Last year, the Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers came from the AFC with the league's top defense. The AFC, and AFC North, where the Steelers play, were very strong last year and that is where I will start my 2009 NFL preview.
I am going to go to each division, review each team, and give a division winner and wild card if there is one in that division.
1. Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers came away with this division last year with a 12-4 record and an amazing 6-0 record against that division(7-0 including the AFC Championship victory against the Ravens).
The Steelers still have a lot of the pieces from last year's Super Bowl team.
Starting on offense, Ben Roethlisberger has had an achilles injury, but he should be back in time for the season and ready to go. The legal problems that he has been facing shouldn't phase him at all.
The running game can be a lot better if second year player Rashard Mendenhall can stay healthy this year. Him, Willie Parker, and maybe even Mewelde Moore could be a very good trio of running backs.
The WR's pretty much look the same, with the exception of Nate Washington who went to Tennessee. They still have Super Bowl MVP Santonio Holmes and Hines Ward.
And then there is the defense, which can come back and be a top three defense again. With the cast of defensive players they have there(which could include rookie Ziggy Hood) the Steelers defense will be the strong point of this team again.
MVP: Troy Polamalu
He is the defensive leader, and really stood out as a top two safety last year along with Ed Reed.
2. Baltimore Ravens*
Having one of the best defenses this year, I think the Ravens could have a set back this year. Yes, they do have Ed Reed, Ray Lewis, and Terrell Suggs, but they lost Bart Scott and defensive coordinator Rex Ryan to the Jets.
The Ravens do still have a great defense, but the offense could really hold this team back from being better. There is no doubt that the defense carried this team last year and they may have to do it again.
Joe Flacco seemed to have a great season last year, taking the team to the AFC Championship but he really wasn't all that great. 14 TDs, 12 INTs and 2,971 yards. It puts him 20th in yards, 20th in TDs, and tied for 11th in INTs.
It also doesn't help that Flacco has virtually no receivers to throw to. Derrick Mason did decide to come back, which helps a little bit but he and Mark Clayton will be the top two guys for Flacco to throw to. Ouch. Todd Heap is nothing like he used to be either, and evidence of that is the Ravens bringing in LJ Smith.
Put aside the passing game and the Ravens do have a pretty good rushing attack. Willis McGahee and Ray Rice could go down as one of the top tandems of running backs this season. Those two, plus now FB Le'Ron McClain did a lot of damage last season.
MVP: Ed Reed
It's weird that I chose a safety for MVP of both of the first two teams, but Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu are two of the best defensive players in the league. Ray Lewis is getting older, and this is becoming Ed Reed's defense.
3. Cincinnati Bengals
The focal point of this year's HBO's Hard Knocks series, the Bengals need a huge improvement from last year.
QB Carson Palmer missed most of the season, but with him back and healthy this year, the Bengals should be able to improve their league last seven points per game average from last season.
The passing game should be pretty good this year, even with the departure of T.J Houshmanzadeh. They still have Chad Ochocinco, added Laverneaus Coles, and brought back Chris Henry for another go.
They drafted Rey Maualuga, who I am a big fan of, and brought in Tank Johnson to try and help this defense who only allowed 11.5 PPG which was fifth in the league.
But bringing back Chris Henry and Tank Johnson doesn't help the team's image, and if they don't improve their image, or the team's record, I can see the Bengals kicking out head coach Marvin Lewis.
MVP: Carson Palmer
Like I said, I think Carson will bounce back from injury and make this offense so much better than it was last year.
4. Cleveland Browns
Whether it is Derek Anderson or Brady Quinn starting, the Browns just don't have the firepower to compete in this division or the AFC North.
They didn't really have a good draft, trading down a couple of times just to take Alex Mack.
The team is rebuilding under coach Eric Mangini, and even though Mangini had a great first year in New York it's not likely to happen here.
