1. San Francisco 49ers
In all reality, Jim Harbaugh's squad was two untimely turnovers away from a trip to the Super Bowl last year. Thirteen regular season wins, and one in the 2011 playoffs against New Orleans did not happen by accident. Their three losses came by a grand total of 15 points.
Thus, you can see why the bar has been significantly raised for a franchise which doubled its win total in the span of one offseason. The fan-base expects a lot from an established Alex Smith, an improved stable of receivers, a steady running threat, and one of the best defensive corps in the league.
2. San Francisco Giants
In the last several years, Giants fans have almost become acclimated to expect no-hitters, World Series wins, perfect games, and now, yes, even double rainbows. Whether it's reasonable or not, San Francisco's 2010 "Band of Misfits" team has kept the fan-base thinking that anything can happen, in any given year. Although the majority of faces have changed since then, most of the key players (Posey, Cain, Sandoval) are still in position. For as long as they are, expectations will be very high of the Giants.
3. San Jose Sharks
Some are under the impression that one by-product of the Sharks roster is a "window of opportunity", which is soon to be closing due to the age of key players. However no such thing exists for the franchise, as long as it continues to foster from below (but that's another story). Nonetheless, the time is indeed now in San Jose, where a franchise has been knocking on Stanley's door for eight years now, has reached the conference finals twice in three years, and has a lineup on paper which could reasonably be etched on the side of the Stanley Cup.
4. Golden State Warriors
A new ownership group, an outstanding draft class, and a planned move to San Francisco have a lot of Warriors fans revitalized. Maybe the revolving door of players and coaches is going to be shut. Consider it still the honeymoon period for the "new" Golden State franchise, a potentially much different club than the one which hasn't qualified for the postseason in 17 of the last 18 years. Ranked fourth here, the pressure will rise significantly on the 'Dubs' once they consistently have a proven winning product on the floor, as Bay Area basketball fans traditionally carry high expectations for their lone NBA franchise. Even though it's been practically dormant since the early '90's, this area is a sleeping giant for its quality basketball.
5. Oakland Raiders
If these rankings were created last year at this time, the Raiders would have been placed much higher. A lot was expected as they continued building on a single plan. But after new ownership, a new general manager, a new head coach, and coordinators, Oakland has seemed to buy itself some time in terms of success. What can the fanbase reasonably and realistically expect from a team which was 8-8 in a fragile division last year? It's not to say the Raiders can not be good this season, only that the true fan should understand they're remodeling the house, and that might take a certain period of time to get right.
6. Oakland Athletics
General Manager Billy Beane decisively hit the "reset" button on his franchise this past winter, in trading away some of his best proven commodities for younger prospects who would see playing time this season. This left a lot of predictions looming that the A's could lose upwards of 90 to 100 games in 2012. And even after the Athletics have remained a playoff contender for much of July and all of August, it is still considered extreme "overachieving" if they do qualify for the postseason. Also consider the A's and Giants have maintained nearly identical records for the better part of a month now, but expectations on how they finish are still worlds apart. The earliest the A's could feel pressure is next season, and that would require them to make the playoffs this year. Until that chance, expect Oakland to take advantage of flying well below the pressure radar.