grant Holt and Anthony Pilkington were able to steward Norwich to a wildly overachieving 12th place finish last year.
A listless 5-nil thumping at the hands of Fulham on opening weekend may be an omen of doom for the Canaries though.
There's a good chance they'll be fighting from the foot of the table throughout 2012-2013.
The jig may be up for Roberto Martinez's men who narrowly avoided relegation in the 2010-2011 campaign.
The man who spared the Latics from demotion that year, Hugo Rodallega, moved to Fulham in the offseason, leaving the club mostly deprived of a prolific striker.
This is not a notional guess. Wigan's death-defying trapeze act has worn thin; just ask the boys at Ladbrokes or William Hill.
The Treacherous 3
Southampton, West Ham and QPR are my picks for other drop-zone dwellers.
Southampton almost pulled a shock win at Manchester City on opening Sunday, only to show their true colors late on.
West Ham aren't quite built for another sustained run in the rigorous EPL just yet.
QPR will probably right the ship under Mark Hughes, but losing 5-nil at home to fellow potential-bottom feeder Swansea on Match Day 1 was not a good sign.
Let's just say these three teams are on high alert. If the old Homeland Security color scale were still in play, all three would be in the mauve zone.
Now for the top promotion candidates from the nPower Championship. Same rules apply.
Three best guesses and five more we'll throw out there for you to chew on. (Feel free to regurgitate your opinion, but please save your bile for your local Congressman.)
Owen Coyle's club were more than just unlucky in 2011-2012—they were relegated on the final match day after a 2-2 draw to Stoke. The trauma of Fabrice Muamba's nearly fatal heart attack last March cast a pall over the entire season.
While top players like Ivan Klasnic and Mark Connolly couldn't endure a year in the lower tier, there's enough quality at the Reebok (including Americans Stuart Holden and Tim Ream) to believe this season in the Championship is a one and done deal.
After 18 seasons in the top flight, Blackburn endured a dreadful 2011-12. Somehow, Steve Kean managed to keep his job despite numerous calls for his ouster.
If he doesn't oversee a successful promotion campaign in 2012-13, he's sure to be tarred and feathered. Most UK oddsmakers have Rovers around 3.5 to 1 favorites to return to the top division.
A veteran-laden squad that includes David Dunn, Danny Murphy and new signee Nuno Gomes gives the Ewood Park faithful hope for a quick return to the big time.
While native Welshman Craig Bellamy could not help Team GB avoid anything but a trainwreck at the Olympics, perhaps the former Liverpudlian has a masterstroke left in him as he nears the twilight of his career.
The horror of the 2009-2010 final promotion spot tie against Blackpool lingers on for Bluebird supporters (a game in which they led twice before losing 3-2).
This is a bit of a long shot, but we like the idea of two Welsh sides in the top flight.
In the Playoff Hunt
The following five teams are my picks to vie for playoff positions and possible promotion: Leicester City, Blackpool, Wolverhampton, Nottingham Forest and Leeds United.
Feel free to weigh in on this debate, but try not to break the scale.