The 2009 NFL regular season is quickly approaching, which means all football fans will be bombarded with predictions, prognostications, and previews. Here is my two cents on how things will shake out in both the regular and postseasons.
Playoff seedings will be in parenthesis.
- Pittsburgh Steelers (1): I believe that this is Pittsburgh's division to lose. They have the best defense in the league and a sneaky-good offense that may surprise some fans this season. The team's weaknesses last year, the offensive line and special teams, should both improve, especially with the return of Daniel Sepulveda. Considering their relatively easy schedule, Pittsburgh should be able to take the North by two or three games.
- Baltimore Ravens (5): Traditionally with this team, the first thing that comes to mind is a great defense. That thought still remains true, but the Ravens finally seems to have a franchise quarterback. With Joe Flacco's arrival last year, the offense was finally able to "keep up" with the defense, which made Baltimore as a whole that much scarier. With all that said, I don't think that Baltimore has the offensive weapons to break into the NFL elite, which will lead them to a very respectable second place finish.
- Cincinnati Bengals: This team will definitely be a better team than they were last year, but they're still a .500 team at best. First of all they have a (presumably) healthy Carson Palmer under center. That is an immediate upgrade. Their defense was also better than average last year. Rookies Andre Smith and Rey Maualuga should also make decent impacts this season.
- Cleveland Browns: Things can't be going too well when there still is not an official starting quarterback in place by the third (and most important) preseason game. Brady Quinn will most likely get the nod, but it still can't be a good sign. Regardless, I just can't see this team winning anymore than five games. Cleveland has a young core, so their time is coming but it will not be this season. They will be the basement dwellers of the AFC North.
- San Diego Chargers (3): This year, it should not take a complete collapse for San Diego to take this division. They are clearly the best team in this division and it's really not very close. Their games against the NFC East should be a good barometer as to how good they really are. They will probably cruise into the playoffs, but getting to the playoffs has not been the problem for this team in recent years. This team is playing for the one game that has eluded them time and time again.
- Oakland Raiders: There is a big drop off from first to second in this division and Oakland is here a little bit by default, but this is not a horrible team. They have one of the best backfields in the league with Justin Fargas, Darren McFadden, and Michael Bush. These three should drive their offense. Nnamdi Asomugha will once again be the star in defense, but the key to this team's success will lie on the shoulders of JaMarcus Russell. The former number one pick's play has left a lot to be desired and if he does not perform, expect to see the extremely capable Jeff Garcia under center sooner rather than later.
- Kansas City Chiefs: I like Matt Cassel. I think he can be a very good quarterback, but I don't understand why the Chiefs paid him as handsomely as they did without him starting one game for their franchise. I don't see his stats looking as good as they did last year simply because he does not have the weapons he had in New England. Their first 11 games are brutal with San Diego twice, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, and all four NFC East teams. Kansas City will not be able to recover from a bad start.
- Denver Broncos: Despite last season's pathetic collapse, this team looked like it could have somewhat of a bounce back season six months ago. Since then, everything has fallen apart. They traded away their franchise quarterback and look like they have another problem on their hands in Brandon Marshall. There just seems to be too much surrounding this team for them to be successful this season, especially with how Kyle Orton has looked thus far.
- New England Patriots (2): Tom Brady's return has been accompanied with "experts" predicting one- and two-loss seasons and another Lombardi Trophy for the Pats. I'm not going to go that far, but the Patriots' success simply cannot be denied. They will be one of the top teams in the league this year. They will go deep in the playoffs. From what we've seen since Brady's return, this team seems ready to right what they felt was a wrong in Super Bowl XLII. They could very well do that in Miami on Feb. 7, 2010.
- Buffalo Bills: I had a very difficult time deciding whether or not to put Buffalo here or at number three. In the end, I decided to put Buffalo here because they should have a better offense than Miami will have. The addition of Terrell Owens should open things up a bit more for Lee Evans, who is criminally underrated. Marshawn Lynch will also benefit once he comes back from his suspension. Buffalo's special teams is also exceptional.
