Will New England slip back into the favorite’s role to win the Super Bowl now that its superstar quarterback Tom Brady is back at the controls and healthy to start the season?

One can only imagine that the defending world champion Pittsburgh Steelers might just have something to say about that scenario that many of the Figurin’ Filberts have laid out for the 2009 National Football League season which kicks off Thursday night.

It’s probably more than a coincidence that these same Pittsburgh Steelers will be playing at home against the defense-minded Tennessee Titans before a national audience on NBC-TV.

Many Patriots fans are a bit skeptical that Brady can come back from a knee injury that sidelined him the entire 2008 season and pick up where he left off before he left last year’s season opener early in the first period, never to return to action until the opening game of the 2009 season which incidentally will be played before a national audience against Terrell Owens and the Buffalo Bills on Monday Night Football.

Both Texas franchises promise to be much better than last season with the Houston Texans openly admitted they are ready to make the playoffs for the first time in franchise history. The Dallas Cowboys are ready to open their billion dollar stadium and get back to the playoffs and win their first post-season game since 1996.

Let’s take a look at each division in the National and American conferences and their projected finishes for the 2009 NFL season:

East Division
The NFC Super Bowl candidate could very well come from this tough division that features four teams that could get to the final dance. Our Dallas Cowboys are banking on former Texas Longhorn great wide receiver Roy Williams to step into the role vacated by Terrell Owens.
This week’s edition of The Sporting News picks the New York Giants “to win the Super Bowl for the second time in three seasons,” ranking both the offensive and defensive lines as “the best in the NFL.”
The Philadelphia Eagles, which came very close to making the Super Bowl last season, know how to win big games with quarterback Donovan McNabb and running back Brian Westbrook dangerous threats when the chips are down.

OUR PROJECTED FINISH: 1. NY Giants 2. Dallas 3. Philadelphia 4. Washington.
North Division
This is another division where any three of the four teams could get hot and end up on top. We don’t think last year’s winless Detroit Lions are ready to contend, but they should be much improved. Green Bay brought in former Houston Texans head coach Dom Capers to handle the switch to the 3-4 defense while the Minnesota Vikings brought in tender-armed Brett Favre and the Chicago Bears now have Jay Cutler at quarterback.
One of these moves in going to reap huge benefits, but which one is still the major question.

OUR PROJECTED FINISH: 1. Green Bay 2. Chicago 3. Minnesota 4. Detroit.
South Division
The rapid development of Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan could very well determine the top team in this division. And with running back Michael Turner in the backfield, the Falcons could be the top team when the dust settles.
If New Orleans comes up with a better defense than in the past, the Saints could really come marching in. Carolina may not be as good as last year’s division championship team while Tampa Bay is in the rebuilding stage with 33-year old Raheem Morris, the NFL’s youngest head coach.

OUR PROJECTED FINISH: 1. Atlanta 2. New Orleans 3. Carolina 4. Tampa Bay.
West Division
Despite the defending NFC champion Arizona Cardinals having a 38-year-old quarterback in Kurt Warner, he can still get the job done as witnessed during the playoff run in 2008. And he has what The Sporting News considers “the best wide receivers and tight ends in the NFL” as his targets.
The San Francisco 49ers continue to improve under Head Coach Mike Singletary and should give the Cards a run for their money. Seattle and St. Louis will be working under new head coaches and it might take a while for everyone to get on the same page.

OUR PROJECTED FINISH: 1. Arizona 2. San Francisco 3. Seattle 4. St. Louis.

South Division
The Houston Texans had high hopes of being a playoff team this fall but some injuries during the preseason may have put the quietus on that dream. If injury-prone quarterback Matt Schaub can stay healthy during the season, the offense should pick up where it left off during the second half of last year.
But if the offense-rich Indianapolis Colts and defensive-minded Tennessee Titans get off to fast starts, it could be a two-horse race in this division. The Sporting News states that Tennessee has “the best defensive secondary in the NFL.” Jacksonville and Houston will be fortunate to finish the season at .500.

OUR PROJECTED FINISH: 1.Tennessee 2. Indianapolis 3. Houston 4. Jacksonville.
East Division
The New England Patriots stand head-and-shoulders above the other three teams in this division. But will quarterback Tom Brady be able to withstand the pounding a quarterback takes in this league?
And you can’t ever count out a team that is headed by Bill Parcells, so Miami could possibly be successful defending its division championship of 2008. The New York Jets will go as far as rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez can take them and Buffalo needs much more than a personality like Terrell Owens to make the Bills a winner.

OUR PROJECTED FINISH: 1. New England 2. Miami 3. NY Jets 4. Buffalo.
North Division
The Pittsburgh Steelers will be hard to dethrone as world champions, but it has gotten extremely difficult to repeat in the NFL. Ben Roethlisberger, who The Sporting News calls “the best quarterback in the NFL,” continues to be at the top of his game and the Steelers’ defense is no slouch either.
The Baltimore Ravens should come in a close second with their Ray Lewis-led defense while the two Ohio franchises continue to battle for the division cellar.

OUR PROJECTED FINISH: 1. Pittsburgh 2. Baltimore 3. Cleveland 4. Cincinnati.
West Division
Once again the San Diego Chargers should finish on top of the pile in this division. Although star linebacker Shawn Merriman is healthy this season, he is in trouble with the law before the season has even started.
Kansas City has been pathetic in the preseason and Denver’s 33-year old new head coach Josh McDaniels continues to have problems dealing with unhappy players. Oakland still has too many old players and a head coach who cold-cocked one of his assistants.

OUR PROJECTED FINISH: 1. San Diego 2. Denver 3. Oakland 4. Kansas City.

KWICKIES…Now that our Houston Astros are out of the playoff race, they go on a nifty winning streak, having won eight of their last nine games at Minute Maid Park through Monday’s action, including the first four-game sweep over the world champion Philadelphia Phillies since 1999.

It’s a crying shame that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers cut kicker Matt Bryant of Bridge City because he had an injury during the preseason. We expect another team to pick him up, maybe before this Korner even hits the streets.

We got some real nice feedback about our piece last week on the changes in the Little League World Series at Williamsport, Pa. since our team from Schenectady New York won the LL World Championship in 1954.

The Houston Texans finally signed holdout cornerback Dunta Robinson to a one-year, $9.957 million deal last weekend. We can’t imagine him being ready to play Sunday against the New York Jets, but he’ll probably be out there on a limited basis.

It’s hard to tell whether the two unfortunate incidents that happened to the Oklahoma Sooners were related. Losing Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Sam Bradford early in their opening game at home against Brigham Young University and losing the game 14-13 may not have happened if Bradford played the entire game. However, Bradford could not have stopped that winning BYU touchdown from happening, so it’s really a mystery.

JUST BETWEEN US…The winners of the 50th  Annual Labor Day 54-hole golf tournament that concluded Monday afternoon at Sunset Grove Country Club in Orange are: Everett Nini in the Pro Flight with 197 and Orange’s Michael Arnaud runner-up with 199; Ben Suarez (206) in the Championship Flight; Zane Caillier (213) in the First Flight; Randy Harrison (221) in the Second Flight; Dewey Scott (227) in the Third Flight; George Schroeder (236) in the Fourth Flight; Stephen Lee (236) in the Fifth Flight; John Prince (+28) in the Sixth Flight; Bob Hoepner (+13) in the Senior Flight.