A Full Preview of the 2009 NFL Season

Doug Rush@Doug_RushSenior Analyst IAugust 19, 2009

TAMPA, FL - FEBRUARY 01:  Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger #7 of the Pittsburgh Steelers throws a pass against the Arizona Cardinals during Super Bowl XLIII on February 1, 2009 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. Steelers won 27-23. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Summer is nearly over. Back to school shopping has begun, students are going back to college—and the NFL season is getting closer.

We're still a few weeks away from the first regular season game, so for now, the preseason is still going on. I'm sure there will be much more Brett Favre coverage—because there wasn't enough on Tuesday when he un-retired for the second time.

Last February, we saw the Pittsburgh Steelers win Super Bowl XLIII in dramatic fashion over the Arizona Cardinals 27-23, with Santonio Holmes taking home the Super Bowl MVP.

It's time to wipe the slate clean, because the 2009 season will bring new hopes to teams, while for some it could be just another long year.

AFC East

1. New England Patriots: 13-3 (11-5 in 2008)

Quarterback Tom Brady will be at full strength from his knee surgery after playing just one quarter in 2008. With Brady back, the Patriots should be back at the top of the division.

The Patriots strengthened their defense by acquiring Derrick Burgess from the Raiders for a third-round draft pick, which seems like another steal because Burgess is a terrific player who can add to a good defense.

2. Miami Dolphins: 9-7 (11-5 in 2008)

Miami shocked the world last year by going from 1-15 to 11-5 and AFC East division winners. Chad Pennington brought veteran leadership to the offense and got the ultimate revenge by beating the Jets in Week 17 to end their season in the Meadowlands.

Longtime Dolphins defensive end Jason Taylor returns to Miami after a year with the Redskins, so his speed will be important on the line. Miami's Wildcat offense might be well prepared for in 2009, but they should still be a dangerous team.

3. New York Jets: 8-8 (9-7 in 2008)

Eric Mangini and Brett Favre are out, and Rex Ryan and Mark Sanchez are in. The first-year coach brings his aggressive style of defense to New York, along with former Ravens Bart Scott and Jim Leonhard.

The Jets lost Laveranues Coles to free agency and have yet to find his replacement at wide receiver.

The biggest question will be Sanchez. If he does win the job, how will he perform under the bright lights of New York? Only one way to find out in this league.

4. Buffalo Bills: 7-9 (7-9 in 2008)

The biggest news of the Bills' offseason is they added Terrell Owens to the offense after he was released by the Cowboys in the winter.

Owens is 35 and is still one of the best in the league, but he drops too many passes. He will also draw double- and triple-team coverages from defenses, so Lee Evans should see a lot more receptions.

Aside from Owens, this is still the same last-place 7-9 Bills team that underachieved in 2008, and they might see head coach Dick Jauron put on the hot seat if the team does not perform well.

AFC North

1. Pittsburgh Steelers: 12-4 (12-4 in 2008)

The Steelers will come into 2009 the defending champions and will have a certain swagger about them. The Steelers have been one of the most consistent teams in recent history, with championships won in 2005 and 2008.

The Steelers defense is one of the best in the league with guys like James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley at linebacker.

The Steelers offense relies on a strong power-running game with Willie Parker. The team didn't change from 2008 and should be on top in 2009 again.

2. Baltimore Ravens: 10-6 (11-5 in 2008)

First-year head coach John Harbaugh got the Ravens all the way to the AFC Championship game as the sixth seed in the AFC playoffs with rookie quarterback Joe Flacco.

However, Rex Ryan leaves as defensive coordinator, which might take away from some of the aggressiveness of the Ravens' blitz packages. MLB Ray Lewis is still here, however; he looks better than ever and should have the younger players prepared.

Also, wide receiver Derrick Mason un-retired after the murder of Steve McNair and will be a huge passing target for Flacco on offense.

3. Cleveland Browns: 6-10 (4-12 in 2008)

Eric Mangini was brought in to replace Romeo Crennel after a disappointing, last-place finish 2008. Nobody is sure who will win the starting quarterback competition between Derek Anderson and Brady Quinn.

If Quinn does win it, expect Anderson to be placed on the trading block because teams will want his services.

Braylon Edwards was not traded, especially after Donte' Stallworth's manslaughter arrest and subsequent 2009 season suspension, along with the trade of TE Kellen Winslow to Tampa Bay.

Cleveland is still young, and if they struggle again, Edwards could be back on the trading block.

4. Cincinnati Bengals: 3-13 (4-11-1 in 2008)

No team has dropped off the table faster than the Bengals did after they won the AFC North division title in 2005. Carson Palmer is always injured and missed most of 2008. But when healthy, he is extremely dangerous.

Chad Johnson is now Chad Ochocinco and is looking to have a bounce-back year. They brought in Laveranues Coles from the Jets to be the No. 2 receiver.

