Steelers Poised for Repeat as New NFL Season Kicks Off

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Steelers Poised for Repeat as New NFL Season Kicks Off There's more parity in the NFL than in the three other major American sports combined. That said, it's ridiculously tough to predict what's going to happen from week to week. It's even tougher to predict what's going to happen before the season even starts.

But that's never stopped me before.

With the 2009 NFL regular season set to kick off Thursday evening, here are my preseason predictions for the Super Bowl champions, the NFL Most Valuable Player, Defensive Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year. I'll update my picks each week as the season goes on. I'd love to get your picks as well in the comments section below.

Now let the games begin.

Super Bowl Champs

1. Pittsburgh Steelers
The defending world champs return just about everyone (especially on their filthy-good defense), seem to be healthy and have the championship pedigree, both on the field and on the sideline in coach Mike Tomlin. Until someone upends them, they're the favorites to go all the way again.

2. New England Patriots
The Pats have plenty of questions, including those about Tom Brady's ability to return to his pre-injury form. But they're a team just teeming with offensive weapons. The bigger questions surround the New England defense. If they can't stop anyone, they'll be entrenched in their fair share of shootouts in 2009. But after a sub-par 11-5 year, there's plenty of desire to make it back to the playoffs … and beyond.

3. Tennessee Titans
Aside from their dynamic running-back duo of Chris Johnson and LenDale White, the Titans offense doesn't look that impressive on the surface. But veteran Kerry Collins was beyond solid last year and Jeff Fisher's defense remains one of the league's stingiest despite the loss of Albert Haynesworth. Don't expect another 10-0 start, especially opening up on Thursday in Pittsburgh, but don't rule out a return trip to the postseason.

4. New York Giants
Green Bay and Minnesota might be the sexier picks to make it out of the NFC and say what you will about Eli Manning and his $97 million-plus extension, but the Giants still have what it takes to win in the playoffs: a robust running game (with Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw leading the way) and a tough defense (led by linemen Justin Tuck and a healthy Osi Umenyiora).

5. San Diego Chargers
The Chargers won their last four games in 2008 to make the playoffs at 8-8. With everyone coming back, another year under the belt of quarterback Philip Rivers, LaDainian Tomlinson looking to rebound after an off year and a miserably weak AFC West around them, this could be the season that the Chargers take it to the next level.

Most Valuable Player

1. Tom Brady, New England Patriots
Yeah, we all know he hasn't played a regular season down since Week 1 of 2008. But he seems just about 100 percent healthy, his connection with Randy Moss only seems to be getting stronger and he has a plethora of running back options at his disposal. I wouldn't expect a repeat of his 2007 stats, but even getting close to 4,806 yards and 50 touchdowns could earn him his second MVP.

2. Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints
After a prolific 5,069 yards and 34 scores in 2008, Brees has all of his important targets returning, including a healthy Jeremy Shockey.

3. Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings
The top-rated fantasy back has set his sights on 2,000 yards and an MVP award in 2009. Brett Favre may have dominated the offseason headlines, but if Peterson runs rampant and the Vikings make the playoffs, AP should be part of the MVP conversation.

4. Peyton Manning, Indianapolis Colts
The 2008 MVP doesn't have Marvin Harrison to throw the ball to anymore, but Anthony Gonzalez will presumably become more of a target and Donald Brown will spell Joseph Addai in the backfield. There are newer, more exciting names out there being floated as MVP possibilities, but don't sleep on Peyton. “Cut that meat!”

5. Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers
We know what LaDainian Tomlinson is capable of in the backfield, but if the Chargers are to take the next step — reaching the Super Bowl — like many think they can, Rivers is going to be the one that leads them there.

Defensive Player of the Year

1. Troy Polamalu, Pittsburgh Steelers
A huge hitter in the secondary who's not afraid to come up and stuff the run, Polamalu is the most exciting player on the league's best defense.

2. DeMarcus Ware, Dallas Cowboys
The Cowboys' sackmaster had 20 in 2008, becoming just the seventh player ever to reach that total. He thinks he can do it again this year.

3. Jerod Mayo, New England Patriots
With the departures of Tedy Bruschi, Richard Seymour and Mike Vrabel, the team leader in tackles in 2008 (128) will be expected to play an even bigger role in 2009.

4. James Harrison, Pittsburgh Steelers
The reigning NFL DPOY may rub some people the wrong way with his politics, but this major agitator could once again approach his total of 16 sacks in 2008.

5. Haloti Ngata, Baltimore Ravens
The anchor of the Ravens' tough run defense and a solid pass rusher, the 6-foot-4, 340-pound Ngata is also an amazing athlete. He returned an interception 25 yards for a score this preseason against the Jets.

Rookie of the Year

1. Aaron Curry, Seattle Seahawks
The team feels that the draft's No. 4 pick out of Wake Forest will step right into the outside linebacker spot previously occupied by Julian Peterson. Teaming with Lofa Tatupu and Leroy Hill won't hurt either.

2. Percy Harvin, Minnesota Vikings
He's a versatile offensive tool who will line up both in the backfield and on the flanks for the potentially dangerous Vikings offense. The 22nd pick out of Florida will probably return kicks as well and is capable of highlight-reel stuff in the open field.

3. Mark Sanchez, New York Jets
It looks like he'll get the snaps under center, and he has a solid set of options at his disposal, including Thomas Jones, Leon Washington and Jerricho Cotchery. But as a rookie quarterback, it's likely that his mistakes will be harder to hide than if he played another, less visible position.

4. James Laurinaitis, St. Louis Rams
He's not the most athletic guy out there, but the former Buckeye is likely to be thrown right into the fire at middle linebacker and will make lots of tackles and get tons of exposure for an otherwise unspectacular Rams defense.

5. Knowshon Moreno, Denver Broncos
Having replaced QB Jay Cutler with the inferior Kyle Orton and with Brandon Marshall likely taking some time to get back into the swing of things, the Broncos could struggle mightily on the offensive side early on. But if the rookie out of Georgia becomes the Broncos' nearly annual 1,000-yard rusher, he should challenge for the ROY trophy.

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