And if you read my articles around the NFL draft, you know I wanted my Giants to go get Braylon Edwards from the Browns. Now that didn't happen, but I still think that Edwards will have a rebound season from last year.
I also think Jamaal Lewis is getting older and his running game is declining.
MVP: Braylon Edwards
Like I said, this will be a better year for Edwards even though this team won't have alot of high points.
1. Indianapolis Colts
This was a tough choice, but I went with the Colts. One reason is the fact that I am not sure if Kerry Collins can repeat what he did last year, but I will touch on that more when we come across the Titans.
Last year, Peyton Manning had surgery and wasn't 100 percent until a couple of games into the season. But once Peyton returned to old form, winning nine games in a row and Manning winning MVP. Now that he is 100 percent at the start of the season, Manning could have an even better season—even without Marvin Harrison.
Joseph Addai's running game suffered last year, and this isn't the Addai we saw in the Colts Super Bowl run. Good for the Colts though, they drafted Donald Brown from Connecticut. Brown will definitely be a big help in the Colts running game this year, maybe similar to what Addai was to Dominic Rhodes in his rookie season.
This will be a different team for sure, without Tony Dungy or Marvin Harrison. They will probably adapt to this well though, and still have a good season.
MVP: Peyton Manning
In pretty much any Colts season, Peyton Manning is the main point of their success. This season will be no different, while Peyton tries to make it past the first round of the playoffs with his new coach
2. Tennessee Titans*
Like I said above, I am not sure if Kerry Collins can repeat what he did last season for the Titans. This will be Collins' 15th season in the NFL, and he is now more injury prone then ever. And if Collins goes down, I am not confident that they can win this division with Vince Young.
The running game of the Titans is going to be real good though, possibly better. Chris Johnson has another year under his belt, and LenDale White went on a "diet" in the offseason and lost 30 pounds.
The passing has improved as well, with the addition of Nate Washington to Justin Gage. The receivers still aren't great, but they are getting better.
The defense lost big DT Albert Haynesworth, but they still have Kyle Vanden Bosch and Jevon Kearse at the DEs.
They may suffer a setback from last years defense, but the Titans defense will still be pretty solid.
MVP: Chris Johnson The leader of the Smash and Dash duo last year, Johnson will look to put in a better season then last year.
3. Houston Texans
The Texans could very well make the wild card this year if, and that's a big if, Matt Schaub can stay healthy. Matt Schaub though, has never played a full season. The backups in Houston are quite interesting though, as they have Rex Grossman and Dan Orlovsky lined up in case Schaub goes down.
Steve Slaton is going to be trying to repeat his 1,200 yard season from last year, and if he can be one of the top rushers this season he could lead his team to the playoffs. Slaton could be one of the top 10 backs this season.
At the WR position, Schaub has Andre Johnson to throw to. Johnson is considered one of the Top five WRs in the league, and if he had a good, consistent QB throwing to him then he could be the best.
And on defense, the Texans have Super Mario Williams, which drafting him over Reggie Bush, Vince Young, and Matt Leinart isn't looking too bad. He went to his first Pro Bowl last year, and I don't know why he wouldn't go back this year.
The Texans also drafted a potential defensive rookie of the year in Brian Cushing out of USC. Cushing will probably come in and play right away. Cushing had 74 tackles, three sacks, and one INT last year.
MVP: Steve Slaton
4. Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jaguars just aren't a good team right now, and they are stuck in a very tough division. This year could be a deciding year for Jack Del Rio in Jacksonville, as he's 50-46 in his coaching career there, and another below .500 season could send him on his way out.
The backfield is now in the hands of Maurice Jones-Drew, with Fred Taylor gone to New England. Jones-Drew has never rushed for 1,000 yards in a season, but this year will be different. The carries that were going to Taylor will now be going to Jones-Drew, and if he can stay healthy then there is no reason why he can't have a good season.
The defense of the Jaguars is also not what it used to be.
I don't see the Jaguars improving upon their 5-11 record last year, and Jack Del Rio leaving at the end of the season.