This might be the year head coach Marvin Lewis is put on the hot seat. After being a great defensive coordinator, he hasn't had great success in Cincinnati. If they fail again, changes may come for this team, starting with Lewis.

AFC South

1. Tennessee Titans: 11-5 (13-3 in 2008)

The Titans were the best team in the NFL last season but made an early exit in the second round in the playoffs. For now, Kerry Collins is the starting quarterback, but Vince Young is determined to win the job back. Collins has re-established himself as a leader in the league.

The defense lost DT Albert Haynesworth to free agency, but this team is always well coached by Jeff Fisher, who is entering his 15th year with the franchise, and they should continue their success.

2. Indianapolis Colts: 10-6 (12-4 in 2008)

This will be a transition period for the Colts. Tony Dungy retired after taking over the Colts in 2002, as did longtime offensive coordinator Tom Moore, and Marvin Harrison was released and remains an unsigned free agent.

Not to worry, because Peyton Manning is still the leader of this team. Jim Caldwell will be the new coach and was well prepared by Dungy for this opportunity.

Manning still has Reggie Wayne, Anthony Gonzalez, and Dallas Clark as his primary targets, so the Colts offense should be fine in 2009. It's Peyton's team and will always be his team until he leaves.

3. Houston Texans: 9-7 (8-8 in 2008)

This is a team slowly on the rise, and it is showing in their record. Gary Kubiak has done a good job as the head coach and will be around when this team becomes a contender in the future.

Matt Schaub is the starter, and he has great weapons in wide receiver Andre Johnson and running back Steve Slaton, who came out of nowhere in his rookie year to tear up the league.

The defense got better, especially with the emergence of Mario Williams, who went from draft bust to league star. The Texans will only get better in 2009.

4. Jacksonville Jaguars: 7-9 (5-11 in 2008)

In 2008, this team was a Super Bowl contender, but injuries and bad play just killed any chances for the Jaguars. Head coach Jack Del Rio has to hope for a bounce-back season from his team, but he is in a tough division.

David Garrard had a terrible 2008, and Fred Taylor left for the Patriots in the offseason, but Maurice Jones-Drew is one of the top running backs in the league.

They added Torry Holt from the Rams, who should provide Garrard a nice target downfield. If Jacksonville has another year like 2008, Del Rio could find himself in the coaching hot seat.

AFC West

1. San Diego Chargers: 11-5 (8-8 in 2008)

This team was on the brink of losing their 2008 season, but a solid finish propelled them to the AFC West title, and they knocked off the Colts in the playoffs.

If LaDainian Tomlinson is healthy, he is still one of the most explosive and dangerous running backs in the league who can run and catch. Philip Rivers continues to show everyone he is a top-tier quarterback in the league.

On defense, Shawne Merriman returns from missing all of 2008, and he will be much needed if the defense wants to shut down opponents because he is their sack leader. With Merriman back, the Chargers defense gets stronger and better in 2009.

2. Kansas City Chiefs: 9-7 (2-14 in 2008)

Todd Haley takes over for Herm Edwards after a dreadful 2008 season that saw many inexperienced quarterbacks try to lead this team. They traded for Matt Cassel and brought in Amani Toomer for veteran leadership on offense, which will dramatically help the Chiefs.

Larry Johnson needs to be sat down and told to grow up and just play football, because he is too talented to be screwing up off the field.

On defense, the Chiefs brought in Mike Vrabel from New England and Zach Thomas from Dallas, who will bring veteran leadership to a defense that needs it. Improvement will be made in 2009.

3. Denver Broncos: 6-10 (8-8 in 2008)

This team will take a dramatic step back in 2009. Longtime head coach Mike Shanahan was fired, and Josh McDaniels was brought in.

He already caused a feud with Jay Cutler, which forced the Broncos to trade him to the Bears for Kyle Orton, who is a mistake-prone quarterback.

The Denver offense will have to rely heavily on the running game with rookie Knowshon Moreno.

A big question will be if Brandon Marshall can stay out of trouble, because if Denver gets tired of his act, Marshall could find himself on the trading block.

4. Oakland Raiders: 4-12 (5-11 in 2008)

As long as Al Davis owns this team, it is doomed for disaster. Head coach Tom Cable has been accused of punching an assistant coach in the face and putting him in the hospital, so let the Raiders drama begin.

JaMarcus Russell has yet to take over as leader of this team, and they had to bring in Jeff Garcia just in case Russell falters again.

The Raiders are a mess, and with the recent news of Cable, who knows if he stays long as a head coach in 2009?

AFC Playoff Teams

Patriots, Steelers, Titans, Chargers, Colts, Ravens

NFC East

1. New York Giants: 12-4 (12-4 in 2008)

The Giants started out 11-1 in 2008 before Plaxico Burress shot himself in the leg in late November and ended his season.

