2009 NFL Preview and Predictions

Brian Gulish@@briengeeContributor IAugust 11, 2009

10 Super Bowl appearances.  Two wins, eight losses.

For what is described by many as the greatest quarterback draft class ever, the 1983 trio of John Elway, Dan Marino, and Jim Kelly were ultimately losers!

Aside from Elway, Marino and Kelly were 0-5 in the big game.

Yes, it took Elway four tries to win his first Lombardi trophy, but he won.  He won two in fact.

Fast forward to 2004.  Eli Manning, Phillip Rivers, and Ben Roethlisberger.

Three Super Bowl appearances, all victories. 

Regardless of their remaining careers, Manning, Rivers, and Roethlisberger have outdone their predecessors in five seasons.  Which leads us to the 2009 NFL season!

Coming off their second Super Bowl victory in four seasons, sixth overall, the 2009 Pittsburgh Steelers look to do what they failed to accomplish following their Super Bowl XL victory—first, make the playoffs, then repeat as champions.

This year's version of the black and gold returns 20 of 22 starters from a year ago.  The entire offensive line-up returns, minus third receiver Nate Washington, who departed to Tennessee via free agency in the off-season.

The defense returns nine of eleven starters, though cornerback William Gay and linebacker Lawrence Timmons saw significant action during last season's title run. 

Some would argue Timmons is superior to the man he replaces, Larry Foote, who signed with his hometown Detroit Lions.

Gay is the question-mark for a defense which ranked first in the league last season.

Add to the mix a healthy Rashard Mendenhall, the return of punter Daniel Sepuvleda and a draft class which includes promising first-round pick Evander "Ziggy" Hood, and the Steelers on paper may be better than the defending Super Bowl champs.

Their offensive line is a year more mature, although injuries to Justin Hartwig and Darnell Stapleton early on in camp may set the unit back a bit.

Outside of those concerns, Mike Tomlin enters his third year, sans any pressure whatsoever.  It took Tomlin two years to accomplish what it took Bill Cowher 14 to do, win a Super Bowl for the Rooney's.

The entire coaching staff returns, which means Dick Lebeau is poised to have the Steelers primed to be the best defense in the NFL once again this coming season. 

The scary thought is that this defense may be better, if possible, than last years.  The simple measuring stick is if the Steelers can go "number 1" across the board, a feat they narrowly missed last season (they ranked 2nd in rush defense to Minnesota.)

As for the Super Bowl runners-up, the Arizona Cardinals are in a great position themselves.  Winning the NFC West and making a return to the playoffs is easily within reach. 

The Cardinals only competition in the division will be the resurgent San Francisco 49ers.

Say what you will about the Seahawks and Rams, but the Cardinals offense, and surprisingly strong defense are poised to make another deep playoff run in 2009.

As for the rest of the 2009 NFL season, here is how this opinion sees things playing out.

In the AFC, the "super-human" Tom Brady returns to the New England Patriots.  Brady has new weapons, including Joey Galloway and Fred Taylor. 

The Patriots also reloaded on defense as they brought in linebacker Tully Banta-Cain from the 49ers and cornerback Shawn Springs from the Redskins.

It still remains to be seen if Brady's knee can support not only himself, but a defense which was 10th in the league last season.

Other AFC storylines include Jim Caldwell assuming head coaching duties for the Indianapolis Colts, Rex Ryan taking over the same title with the New York Jets, and the return of Shawn Merriman to the San Diego Chargers.

Here, it says that the AFC will be ruled by the familiar faces it has been over the past decade. 

The AFC North will be controlled by a poised Steelers team.  I can't see where the Ravens, or any team in the division, can make up the ground needed to overthrow the Steelers.  The Ravens subtracted from a defense that couldn't contain Ben Roethlisberger in three attempts last season.

Furthermore, as the Ravens took a step back on defense—losing Bart Scott and Jim Leonard, as well as their defensive coordinator—the Steelers, as previously mentioned, strengthened their roster, while Joe Flacco didn't receive the help on offense he needs to beat the Steelers.

The AFC South will be a dogfight this season.  Outside of the NFC East, the AFC South may be the best and toughest division in the league.  Look for the Colts to reclaim their division from the Tennessee Titans, while the Houston Texans will surprise many as they attempt to make the playoffs.

The AFC East won't be as close as many people would like to think.  Bill Belichick will create a defensive scheme to tame the "Wildcat" offense of the Miami Dolphins.  And, T.O. won't be enough for the Buffalo Bills to compete for a division crown.

The AFC West will be a run-away as the San Diego Chargers will stake claim to another division title.

As for the AFC playoff picture, seeds 1-6 look like this.

1.  Pittsburgh (14-2)

2.  San Diego (13-3)

3.  New England (12-4)

4.  Indianapolis (12-4)

5.  Baltimore (11-5)

6.  Houston (10-6)* tiebreaker over Tennessee

In the Wild Card round, the Patriots will be too much for the Texans, while the Ravens will upset the Colts.

The Steelers will face their arch-rivals a third time for the second consecutive seasons with a similar outcome, a Steelers victory.  The Patriots and Chargers will meet in what should be a very competitive contest.  The Patriots will hold the edge on offense, while the Chargers are the more defensively sound team.  Look for the Chargers defense to be just enough to move on.

In the AFC Championship game, a second straight cross-country trip will prove to be too much as the Steelers march their way to the Sunshine State for a second consecutive Super Bowl appearance.

In the NFC---

The saga surrounding Brett Favre and the Minnesota Vikings seemed to end when Favre announced he would remained retired at the end of July, however, an injury early in the preseason to incumbent starter Tavaris Jackson may change Minnesota's outlook.  Whether it Favre or Michael Vick, something needs to happen in order for the Vikings to truly consider themselves Super Bowl contenders.

