After their amazing 6th Superbowl title, I have much hope for the Steelers to defend their title in the 2009 season. The biggest reason, the schedule. We all know the '08 Steelers had one of the toughest schedules in football, and they went 12-4 with it. In '09, the Steelers will face (besides their division inc. Browns, Bengals, and Ravens) Chiefs, Chargers, Raiders, Broncos, Titans, Dolphins, Bears, Packers, Lions, and Vikings. Not an overwhelming schedule based off of '08 performances, with only 4 playoff teams being faced. However, maybe this is a trap, because the tough schedule this year led to the Steelers being a tougher team with facing hard games all year...
Another reason I believe the Steelers will be able to defend their title (this I mean repeating, yes there I said it) would be the coaching staff. Mike Tomlin is no lame duck. Last time the Steelers won the SB in 2005, Coach Bill Cowher already had one foot out the door. The team just did not seem the same. I believe Mike Tomlin is only going to continue to grow as a great football coach. Also, with DC Dick Lebeau returning as a 48 year old man (sorry all year I heard Madden say "he's 71 going on 48") the defense will remain a powerhouse. The biggest issue at the coaching staff I have is OC Bruce Arians. He does not create an identity for this football team. However, at times, like the first half of the Superbowl against the Cardinals, first half against the Ravens in the AFC Championship game, and the entire Chargers divisional game, Bruce Arians came up with great play calling, but the rest of the time, he is so predictable and his calling just stalls out the offense.
The most important factor leading to the Steelers repeating (yes I am able to just flat out say that right now, still feel like I'm doing wrong by saying it though) is the players. Ben Roethlisberger had a great playoff run, and let's not forget he had troubles this season. I believe he had 17 TDs and 15 ints...however a season before he threw for the 2nd highest amount of TDs of 31. The best of Ben Roethlisberger should come out this year with maturity under his belt after this Superbowl win (meaning no more motorcycles without a helmet). Now the biggest question is the O-line. Wilie Colon, Darnell Stapleton, Justin Hartwig, Chris Kemoeatu, and Max Starks did have many problems this year in pass protecting, which is the hardest thing for O-line to do. However, let's not forget to recognize that the only one on this line that has been a regular starter for the Steelers outside of this season is Starx. This was the first time for all 5 those men to play as a unit together. It takes time for the O-Line to make a chemistry and work together. I don't think the line is as in dire need as some people believe. As FA go, both Starx and Marvel Smith are up. I say Smith will be the cheaper player due to his injuries, and let Starx go, and use Smith to develop younger players. Other than that, the Steelers should sign Kemoeatu and maybe draft 1-2 linemen to develop up. This line will improve tremendously just by having an offseason to work together as a unit.
For the rest of the players, offensively, Nate Washington is a good WR, if they can keep him cheap great, if not, I look for the Steelers to look for a WR in the draft to make up for Washington and Ward coming of age (I also look for Ward to take a paycut due to the fact he will have a lesser role in the '09 year). Limas Sweed will come on in the '09 season with maturity, meaning no more dropped passes going in for a TD. They are set at RB's with Mewelde Moore, Rashard Mendenhall, Willie Parker, and Gary Russell. I look for Mendenhall to replace Parker by the end of '09 as the starting back however.
Defensively, the Steelers will probably let Larry Foote go...he wants to return to Detriot and finish his career there. The Steelers will have to sign Keyaron Fox, who played great when he was in, and maybe him, Timmons, or Bailey will take the position of MLB to replace Foote. Bryant McFadden might be lost, if the Steelers don't resign him, they will look for a replacement in the draft. The biggest hit will be to the special teams. Arnold Harrison, Sean McHugh, and Andre Fraizer were all very good on special teams, and they will all be FAs. Special teams might not be that important to some, but the Steelers too often have had bad coverage and let big plays happened...without these guys, it will happen more.
My ideal draft would consist of 2 linemen to develop into the system. A possesion reciever. A DE for the aging Brett Keisel and Aaron Smith. A DT to be a backup to Casey Hampton, and since Orpheus Roye is a FA. A safety since Anthony Smith will be let go into FA as a "failed project." And depending on what's out there either 2 CBs or 1 CB and 1 LB. Ideally, McFadden will be kept, than the Steelers will only need a CB to fill in, and then they can go after a LB to develop into the role and that can play special teams.
All this said, if the draft happens as I hope, I think the Steelers have a very good chance to repeat. The core players are staying intact, Tomlin is ready to do it all again, and the easier schedule leads me to believe this team has everything in place to defend their title and repeat.