So who's going to go from worst to first? OK, maybe no-one is, but who are the likely candidates to make big jumps? Who's in position to pull themselves up by the bootstraps?
Here're my candidates:
MLB: Oakland. OK, so it's not even like they're playing poorly. But all that talent in the starting rotation has got to come home to roost sooner or later, and they have a relatively potent top of the order. Are they going to catch Seattle? Are Jethro Tull pedophiles? Unless the boys in Jetro Tull indulge in the young 'uns, no. But I wouldn't be surprised if they made the wild card with a strong second half, and even made up some ground on them Mariners.
NFL: (tie) Chicago and San Diego. OK, so Chicago doesn't have a passer and San Diego doesn't have anyone for Flutie to throw the ball to. And both have lousy offensive lines. But they both have last place schedules! And I think St. Louis showed just how big an advantage that is. Chicago now has a trio (Robinson, Terrell, Engram) to rival any in the league, and their defense is young, aggressive, and fast. San Diego has to improve; any regression from where they already are should mean some sort of soccer-like relegation to NFL Europe or something. Butler brought in all sorts of new life on the D-line, signed two pro-level corners, and they still have Rodney Harrison and Junior Seau. Offensively, I think they got the man they wanted in LT. It's not smart to debate Butler on personnel decisions!
NBA: Call me nuts, but I could see the Nets actually getting better for once. The obvious answer would be the Clippers, but I like what the Nets did. Last year, they lacked any type of team concept. It was Marbury and 4 other non-Marbury's. They turned over most of the roster, brought in a cadre of young, athletic guys, and avoided headcase Eddie Griffin. Meanwhile, they brought in a team-first guy like Jason Kidd (despite his wife-beatin' tendencies) to pass to shooters like Keith Van Horn and Kendall Gill. If they can avoid having <B>EVERYONE</b> hurt at some point in the season, I look for them to make big strides in the Leastern Conference.
NHL: The first team that comes to mind is the Isles, but I'm not biting. Yashin has never impressed me, and Peca, while a great team guy, can't be ridden for 70 points. They have few wingers, and short on D, and have a rookie that looked totally overmatched last year in net.
Naw, I'm going with...yup, the Caps. Call me a front-runner, accuse me of picking a team that finished near the top of the Eastern Conference last year, but their big problem wasn't stopping goals; their defense-first philosophy and Ollie the Goalie saw to that. But having only Peter Bondra putting biscuits in the basket was killing them, especially in the tightly-defended playoffs. Think what you want about Jagr, but the guy can manufacture points. They've got a decent cast of complementary forwards, and their defensive corps is solid. Pencil them in for a high seed, but more importantly, push Washington a little further along the playoff bracket.
So who are you looking at with interest? Who could surprise you this year?