Has anyone considered the thought of Vick teaming with Adrian Peterson?! Throw in speedster Percy Harvin, the teams first round pick out of Florida, and the Vikings would suddenly become one of the odds on favorite to win the NFC.

The addition of Tony Gonzalez in Atlanta means the Falcons offense will be downright dangerous.  What that doesn't help, is a defense which still needs to fill-in a few pieces of the puzzle.

The NFC East, simply put, is nasty!  The Giants and Eagles solidified themselves as the top two teams in the division.  While the Cowboys added by subtraction, see T.O., they haven't done enough to put them ahead of either the Giants or Eagles.  The loss of Jim Johnson will not hurt the Eagles, it will motivate their defense to perform at an even higher level.  With the return of Osi Umenyiora, the Giants front seven may be the second best in football, slightly behind that of the Steelers.  The loss of Plaxico Burress affected them down the stretch last season, but the drafting of Hakeem Nicks out of North Carolina should help Eli Manning and their wide receiving core.

In the NFC East, I like the Eagles to claim the division.  Donovan McNabb finally has the weapons he needs on offense to compete at his highest level.

The NFC North should be controlled by the Vikings, see above, as they are strong once again on defense.  The Packers and Bears will improve, but not enough to take down the Purple People Eaters.

The NFC South is interesting.  I see Carolina taking a huge step backwards.  I see the Falcons claiming the division crown with ease, but don't sleep on the New Orleans Saints.  Their defense may just be where they need it to support the 30 points per game their offense will put on the board.

As mentioned earlier, the Cardinals will repeat as NFC West champions.

For the NFC's playoff outlook.

1.  Atlanta (12-4)

2.  Minnesota (11-5)

3.  Philadelphia (11-5)

4.  Arizona (10-6)

5.  New York (11-5)

6.  New Orleans (10-6)* tiebreaker over Cowboys

In the Wild Card round I like the Eagles over the Saints, possibly a shootout in overtime.  New York will be too much for the Cardinals.

The following week, I see the Falcons and Giants in a classic, with the Giants winning on the strength of their defense.  I also see the Eagles defeating the Vikings to set up an all NFC East title game. 

In the NFC Championship game, look for the Giants to return to the Super Bowl for the second time in three years as they up-end the Eagles.

Super Bowl XLIV will be a classic.  It will feature the previous two Super Bowl champions.  It will include Ben Roethlisberger and Eli Manning.  It will showcase the top two defenses in the league. 

Last year at Heinz Field, the teams played in a slug-fest, decided in part by an errant snap by back-up long snapper, and reigning NFL defensive player of the year James Harrison.  The Giants won that meeting 21-14.

Expect nothing less than another hard-hitting Super Bowl match-up.  If nothing more, this Super Bowl will guarantee the quarterback draft class of 2004 its fourth Super Bowl in six seasons! 

The Steelers will look to add to their record setting six Super Bowl titles, while the Giants try to win their fourth. 

And, when the clock hits 00:00 at Landshark Stadium in Miami, it says here that the Steelers will defeat the Giants 16-9.

I have honestly tried to list five reasons why the Steelers WON'T win the Super Bowl.  And, barring a season-ending injury to Roethlisberger, the Steelers don't have a weakness on their team.

Last season, they won the Super Bowl with what was categorized as a below-average offensive line.  They improve on defense this season, and will be stronger at running back with a healthy Willie Parker and Mendenhall, as well as solid third-down back Mewelde Moore.  Hines Ward and Super Bowl XLIII MVP Santonio Holmes will be the first starting MVP tandem at the wide receiver position in NFL history, while Heath Miller should catch no less than 50 balls from the tight end position.

They will be much stronger on special teams with the return of Sepulveda and addition of speedster Mike Wallace in the return game.

There will be NO "Super Bowl Hangover" as there was in 2006.  The veterans who went through that the first time, won't allow it.

There is no bias here.  If there were, I would have picked the Steelers last season to win the Super Bowl.  For the record, I took the Colts over the Cowboys.  From that, I learned no Tony Romo-led team will win a Super Bowl.

So, there it is, the Pittsburgh Steelers—Super Bowl XLIV Champions.


Top 10 games of the 2009 season

10- Week 13, New England @ Miami (if there is a race in the East, this game will decide the outcome)

9- Week 14, Arizona @ San Francisco (can Mike Singletary lead the upstart 49ers past the reigning NFC champs)

8- Week 1, Buffalo @ New England (the return of Brady and the debut of T.O.)

7- Week 7, Minnesota @ Pittsburgh (this will be Minnesota's measuring stick, and A. Peterson's as well)

6- Week 17, New York Giants @ Minnesota (playoff preview and important game in NFC seeding)

5- Week 12, Pittsburgh @ Baltimore (this game will make or break the Ravens' season)

4- Week 3, Atlanta @ New England (Brady vs. Ryan)

3- Week 4, San Diego @ Pittsburgh (AFC title preview)

2- Week 14, Philadelphia @ New York Giants (will most likely determine NFC East)

1- Week 9, San Diego @ New York Giants (Rivers vs. Manning, and a possible Super Bowl preview)


NFL Awards-

MVP- Donovan McNabb

Offensive Player of the Year- Michael Turner

Defensive Player of the Year- Lamarr Woodley

AFC Rookie of the Year- Knowshown Moreno

NFC Rookie of the Year- James Laurinaitis

Coach of the Year- Mike Tomlin

Comeback Player of the Year- Tom Brady


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