Pittsburgh Steelers Face Difficult Road To Repeat

Bobby LewisCorrespondent IJuly 1, 2009

TAMPA, FL - FEBRUARY 01:  Running back Willie Parker #39 and wide receiver Hines Ward #86 of the Pittsburgh Steelers touch fists against the Arizona Cardinals during Super Bowl XLIII on February 1, 2009 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Although the 2009 NFL season is still a few months away, it is conceivable to say that three-fourths of the AFC teams can make the playoffs. Obviously, there is still a lot that can happen between now and Sept. 10, but what will not change is the competitiveness of the AFC.

Houston has come along very nicely since selecting Mario Williams No. 1 overall in the 2006 NFL Draft. Kansas City seems to finally have a plan for the long haul. Miami emerged last season as a formidable threat.

The Jets have a very solid foundation that will help them compete every week. Even the woeful Raiders, who have been atrocious since their 48-21 loss in Super Bowl XXVII, went 3-3 to end last season, which included knocking Tampa Bay out of a wild card spot by winning in Tampa on the final day of the regular season.

Then there are the perceived heavyweights of the conference.

The Pittsburgh Steelers, the New England Patriots, and the Indianapolis Colts have consistently competed for the conference crown for nearly a decade. Between the three, they have won six of the last eight Super Bowls. Since the beginning of the 2001 season, they have missed the playoffs a combined five times.

However, none of that will matter when September comes around. Pittsburgh learned in the 2006 season that being the hunted is much more difficult than the role of the hunter, as they missed the playoffs by going 8-8 following their Super Bowl XL triumph.

They will undoubtedly use that experience during this upcoming season, but that will not make their title defense any easier.

New England will definitely be better this season (not to suggest that they were bad last season). Baltimore will be looking for revenge after three heartbreaking losses to the Steelers last season. San Diego will be back. Buffalo has the talent to make some noise. Indianapolis is always a very tough out.

There will never be a time in the AFC where any team can take a week off.

Or a quarter.

Or any play.

Pittsburgh has the talent and resolve to once again come out of the AFC, but the conference is full of good teams ready to become great.

Fending off all of those teams won't be easy for the Steelers.