They were 4-12 last year. They have had a losing record in 15 of 16 seasons since the franchise last relocated. They have won one playoff game since 1947.

They are the Arizona Cardinals, ladies and gentlemen, and they are your 2004 Team of Destiny.

(For those of you unfamiliar with the Team of Destiny program, every year we rescue an all-but-forgotten franchise from the NFL gutter, give it our blessing and watch as a raggedy group of players scuffles its way to greatness. Four of seven Teams of Destiny have made the playoffs; one day a Team of Destiny will make the Super Bowl.)

Before we detail the particulars of the Cardinals' upcoming, improbable turnaround, let's quickly assess the two biggest offseason developments in the NFL:

* In Washington, Joe Gibbs is back. This has been likened to the return of the prodigal son, with one exception -- the prodigal son didn't sleep on a couch.

* In Baltimore, Brian Billick and Jim Fassel are united under the same offensive roof. This conjures up memories of the "We Are the World" video that landed Huey Lewis and Waylon Jennings on the same recording stage.

(College Update: Staking an early claim to the Heisman Trophy long denied him, Hawaii's inimitable Timmy Chang withstood a ferocious Florida Atlantic rush to complete 38 of 66 passes for 302 yards and no interceptions in a heartbreaking, season-opening 35-28 overtime defeat. I have a VHS tape of the game if anyone is interested.)

How is it possible I can so clearly and accurately forecast the Cardinals' imminent success? Actually, it's not as hard as it looks. Or, as Donald Rumsfeld remarked at a Department of Defense briefing last year, "I would not say that the future is necessarily less predictable than the past -- I think the past was not predictable when it started."

(It astounds me that Rumsfeld has not been hired by one of the NFL pregame studio shows.)

Sure, it's tough to pledge allegiance to the Arizona Cardinals.

Their best season in recent times came in "Jerry Maguire." They have the worst record (208-306-6) of any team since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger. Their owner, Bill Bidwill, can't wear a bow tie and chew gum at the same time. Most of their home games look like a swap meet.

Plus, they have a quarterback (Josh McCown) you've never heard of, their best player (Anquan Boldin) is sidelined until next month and their top running back (Marcel Shipp) might miss the entire season.

(With Shipp out, 62-year-old Emmitt Smith will carry the load. Smith broke Walter Payton's all-time rushing record in 2002, but at Smith's current pace of losing yardage, Payton might reclaim the top spot by Week 12.)

So why would Couch Slouch risk his reputation on these unlovable losers?

1. I don't have much of a reputation, so what exactly am I risking?

2. I believe in Josh McCown and I believe in Dennis Green.

McCown started the final three games of last season and showed me -- as well as several dozen other viewers -- spunk and sass. He can pass and run, not to mention he went to Sam Houston State, which has never produced a bad NFL quarterback.

Green, meantime, led the Minnesota Vikings to the playoffs eight times in his 10 years there. He coached seven different quarterbacks into the postseason. Heck, he went to the playoffs with Jeff George -- that's tougher than going to the Grammys with La Toya Jackson. He's a master motivator and salesman; he could convince Ralph Nader to buy a used Ford Pinto. Not only can Green turn lemons into lemonade, he will also turn Cardinal sinners into Cardinal winners.

Anyway, the Cardinals might start 0-3, but they'll eventually turn Sun Devil Stadium into the House of Sunburn, get hot down the stretch and sneak into the playoffs at 9-6-1. I think Rumsfeld's got them going 5-11.

Ask The Slouch

Q. A recent news article stated that parents-to-be are taking "baby-moon" vacations during pregnancy, in order to focus on each other one last time before the baby arrives. Where did Jerry Jones and Bill Parcells go prior to signing Keyshawn Johnson? (Tom DeMerit; Port Washington, Wis.)

A. Pay the man, Shirley.

Q. Lauren Jackson was the WNBA's MVP last year? Really? Who's doing public relations for the WNBA, J.D. Salinger? (Jeff Hazle; Woodbridge)

A. Pay this man, too, Shirley.

Q. With just about every cable network adding poker to its lineup, when will Animal Planet have a show with dogs playing poker? (Neil Graff; Sussex, Wis.)

A. If you have to, Shirley, just take it out of petty cash.

Q. When playing no-limit strip poker, when is the proper time to go all-in? (Michael Schwartz; Arlington)

A. I'll be damned if Shirley puts in for overtime this week.

You, too, can enter the $1.25 Ask The Slouch Cash Giveaway. E-mail asktheslouch@aol.com and, if your question is used, you win $1.25 in cash!