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PRO FOOTBALL

First and goal

As the 2009 NFL season kicks off tonight, there are plenty of story lines, including whether the Pittsburgh Steelers can repeat as Super Bowl champions.

September 10, 2009|SAM FARMER

PITTSBURGH — When the velvet curtain parts, the Steel Curtain will slam shut.

The Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers hope that happens, at least, when they open the 2009 NFL season tonight against the visiting Tennessee Titans (5 p.m., Ch. 4).

After a summer of headlines concerning Brett Favre, Michael Vick, Terrell Owens, and the Dallas Cowboys' video board, the football world is ready for some, well, actual football.

Is the wildcat here to stay?

Can Tony Romo finally win a playoff game?

Will a quarterback make all the difference in Chicago?

Will a quarterback make any difference in Minnesota?

And which team, if any, is this year's answer to the up-from-the-ashes Miami Dolphins?

Those answers will come, and it all begins tonight.

For now, a look at some other things to watch this season:

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday, September 12, 2009 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 National Desk 1 inches; 46 words Type of Material: Correction
Pro football: An article in Thursday's Sports section previewing the NFL season said seven teams have won consecutive Super Bowls: Miami, Pittsburgh (twice), San Francisco, Dallas, Denver and New England. The list failed to include the Green Bay Packers, winners of Super Bowls I and II.

With every season (churn, churn, churn. . . )

What some call parity, the NFL likes to refer to as "competitive balance." Whichever you prefer, there's no denying the constant rotation at the top of the league.

The 2008 postseason field included seven teams that didn't make the playoffs the previous year. What's more, when Arizona reached the Super Bowl, it was the eighth consecutive season a different NFC team made it that far.

Postseason teams not in previous season's playoffs:

2008 (7) -- Arizona, Atlanta, Baltimore, Carolina, Miami, Minnesota, Philadelphia.

2007 (6) -- Green Bay, Jacksonville, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, Tennessee, Washington.

2006 (7) -- Baltimore, Dallas, Kansas City, New Orleans, New York Jets, Philadelphia, San Diego.

2005 (7) -- Carolina, Chicago, Cincinnati, Jacksonville, New York Giants, Tampa Bay, Washington.

2004 (5) -- Atlanta, Minnesota, New York Jets, Pittsburgh, San Diego.

2003 (8) -- Baltimore, Carolina, Dallas, Denver, Kansas City, New England, St. Louis, Seattle.

2002 (5) -- Atlanta, Cleveland, Indianapolis, New York Giants, Tennessee.

2001 (6) -- Chicago, Green Bay, New England, New York Jets, Pittsburgh, San Francisco.

2000 (6) -- Baltimore, Denver, New Orleans, New York Giants, Oakland, Philadelphia.

1999 (7) -- Detroit, Indianapolis, St. Louis, Seattle, Tampa Bay, Tennessee, Washington.

1998 (5) -- Arizona, Atlanta, Buffalo, Dallas, New York Jets.

1997 (5) -- Detroit, Kansas City, Miami, New York Giants, Tampa Bay.

1996 (5) -- Carolina, Denver, Jacksonville, Minnesota, New England.

Trading places

Most NFL fans know quarterback Jay Cutler has gone from Denver to Chicago, former Tom Brady understudy Matt Cassel is in Kansas City, and flamboyant receiver Terrell Owens has left Dallas for Buffalo. But there are a lot of familiar names in new places this season. Here are a few:

Position Player (New team/old team)

C Matt Birk (Baltimore/Minnesota) -- A six-time Pro Bowl center (and Harvard man) now anchors an otherwise young Ravens line.

LB Keith Brooking (Dallas/Atlanta) -- The Cowboys parted ways with Zach Thomas and brought in another famous transplant at inside backer.

WR Laveranues Coles (Cincinnati/N.Y. Jets) -- Coles was signed to fill the role vacated by T.J. Houshmandzadeh.

S Brian Dawkins (Denver/Philadelphia) -- This all-time Eagles favorite sat out the Broncos' first two exhibition games because of a broken hand.

WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh (Seattle/Cincinnati) -- With Bobby Engram gone, Matt Hasselbeck has a new favorite target.

T Orlando Pace (Chicago/St. Louis) -- Once among the league's best left tackles, does Pace have the necessary tread left?

LB Bart Scott (N.Y. Jets/Baltimore) -- A standout for the Ravens, Scott followed coordinator-turned-head coach to Gotham.

DE Richard Seymour (Oakland/New England) -- Was the 29-year-old Pro Bowler worth a first-round draft pick?

S Darren Sharper (New Orleans/Minnesota) -- Saints now have NFL's active leader in career interceptions.

RB Fred Taylor (New England/Jacksonville) -- Corey Dillon, Rodney Harrison and Junior Seau found new life in New England, why not Taylor?

LB Mike Vrabel (Kansas City/New England) -- Bonus in the Cassel trade is also a locker room leader for a young defense.

RB Derrick Ward (Tampa Bay/N.Y. Giants) -- The Buccaneers will lean on their ground game, and Ward fits the running back rotation well.

On the verge

Winning a Super Bowl is every team's goal, but a lot of players are also on a collision course with the record books. Among those who could make history this season:

Peyton Manning -- With one more 4,000-yard passing season, the Indianapolis star will become the first quarterback with 10 to his name. He has thrown for at least 3,000 yards in each of his 11 seasons.

Terrell Owens -- Buffalo receiver needs 11 touchdown catches to join former San Francisco teammate Jerry Rice as the only players with 150 for their career. New England's Randy Moss is 15 away from 150. Rice finished with 197.

Isaac Bruce -- San Francisco receiver needs only 56 yards to join Rice as the second player in the 15,000-yard receiving club. Rice finished with 22,895.

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