MVP: Maurice Jones-Drew
Jones-Drew is the best player on this team, and will be a key in this teams somewhat success this year.
1. New England Patriots
Before last season, the Patriots had won five straight division titles. Of course with Tom Brady out last year, they missed it. But with Brady back, this team is looking better than ever.
The offense brought in Fred Taylor to improve the running game, to go along with Laurence Maroney, Kevin Faulk, and Sammy Morris. This running game quietly ranked sixth in the league in yards last year, and could move into the Top five with the addition of Fred Taylor.
The passing game of course will be just as good as always, if Tom Brady is as healthy as expected. Randy Moss, Wes Welker, and Joey Galloway are Brady's main target in the passing game this year. The last time we saw Brady and Moss together, Brady threw for a record 50 TDs and Moss caught a record 23 TDs.
MVP: Tom Brady
Last time we saw Brady play a full season he threw for 50 TDs. This year Brady could very well throw for 40, and be a main contender for the MVP trophy.
2. Buffalo Bills
This is a tough one for me between the Bills and Jets, but I went with the Bills. The Bills are one of my surprise teams this year, and they may even be able to grab a wild card spot in a pretty tough AFC.
Of course, the Bills made a big offseason splash by picking up Terrell Owens, which I think will help Trent Edwards and this offense a lot. Now, signing Owens to a one year deal was a great move because he plays great in the first year with a team, and continues to destroy them in the years after.
In his rookie year with the 49ers, he had 35 receptions for 520 yards and four TDs. After going to the Eagles, he put up 77 receptions for 1,200 yards and 14 TDs and was one of the main reasons they made the Super Bowl. Then, once T.O picked up his bags and went to Dallas, he had 85 receptions for 1,180 yards and 13 TD's.
Bringing in Owens will not only help out Trent Edwards, but will also help out fellow WR Lee Evans. Most teams will double team Owens, which they used to do with Evans because the Bills had no other options.
And don't forget, after he serves his three game suspension the Bills have a very good running back in Marshawn Lynch.
MVP: Terrell Owens
Like I have made clear by this review, Owens will help the Bills immensely this year.
3. New York Jets
Like I have already said, this was a tough decision for me between the Jets and Bills. The Jets could be a great team in upcoming years, but they are working with a young QB and a new coach. And even though the rookie QB/Coach thing worked out in Atlanta and Baltimore last year, I don't see it happening again.
They have a solid running duo with Thomas Jones and Leon Washington, but the offense, besides them, is okay at best. Sanchez or Kellen Clemens, with virtually no great receivers, this could cause more struggles then needed.
The Jets defense will get better though, with defensive master mind Rex Ryan coming in from Baltimore and bringing in a star linebacker in Bart Scott with him.
Looking at the Jets schedule, they could very well start 0-4 with games against Houston, New England, Tennessee, and New Orleans.
MVP: Thomas Jones
Jones is probably the best offensive weapon that the Jets have for this upcoming season, and could make a deadly duo with Leon Washington.
4. Miami Dolphins
Going from first to worst in the division in one season?
Yep, that will be the Dolphins this year. Last year they surprised the whole NFL with the Wildcat offense, but we saw down the stretch and especially in their playoff game against the Baltimore Ravens that defenses adapt to it and stop it when they know it's coming. Everyone knows it's coming this year, and they will be ready for it.
Last year, Chad Pennington won the Comeback Player of The Year award for the second time. The first time was in 2006, he played bad in 2007 and then won again in 2008. Well, I think it is time for Chad to play bad again. Chad has been very inconsistent throughout his career, and either injury or just bad play will hurt him again this year.
They still have Ronnie Brown and Rickie Williams though, a good duo for this offense this season.
The Dolphins also had a pretty solid defense last year, at least 10th in the league in Points, yards, passing yards, rushing yards. The defense, lead by Joey Porter will probably be a little worse (around 15th), but will still be good and stronger then the offense.
