What a year for the Steelers. Mike Tomlin was voted coach of the year. James Harrison defensive player of the year, and though their offense appeared to struggle at times, they got it done when they needed to and managed to sweep their division and lead the team to a sixth Superbowl victory. As impressive as that is, the future appears brighter still for the black and gold.
There's plenty of youth in Dick Lebeau's already legendary defense. More experience will only increase their dominance. On the offense, running back Rashard Mendenhall is expected to return after a season ending injury which kept him out of the playoffs. Limas Sweed is expected to have a breakout year, which would give Roethlisberger that tall deep threat reciever he has had on his wish list for a while now. No major losses are expected through free agency, and the offensive line will improve through the draft and the return of players who were on injured reserve.
Despite having the #2 ranked defense, the Ravens couldn't manage a single win against Big Ben and the Steelers in three meetings this year. The fact that Raven's defensive coordinator Rex Ryan has signed with the Jets, and defensive legend Ray Lewis is expected to be lost through free agency, won't increase their odds for success next year.
If that weren't enough to make Steelers fans smile, it's rumored that the lowly Cincinati Bengals will lose wide reciever TJ Houshmanzadeh. Definately not a step in the right direction. Especially since they finished with a losing record when they had him.
Of course, there is always the Cleveland Browns. For the past couple of years, they've shown promise but can't seem to pull it together. I recall preseason predictions that they would make it to superbowl XLIII. This year big things are expected from quarterback Brady Quinn. They've got Jamal Lewis, Braylon Edwards, Willie McGinnest, and former Jets Head coach Eric Mangini will be taking over for Romeo Crennell this year. Sounds great if you're a Browns fan, but despite having talented players and personnell, at the end of the day they're still the Browns and have suffered longest losing streak between two teams in NFL history at the hands of the Steelers.
With all of this, the Steelers should have little trouble making the playoffs on top of the AFC North in 09', giving them a legitimate shot at a seventh Lombardi trophy.