Will The Steelers Lose In 2009?
By Jeff Falconio
The best part about pro football is that it truly is a year-round sport. You'd think that in the week following the Super Bowl there'd be football withdrawal but it's just the opposite. The college football all-star games have wrapped up so it's time to look ahead to the draft and free agency as teams begin the quest for Super Bowl XLIV.
NFL teams will do what they can to replicate Pittsburgh's success but will any NFL team be able to beat the Steelers? I know it's preposterous to suggest a team can go 16-0, especially the defending champs. Isn't the system designed to prevent such a thing? Well, yes, but consider a few things. Pittsburgh has a very soft schedule in 2009. The Steelers will play only six games against 2008 playoff teams and two of those games are against playoff teams that won less than 10 games. Pittsburgh will face Oakland, Kansas City, Detroit, Green Bay, Cincinnati twice and Cleveland twice. That's eight games against teams that have a top 10 pick in this spring's draft. Pittsburgh also avoids AFC heavyweights New England and Indianapolis. Furthermore, of the '08 playoff teams the Steelers are playing, is there anyway Miami, Tennessee, Baltimore and Arizona improve from last year? Miami won't sneak up on anyone, Tennessee won't start 9-0 again and Baltimore's Joe Flacco is no longer a secret.
Heading into last season, everyone pointed out how difficult Pittsburgh's schedule would be with nine games against teams with ten wins or more from '07. Obviously that didn't affect the Steelers, who went 12-4 last season. Of course, the flip side of that argument is that there will be surprise teams like Miami that could jump up and be a playoff team. Perhaps a team like San Francisco fits that description?
The second factor in Pittsburgh's favor is health. Injuries can derail any team but throughout 2008 and the postseason the Steelers saw Hines Ward, Willie Parker, Bryant McFadden and Ben Roethlisberger all go down at some point. Even first round pick Rashard Mendenhall went down with a season ending injury early in the year. Yet the Steelers rolled to a sixth Super Bowl title. That's a nod to incredible depth. Imagine how good Pittsburgh could be without injuries to their starters.
Finally, Pittsburgh has youth, lots of it. The Colts and Giants both got ripped by free agency and retirement after winning the Super Bowl. But the Steelers are young on both sides of the ball. Pittsburgh may suffer some personnel losses at offensive line, which was a weak spot in '08, but by and large the core remains intact.
Will anyone beat Pittsburgh in 2009? You can bet that the other 31 franchises are already plotting strategy to dethrone the champs. With the Scouting Combine a few weeks away and free agency beginning in less than a month the target is squarely on Pittsburgh's back as a new 12 month NFL season begins.