- Miami Dolphins: I feel like I am really disrespecting the Dolphins considering everything that they accomplished last season. However, I just cannot see them winning eleven games in 2009. They will have very tough games against Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Indianapolis, San Diego, Carolina, New Orleans, and Tennessee. They also will have to play six games against their overall improved division.
- New York Jets: Mark Sanchez was recently named starting quarterback for the Jets. While that decision will eventually pay off, it will not lead to many victories this season. The Jets are clearly rebuilding after the failed Brett Favre experiment, so Jets fans should not expect too much from their team this year.
- Indianapolis Colts (4): This division race will come down to head-to-head matchups. The Colts will beat the Titans two times this year and barely edge them out to win the division crown. Will they have a deep playoff run? It all depends on how they continue to deal with all of the transition and change that has gone on in Indy this offseason. As always, the offense should lead the way for this team and make them that much more formidable.
- Tennessee Titans (6): How good will the Titans defense be without Albert Haynesworth? My guess is still pretty damn good. Add in a steady, solid offense that now has a deep threat in Nate Washington and this team can be a serious problem if they manage to get into the playoffs.
- Houston Texans: This third place finish is in no way indicative of how good I think this team will be this year. In my eyes, it is now clear they made the correct choice in taking Mario Williams over Reggie Bush, especially with the emergence of Steve Slaton last season. This team is moving in the right direction, but they have two pretty good teams ahead of them in their division.
- Jacksonville Jaguars: What happened to this team? A couple of years ago, they seemed on the cusp of being an elite team, but they had an incredibly disappointing year in 2008. Their defensive line suffered key losses and as a result, the unit just is not as intimidating as it once was. Neither is the team as a whole.
AFC Wild Card Playoffs
- San Diego (3) def. Tennessee (6), 26-17: This should be a bit of a defensive battle, but San Diego has the better offense and that will help them pull away in the fourth quarter.
- Baltimore (5) def. Indianapolis (4), 23-17 (OT): Baltimore has an absolutely suffocating defense and I can't see the Colts beating them. For the second straight year, Baltimore will go into a division winner's place and come out with a playoff victory.
AFC Divisional Playoffs
- Pittsburgh (1) def. Baltimore (5), 21-10: Another hard-hitting, physical matchup between these two rivals that will once again end in a Pittsburgh W.
- New England (2) def. San Diego (3), 30-20: This game will be very reminiscent of San Diego's playoff loss to Pittsburgh last postseason. They just will not be good enough.
AFC Championship Game
- Pittsburgh (1) def. New England (2), 27-21: If this game does indeed happen, it will probably determine "Team of the Decade." Pittsburgh has been beaten twice by New England at home in the AFC Championship Game and the third time will be the charm.
- Atlanta Falcons (2): This team will be very good. Very, very good. Their offense should be one of the top units in the league. Matt Ryan played like a seasoned vet last year and with all of the options he now has, he won't have a sophomore slump. Look for this team to possibly go very deep in the playoffs.
- New Orleans Saints: I really like New Orleans this year. As expected, their offense will be great. Watching Drew Brees last year was just ridiculous, and undoubtedly frustrating for fans of Saints opponents. However, the defense will be the difference this year. The way they released Jason David tells me that they have confidence in their defense that could help this team take the step they seemed ready to take three years ago.
- Carolina Panthers: They will be good but I don't think Jake Delhomme will be able to perform well in big games. Steve Smith will be his explosive self and their ridiculous backfield will be great, but ultimately unless you played on the 2000 Ravens, the quarterback has to lead his team in big games. Delhomme will not do that this year.
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers: This team is rebuilding and far behind their division mates. They should be in the four to five wins range this year as they have to not only face very good teams in their own division, but also the very good teams of the NFC East.
- Philadelphia Eagles (3): The Eagles had a pretty good offseason. Following all of their great regular seasons with disappointing finishes, they feel like this is their year. If they can work out the kinks that showed up in Michael Vick's debut with the Eagles, they can be very, very dangerous. What defensive coordinator wants to plan against possibly facing Vick, Donovan McNabb, and Brian Westbrook at the same time? The Eagles will come out on top of the league's toughest division.
