The National Football League witnesses some drastic changes from year to year, with many team from the year before finding themselves suddenly and inexplicably at the bottom of their division.
Likewise, a good number of surprise title contenders emerge.
Any speculation before the season can only be speculation, but it certainly is fun to put the pieces together on paper and try to figure out who is on their way up and who is on their way down.
This list is an entertaining look at some of the teams who are coming from the depths of NFL despair, and also a look at some of the teams who are on their way down from their lofts overlooking the crowded, middle of the pack.
And now, I will lick my finger and hold it in the air...
The San Diego Chargers are in what most people would call a gradual collapse mode.
The days of LaDainian Tomlinson are over, and the Philip Rivers passing era has officially begun.
San Diego didn't really have a good draft; they did manage to pick up Ryan Mathews, who I am absolutely crazy about, but they really traded too much for him. In a draft as deep as this last one was, there was acceptable talent later on (see Best, Jahvid).
The Chargers are clearly the favorites in the AFC West for the coming season, as they should be, but with their defense full of question marks it is going to be difficult for Philip Rivers to keep them on top of the NFL.
The days of San Diego consistently being one of the top two or three AFC teams are over; it looks like their window closed without a championship.
Mike Singletary has been doing some serious scheming this off-season.
The San Francisco 49ers had a really good draft, addressing their areas of serious need very effectively. Add that to a team that already had potential with guys like Michael Crabtree and expect good things to happen.
The biggest question mark left on the team is how their quarterback play will be next year. But in a very wise move, the 49ers drafted Anthony Davis and Mike Iupati to immediately bolster their offensive line.
This is a team to really keep your eyes on, because next year, they're going to be playing some really good football.
I also have to throw in a mention of the absolute steal San Francisco got in Taylor Mays. A year before he would have been a top 10 pick, and they took him down in the middle of the second.
Most of Mays' drop can be attributed to the lack of talent he had around him at USC last year, because his awareness was nowhere near as bad as people were saying.
The 49ers also brought in Ted Ginn Jr.
Tom Brady seems more interested in posing for fashion magazines than playing football.
Of course I am joking, but New England is in a bit of a rough spot.
While I don't think they're falling hard for the long run, the division they're in has gotten a lot more crowded.
Bill Belichick quietly had a very good draft using his usual method of stockpiling picks, and he surprisingly pulled the trigger a few times, but they just didn't do what they needed to in order to own the Jets and the Dolphins.
However, Chan Gailey and the Buffalo Bills are no threat yet, so at least they have that going for them.
The good news is Wes Welker seems to be progressing with his rehabilitation.
In two years, the Detroit Lions are going to be a very, very good football team.
Aside from getting the single most talented player in this year's draft, the Lions also snagged up Jahvid Best.
And the team is very, very young.
The pieces just seem to be falling into place for them to be competitive in the near future, with Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson, Brandon Pettigrew, Jahvid Best...
I have very high hopes for this team.
If anyone is thinking to themselves, "they never have been good and they never will," I would just remind you that the New Orleans Saints just won the Super Bowl.
And the Arizona Cardinals were in it the year before.
If they can do it, so can the Lions.
Did I mention I really like what this team is doing? I do.
I can't even begin to explain what is going on in Jacksonville.
The Jaguars were playoff contenders last year and they have exciting players to watch, but they can't sell tickets and it is starting to seem like Jack Del Rio doesn't even care.
That really came from his interest in the USC coaching vacancy, when it was rumored he wanted to go but the Jaguars wouldn't pay him what they owed on his contract to get rid of him.
Even though they wanted to get rid of him.
The next thing anyone knows is that the Jaguars are wasting a premium draft pick on Tyson Alualu (who is a good player, don't get me wrong) instead of taking someone else and picking up Alualu in the second or third round.
David Garrard is coming off of a Pro Bowl season, but Vince Young went to the Pro Bowl last year too. That admissions committee has some very relaxed standards these days.
I like Mike Sims-Walker. I like Maurice Jones-Drew. But honestly, if Jones-Drew is injured, this is a three-win team with one wide receiver and a mediocre quarterback.
I'm not interested in their future.
Is Pete Carroll the answer in Seattle?
The short answer—yes.
The long answer is he is the best thing they could have gotten.
Pete Carroll's former NFL experience wasn't as bad as everyone seems to remember, and the Seattle Seahawks did a very good job in the NFL draft.
I really like Golden Tate on this team.
Obviously, it wasn't too long ago that the NFC West crown belonged to Seattle, and with the moves they have been making, it is very obvious they intend to take it back.
This team is really going to surprise a lot of people next year; John Carlson is one of the best pass-catching tight ends in the NFL.
However, Seattle can't expect the crown to be passed easily, because the San Francisco 49ers are much improved as well.
This team crumbled last year without Troy Polamalu.
And then they had the off-season from hell.
Ben Roethlisberger will not be participating in six games because of his ban, making the quarterback either Charlie Batch or Byron Leftwich.
Santonio Holmes has moved on to the New York Jets, and Willie Parker is now gone.
I'm not expecting the full on doomsday scenario that a lot of other people are speculating about, but Pittsburgh is in a rough spot. Rashard Mendenhall should be very good and Mike Wallace is a legitimate number one receiver, but is that enough?
It won't be in a division with the loaded Baltimore Ravens and the returning champions, the Cincinnati Bengals.
The Pittsburgh Steelers' glorious monopoly is over. They're one tick away from the bottom of the division, thanks to the Cleveland Browns.
The Miami Dolphins are another team I absolutely love.
First of all, I think Chad Henne is an excellent quarterback option and he is going to really kick it up a notch this year.
But the story of the off-season for Miami was Brandon Marshall, who is a one of a kind receiver.
As a Broncos fan, I was sad to see Marshall go. Cutler, on the other hand, didn't really bother me.
What is shocking is that Miami acquired Marshall without having to give up a first round pick, so they were able to add to their defense with players like Jared Odrick.
Next year, the Dolphins are going to be fighting it out with the New York Jets for the lead in their division, and I am not giving the Jets much of an advantage.
I know they have added a lot of players, but the Jets would have missed the playoffs if it wasn't for the complete gift of a game they played against the Indianapolis Colts towards the end of last season.
The Dolphins are a hot team to watch.
Well, the Arizona Cardinals were a feel good, Super Bowl story two years ago.
This season they'll be lucky to finish third in their division.
Of course, they still have Larry Fitzgerald, but Matt Leinart and Derek Anderson aren't going to come close to replacing Kurt Warner.
Not yet at least.
The other puzzle piece that has gone missing is Anquan Boldin, who jumped ship for Baltimore.
This isn't the same team it was last year, or the year before, and they are going to have a lot to prove.
I'm not saying they can't do it, but it is going to be a big uphill climb since they're facing the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers.
But that is why they play the games...
The Houston Texans are, on paper, a Super Bowl contender.
Somehow the pieces just never come together.
Last season, with a greatly improved defense, I thought they were only a Steve Slaton Pro Bowl year away from the Super Bowl. They should have beaten the Indianapolis Colts twice.
The answer at the position through the draft was Ben Tate, or a straight-up committee. But either way, this is the year things come together for the Texans.
Matt Schaub is a very good quarterback. Andre Johnson is the best receiver in the AFC.
The only question is: "How's the running game?"
It remains to be seen, but I'm putting my faith in the Texans again this year.
Maybe I'm a slow learner.