Without Burress, the Giants went 1-3 and the offense never fully recovered. The Giants drafted Hakeem Nicks and Ramses Barden and have fully prepared for life without Burress.

This has become Eli Manning's team and has been more so since Super Bowl XLII. The Giants will rely on the power running game with Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw and a deep defense, which has Osi Umenyiora returning to the team with Justin Tuck as perhaps the best defensive ends in football.

The Giants should continue to have success in 2009 in the strong NFC East.

2. Philadelphia Eagles: 10-6 (9-6-1 in 2008)

The Eagles made it to the NFC Championship game but lost to the Cardinals in a tough game.

This will be a very interesting year for the Eagles. They brought in Michael Vick after he served two years in prison, and his role is unknown on the offense. Vick's signing could put Donovan McNabb on the hot seat if he struggles.

On defense, it's a major transition for the Eagles. Longtime defensive coordinator Jim Johnson died after a battle with cancer, and Sean McDermott takes over. Brian Dawkins left for free agency, and Stewart Bradley is out for the season with an injury.

Johnson always prepared his assistants well, and the Eagles still have the talent to win in 2009.

3. Dallas Cowboys: 9-7 (9-7 in 2008)

This will be the final year for Wade Phillips in Dallas. Whether he gets fired in the middle of 2009 or is let go after 2009 is the only question.

The Cowboys released Terrell Owens, which will have a major impact on the offense because they will rely more on Roy Williams, who did not produce for the Cowboys in 2008 and is not the same receiver as Owens.

Tony Romo has yet to be a productive quarterback in December and January and must show he can lead this team.

The defense should still be decent with DeMarcus Ware chasing down quarterbacks, but Dallas has more problems to deal with in 2009.

4. Washington Redskins: 7-9 (8-8 in 2008)

This is one of the most overrated teams in the NFL. They have a ton of talent yet underproduce every year.

Jason Campbell is seen as the franchise quarterback, but the team doesn't have complete faith in him since they were in the mix to get Jay Cutler. Campbell must step up if he wants to stay the starter of the team.

Clinton Portis is a horse at running back; when healthy, he is one of the league's most dangerous.

The Redskins overpaid for Albert Haynesworth at defensive tackle, and some feel that because he got his money, he could revert to being a lazy player.

The Redskins defense always struggles toward the end, and with the competition of the NFC East, they might find themselves at the bottom again.

NFC North

1. Green Bay Packers: 11-5 (6-10 in 2008)

The Packers spent 2008 learning how to deal with life without Brett Favre, and they got used to it. Aaron Rodgers has taken over this team and now has a full year of experience under his belt, and he will only continue to get better.

Rodgers has great receivers in Donald Driver and Greg Jennings—both had more than 1,000 yards in 2008 and will continue to be deep targets for Rodgers.

The Packers defense will need to step up and be stronger in 2009 if they want to be a playoff threat, as they gave up too many points in 2008.

2. Minnesota Vikings: 9-7 (10-6 in 2008)

Brett Favre has arrived in Minnesota. Do any of us care? Some do, some don't.

Favre will be 40 this year, and he struggled down the stretch in 2008, costing the Jets key games in December. If his shoulder is still bothering him, it might show on the field.

Expect Tarvaris Jackson to demand a trade or his release if Favre is here for more than a year. The Vikings still have a strong running game with Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor, and their defense is good with Jared Allen.

But the distraction Favre brings might cost this team in the end if his age really shows in 2009.

3. Chicago Bears: 9-7 (9-7 in 2008)

Rex Grossman and Kyle Orton are finally out of Chicago, and Jay Cutler is the new quarterback. He has the ability to throw for 5,000 yards if given the right weapons on offense.

His most lethal receiver is Devin Hester, who was the team's special teams threat. If the Bears can get another receiver for Cutler, their record and place in the division might increase.

The Bears defense is still very scary but a year older. However, Brian Urlacher is still one of the league's best linebackers and solid leaders, and if the Bears defense stays healthy, that will only help their chances in 2009.

4. Detroit Lions: 4-12 (0-16 in 2008)

Good news, Detroit fans: The Lions will win at least one game in 2009. They can't be any worse than the 2008 record of 0-16, that's for certain. They bring in Jim Schwartz as head coach, and he has brought new philosophies and a new attitude to Detroit.

The team drafted rookie quarterback Matthew Stafford No. 1 in the 2009 NFL Draft, and they also drafted tight end Brandon Pettigrew at tight end to go along with great wide receiver Calvin Johnson.

Detroit is years away from being a decent team, so expect them to stay in last for a while, but they should see a few wins, which is more than 2008 saw.

NFC South

1. Carolina Panthers: 11-5 (12-4 in 2008)

The Panthers running game is what will be the key to their season with DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart carrying the load for the Panthers.

