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BREAKING IT ALL DOWN

TIMES STAFF WRITER TOM JONES LOOKS FORWARD TO THE 2009 NFL SEASON.

Three teams that might not be as good as you think

Dallas Cowboys

Something says this team has 8-8 written all over it, and part of it is because QB Tony Romo's name is bigger than his game.

Minnesota Vikings

Let's not act as if they are getting a 30-year-old Brett Favre at quarterback. And they do play in the NFL's best division.

Tennessee Titans

DT Albert Haynesworth is gone, and it's hard to imagine QB Kerry Collins, above, having another career year.

* * *

Three teams that will be better than you think

Detroit Lions

Okay, we're not talking playoffs, but this team, led by WRCalvin Johnson, could win three or four, and that's better than most think.

Green Bay Packers

While the Bears and Vikings celebrate new quarterbacks, Green Bay might have the best in the division in Aaron Rodgers.

Atlanta Falcons

Acquiring TETony Gonzalez was huge, and this is the team to beat in the NFC South.

* * *

Three coaches on the hot seat

Raheem Morris, Bucs

A new quarterback, a new defense, a new offensive coordinator, new leadership. This seat was on fire before he sat on it.

Jim Zorn, Redskins

An underachieving team and a wing-nut owner with an itchy trigger finger don't make a good combination.

Wade Phillips, Cowboys

Jerry Jones wants a winner right now, and this team has problems. Come to think of it, it's a wonder Phillips is still there.

* * *

Three best coaches in the NFL

Mike Tomlin, Steelers

Is there a coach in the NFL who is more respected by his players than Tomlin?

Jeff Fisher, Titans

The longest-tenured coach in the NFL. When you're with a franchise going on 16 years, you're doing something right.

Bill Belichick, Patriots

Not exactly warm and fuzzy, but he knows his stuff and his players do seem to respect him and like him.

* * *

Three players who cannot get hurt for their teams to succeed

Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers

Charlie Batch is a nice guy, but without Big Ben at QB, the Steelers are only slightly above average and below average on offense.

Adrian Peterson, Vikings

Minnesota's offense revolves around the running back, and he opens things up for Brett Favre.

Tom Brady, Patriots

Look what happened to the Patriots when the quarterback missed last season.

* * *

Top three teams in the AFC

1. New England Patriots

2. Pittsburgh Steelers

3. San Diego Chargers

* * *

Top three teams in the NFC

1. New York Giants

2. Green Bay Packers

3. Atlanta Falcons

* * *

Three best players in the NFL who are not quarterbacks

1. Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Cardinals

2. James Harrison, LB, Steelers

3. Adrian Peterson, RB, Vikings

* * *

Three best rivalries in the NFL right now

Steelers vs. Ravens

Steelers won three meetings last season by a total of 16 points.

Packers vs. Vikings

Two words: Brett Favre. The date to watch is Nov. 1 when Favre returns to Green Bay.

Jets vs. Patriots

Who knows if the Jets' Rex Ryan can coach, but he sure can talk.

* * *

Three reasons to be excited about 2009

1. QB Tom Brady is back, and it's always exciting when the best player in the game is actually playing.

2. The Bears finally have a big-time quarterback worth watching in Jay Cutler.

3. Fresh faces such as the Jets' Mark Sanchez, the Lions' Matt Stafford and maybe even the Bucs' Josh Freeman.

* * *

Three things that have us depressed about 2009

1. Tony Dungy and Jon Gruden are in the broadcast booth instead of on the sidelines.

2. Tough economy means games could be blacked out in Tampa Bay and in about 15 other markets.

3. Class acts such as Derrick Brooks, Marvin Harrison and Warrick Dunn, as of now, aren't playing.

* * *

Five biggest questions (and answers)

1. Will Michael Vick have an impact in Philly?

He doesn't seem to have lost much on the football field, and he will do the Wildcat thing until Donovan McNabb is injured or benched. So, the answer is yes.

2. Will the Steelers repeat as champs?

The last time the Steelers won the Super Bowl, they went 8-8 the next season. They won't fall that far, but the Patriots, with a healthy Tom Brady, are the AFC's best team.

3. Will the Cardinals be as good as last season?

This was a 9-7 team in a bad division that got hot at the right time. The Cardinals might actually be better than last season and not finish nearly as well.

4. Are the Bucs the NFL's worst team?

They just might be. Contenders are the Lions, Raiders and Browns, and yet, how exactly would you rank these quarterbacks: Daunte Culpepper/Matt Stafford (Lions), Brady Quinn/Derek Anderson (Browns), JaMarcus Russell (Raiders) and Byron Leftwich (Bucs)?

5. Which two teams will be in the Super Bowl?

It's a repeat. Not of last season, but two seasons ago. This time, the Patriots get their revenge on the Giants.

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