The mystery this year is limited to the AFC.
In the NFC, the Philadelphia Eagles are destined to be in Detroit on the first weekend of February.
The Eagles are well peopled, well coached and well positioned for another championship run, good enough to tell Corey Simon to take a hike and not think twice about it.
In the AFC, the picture is less clear cut.
A number of contenders have Super Bowl potential, especially the defending-champion Patriots, who have made a habit of late of hogging the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
But those AFC wannabes also have flaws.
The Steelers do, too, but this year, their flaws are fewer and farther in between.
They’ll meet the Eagles in Super Bowl XL.
Whether they’ll beat the Eagles remains to be seen, but for the Steelers, the rest of the AFC is beatable this season.
THE PATRIOTS: The two biggest losses aren’t Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel. Inside linebackers Tedy Bruschi and Ted Johnson will be missed more. Replacements Chad Brown and Monty Beisel were sought by the Steelers, but as backups.
THE COLTS: Signing Simon says a great deal about the sense of urgency in Indianapolis. But even with better run defense and an improved pass rush, the secondary remains too young and at least a year away from being good enough.
THE CHARGERS: Marty Schottenheimer hasn’t gotten there yet. And this year, everyone is going to see San Diego and Drew Brees coming.
THE BRONCOS: Mike Shanahan hasn’t won a division title or playoff game since 1998. So, unless John Elway is coming back, the Broncos won’t.
THE JETS: Paul Hackett is no longer coordinating the offense, and the Jets will be thankful for that. But quarterback Chad Pennington’s arm hasn’t gotten any stronger, and it might take kicker Mike Nugent a while to adjust and make the difference in those close games the Jets always seem to lose.
THE CHIEFS: Kansas City is counting upon Kendrell Bell to stay healthy and be able to understand the defense. The Steelers know that’s not happening.
THE JAGUARS: Fred Taylor’s still a medical question mark. And while drafting Matt Jones was a gutsy pick, it was also one that won’t pay immediate dividends.
THE RAVENS : Kyle Boller’s not the guy after all.
THE BENGALS: They’ll have to prove they’re capable of going 9-7 before being taken seriously as contenders.
So, there you have it.
Pencil in the Jets (East), Steelers (North), Colts (South) and Chargers (West) as division winners in the AFC, and the Patriots and Jaguars as wild cards, and the Eagles (East), Vikings (North), Panthers (South) and Seahawks (West) winning NFC divisions, with the Lions and Falcons advancing as wild cards.
In the end it’ll boil down to The Pennsylvania Bowl in Motown.
A year late, but worth the wait.