Carolina brought back Muhsin Muhammad to complement Steve Smith and give quarterback Jake Delhomme another target. On defense, Julius Peppers is looking for a big-time contract and could be playing 2009 to get one, so expect a major year from the star defensive end.

2. Atlanta Falcons: 10-6 (11-5 in 2008)

Atlanta came on to shock the NFL in 2008 with first-year head coach Mike Smith and rookie Matt Ryan having outstanding years. Ryan was the Rookie of the Year and led the Falcons to the playoffs.

Running back Michael Turner got the chance to start and showed why the Chargers should have never let him go; his speed and powerful running ability got him 1,700 yards and 17 touchdowns.

They added tight end Tony Gonzalez to give Ryan another target in the passing game to go along with Roddy White, who finally stepped up for Atlanta in 2008 with 1,300-plus yards.

3. New Orleans Saints: 9-7 (8-8 in 2008)

The Saints have one of the most prolific offenses in the NFL with Drew Brees as the quarterback. He threw for over 5,000 yards in 2008 and could do so again in 2009.

Reggie Bush has yet to emerge as the running back everyone saw in USC, but without Deuce McAllister on the team, Bush will get more carries and the chance to show he is that running back.

While the offense was top-ranked in 2008, their defense was dreadful, ranking 26th and giving up nearly 400 points. If the Saints want to be a playoff team again, they need to make drastic improvements on defense to complement that outstanding offense.

4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 5-11 (9-7 in 2008)

Tampa struggled at the end of 2008 and went from a sure playoff team to being eliminated on the last day of the season.

It cost Jon Gruden his job, and Jeff Garcia left as well, leaving a void at quarterback; Josh Freeman and Byron Leftwich are fighting to take over the position.

Raheem Morris is the new coach, and he has a lot of learning to do. Monte Kiffin left to coach his son's team at the University of Tennessee, so the defense may be taking quite a few steps back.

It might be obvious that Tampa Bay is in a total rebuilding year in 2009.

NFC West

1. Arizona Cardinals: 10-6 (9-7 in 2008)

Nobody expected the Cardinals to make the Super Bowl in February, yet they were about 30 seconds away from winning it. Ken Whisenhunt has done a terrific job with this team, and they are getting better every year.

Kurt Warner comes back to lead the dynamic offense with receivers Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin, and Steve Breaston. Fitzgerald may be the best wide receiver in the NFL, and his showing in Super Bowl XLIII may have proven that.

If Boldin stops with the contract and trade demands and focuses on football, he will have another good year in 2009.

The team will have to play better on defense and on the road, because that's where they struggled the most in 2009. But the offense should carry them a long way.

2. Seattle Seahawks: 8-8 (4-12 in 2008)

Longtime head coach Mike Holmgren retired after 2008, and Jim Mora Jr. takes over. With Matt Hasselbeck healthy, this team should improve their horrible 2008 record.

The Seahawks drafted Aaron Curry at linebacker. He was considered the best defensive player in the NFL draft and could be a major impact player on Seattle's defense.

The Seahawks brought in T.J. Houshmandzadeh from the Bengals to be another target for Hasselbeck to go along with Deion Branch.

The key to this team is staying healthy. If they do, they can be better.

3. San Francisco 49ers: 8-8 (7-9 in 2008)

Mike Singletary finally has a head coaching job after being a longtime assistant.

This may be Alex Smith's last chance to prove he should be the starting quarterback for this franchise. He's been a bust since being drafted No. 1 in 2005 and has not stepped up to be the leader.

If Singletary feels that Smith is not the guy to lead this team, he must figure out who will be the long-term quarterback, whether it be Shaun Hill, who went 5-3 in 2008, or if they have to go elsewhere.

The 49ers drafted Michael Crabtree, who continues to hold out in training camp. Crabtree is expected to be a star in the league but also has maturity issues. He will be a major key to the offense if he ever does sign and play.

4. St. Louis Rams: 4-12 (2-14 in 2008)

The 2008 season was a total disaster for the Rams. Scott Linehan was fired midseason, and Jim Haslett did no better, so Steve Spagnuolo was brought in to take over this stumbling franchise.

They drafted Jason Smith with the second pick to anchor the offensive line and keep Marc Bulger protected and healthy. Steven Jackson will be a force in the running game as long as he stays healthy.

Donnie Avery stepped up to become the team's new No. 1 receiver, especially with the departure of Torry Holt.

On defense, they are still young and learning, and Spagnuolo will have to spend time working with the unit and implementing the strategies he had with the Giants.

NFC Playoff Teams

Giants, Packers, Panthers, Cardinals, Eagles, Falcons

The first official game will kick off on Thursday, Sept. 10 between the Steelers and Titans at Heinz Field and will air on NBC. The 2009 football season will be here faster and quicker than you can say "Brett Favre comeback."

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