- New York Giants (5): If anything holds this team back, it will be the passing game. Have their receivers developed enough over the offseason to fill the void that both Plaxico Burress and Amani Toomer have left? My guess is maybe, but Eli Manning still will not have the security blanket he had with Plax. The defense will be extremely good, but they can't do it alone.
- Dallas Cowboys: Things have been unusually quiet in Cowboy Land (outside of the video screen controversy), which is good. The problems will start in December as usual. Dallas breaks down late in the season and Tony Romo can't seem to make good decisions in those games. With December games against the Giants, San Diego, New Orleans, and Washington (including a January finale vs. Philly) those struggles won't change this year.
- Washington Redskins: They won't be bad, but they won't be as good as Philly, the Giants, or Dallas. I am rooting for Jason Campbell to have a good year just due to the fact that Washington tried to replace him and he handled it like a man. Haynesworth will make the defense better, but things will fall apart again for Washington.
- Arizona Cardinals (4): After their magical Super Bowl run, most seem to be asking if it can carry over to 2009. Simply put, yes it can. In a relatively weak (but improving) division, they should be able to get somewhere around ten wins. When they get into the playoffs, they've shown that anything can happen especially with their potent offense.
- Seattle Seahawks: They got destroyed by injuries last season. That kind of bad luck can't strike twice in two seasons, can it? As Seahawk fans knock on wood, Matt Hasselbeck continues to lick his chops at the thought of having T.J. Houshmandzadeh for a full season. This team will be dangerous.
- San Francisco 49ers: Another much improved team that will surprise teams throughout the season. The offense will probably be a bit of a struggle again this year, especially when you consider that Michael Crabtree was probably going to have an important role in the offense. As far as the defense goes, it saw a steady improvement after Mike Singletary took over last year and a full offseason should make the defense even better.
- St. Louis Rams: Finally, the Rams. They won't be very good but from what I have seen, new head coach Steve Spagnuolo has installed toughness in this team that it did not previously have. Toughness and heart are always signs of a team on the rise.
- Minnesota Vikings (1): Despite the Vikings organization having no idea what they are doing, Minnesota will be very good. They had Super Bowl talent before Brett Favre got there and I don't think anyone would argue that Tarvaris Jackson or Sage Rosenfels are better than him. However, is Favre a better fit? That remains to be seen, but they have to at least make it to the NFC Championship Game for this whole thing to be looked at as a success.
- Green Bay Packers (6): They will make it very difficult for the Vikings to take the division crown. This team lost so many close games last year that it's almost impossible to think the same will happen again. Their defense should be improved and their offense will be very solid again. Much like Tennessee in the AFC, if Green Bay gets in, they will be a problem.
- Chicago Bears: I know Chicago fans will not be happy about this, but something about this team doesn't click for me. I have absolutely no idea what it is, so don't ask. I like Jay Cutler. I like Greg Olsen. I like the defense. Something about this team just doesn't seem right.
- Detroit Lions: They won't go winless again this year. They now have a guy they think can be their franchise quarterback. They have a dynamic receiver in Calvin Johnson. Every aspect of the team has to improve this year. They'll be better, but nowhere near the top of the division.
NFC Wild Card Playoffs
- Philadelphia (3) def. Green Bay (6), 27-14: An entertaining high-flying game that sees the Eagles pull away in the second half.
- Arizona (4) def. N.Y. Giants (5), 33-29: Another high-flying game where the biggest factor will be the crowd at the University of Phoenix Stadium.
NFC Divisional Playoffs
- Minnesota (1) def. Arizona (4), 26-20: Back and forth battle where Minnesota will barely be able to pull out a victory.
- Philadelphia (3) def. Atlanta (2), 24-17: Another close game where Philadelphia's defense will be the difference.
NFC Championship Game
- Philadelphia (3) def. Minnesota (1), 30-17: Philly will once again eliminate Minnesota and get back to the Super Bowl.
Super Bowl XLIV
- Pittsburgh def. Philadelphia, 21-14: Defensive battle that will once again see Ben Roethlisberger lead his team to a touchdown very late in the game and Philadelphia's hopes of a championship will again be dashed.
There you have it. The Pittsburgh Steelers will defeat the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl XLIV to repeat as champs. This promises to be another great NFL season.