MVP: Ronnie Brown
He is the best player that this offense has, and could be a Top 10 back in the league.
1. San Diego Chargers
This is probably the worst division, along with the NFC West, but nevertheless the Chargers are very good. They have a Top 10 QB in Phillip Rivers, and a good duo in LaDainian Tomlinson and Darren Sproles.
Last year, LT hit a wall for LT standards and had a sort of off year. This year though, LT will bounce back and I think could rush for 1,400 yards. Darren Sproles will be a nice little compliment, but if they are smart the Chargers will give a majority of the carries to LT.
On defense, the Chargers get back their defensive leader in Shawn Merriman. Say what you want about him or his celebration dance but Shawn Merriman is probably the second best linebacker in the league, behind DeMarcus Ware of the Cowboys.
MVP: Shawn Merriman
Like I said, he will be leading this defense and will be the main key in their defensive success this year.
2. Denver Broncos
With Jay Cutler, this team could have contended for the AFC West and a Wild Card spot. But without him, they will probably miss the playoffs again.
If Brandon Marshall stays in Denver for the whole 2009 season, then Kyle Orton could have a pretty good year. But if Marshall does indeed get traded, then Orton and the Broncos could plummet to the bottom of the division.
The running game of the Broncos could potentially be very good this year. If Knowshon Moreno gets a good amount of carries this year, he could be very good and a possible rookie of the year.
MVP: Knowshon Moreno
Even though he will probably be splitting time with Correll Buckhalter at the start, Moreno could have the same impact for the Broncos that Chris Johnson or Jonathan Stewart had last year.
3. Kansas City Cheifs
I don't expect the Chiefs to have instant success with what they are doing to rebuild, but in a few years they could be a pretty good team.
In the offseason, I was hoping Todd Haley would get one of the open coaching jobs this season because I liked what he did with that Cardinals offense. He, of course, did get the job with the Chiefs.
The Chiefs picked up Matt Cassel, who may be a product of that Patriots offense and getting to throw to Randy Moss and Wes Welker. I don't entirely believe that, but I don't think he has proven that he is a franchise QB yet.
We all remember the days where we would just die to see the Chiefs play the Chargers, because we could watch LaDainian Tomlinson against Larry Johnson. Both had off years last year, but even though I think LT will be back, I think LJ may be a thing of the past. Injury problems have really plagued him, and I don't know if he can return to old form.
The Chiefs do have a pretty solid combination of WR's though, with Dwayne Bowe, Bobby Engram and Amani Toomer.
MVP: Dwayne Bowe
Dwayne Bowe will be the main target for the passing game, which will probably be the focal point of this offense.
4. Oakland Raiders
Even though taking Darrius Heyward-Bey over Michael Crabtree isn't looking entirely idiotic now, the Raiders still aren't in great condition.
I'm not 100 percent sure that coach Tom Cable has head on right, after punching his assistant coach. While being the coach of the Raiders, especially under Al Davis, may be frustrating, that's something you can't do.
I am not a fan of Jamarcus Russell at the QB position. I think they would be better off with Jeff Garcia, even though that probably won't happen because the Raiders want Russell for the future.
The running game could potentially be very good, although I am not real confident in Darren McFadden, Justin Fargas, and Michael Bush. McFadden didn't play the whole season last year, and only rushed for 500 yards. McFadden could rush for a lot more if he is he starting back this year.
The Raiders do have a pretty solid defense though, even though an injury to linebacker Kirk Morrison could be pretty serious.
MVP: Darren McFadden
I think this could be a big year for McFadden, but like I said I am not sure.
1. New England Patriots
2. Pittsburgh Steelers
3. San Diego Chargers
4. Indianapolis Colts
5. Tennessee Titans
6. Baltimore Ravens
I hope this is a good read for all NFL fans, and this is the way I see the 2009 AFC playing out. Next, I will be writing my NFC preview and also have 2009 Award Previews.