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Preseason power rankings: No. 2 and No. 1

Initially, we planned to make the No. 2 team the No. 1 team for our Preseason Power Rankings, and the No. 1 team No. 2.

But since we’re wrapping these up after Tedy Bruschi retired and after Richard Seymour was traded to the Raiders and after the Steelers took care of the Titans in the regular-season opener, we’ve changed it on the fly.

The Patriots are No. 2, and the Steelers are No. 1.

For New England, the key is the return of Tom Brady. Without him, they won eleven games but didn’t win a playoff berth. With him, they will look a lot like they did in 2007, at least on offense.

Especially with Fred Taylor and Joey Galloway joining the team.

The defense has gotten younger lately, but not necessarily better. The looming contract issue with Vince Wilfork could become a distraction, especially since someone will need to step into a major leadership vacuum with the departures of Bruschi, Seymour, Rodney Harrison, and Mike Vrabel.

For the Steelers, they hold the Lombardi Trophy and they have nearly everyone back.

The only flaw is the offensive line, and its inability to open running lanes or, possibly, to keep quarterback Ben Roethlisberger healthy.

It’s a big flaw. Sure, it didn’t keep them from winning Super Bowl XLIII. But one blown block could impose a real injury on Roethlisberger, and then it would be difficult to get back to the top of the conference.

Key player: Brady for the Patriots, Roehtlisberger for the Steelers. If both can stay healthy, the AFC title game will come down to a rematch of the 2004 edition of the conference title tilt.

Rookie to watch: Brian Hoyer for the Patriots, Mike Wallace for the Steelers. A year after a guy with three years in the system was able to step in once Brady’s knee blew out, the Pats are backing up Brady with an undrafted rookie. Wallace already looks better than Limas Sweed, and Wallace could see plenty of passes with defenses focusing on stopping Santonio Holmes and not getting knocked out by Hines Ward.

Best veteran acquisitions: Joey Galloway for the Pats, Stefan Logan for the Steelers. Galloway, a Darrell Green-style ageless wonder who’ll turn 38 this year, has nailed down a starting receiver role. And with Randy Moss and Wes Welker running patterns, Galloway will draw favorable matchups -- and he’ll catch plenty of passes. The Steelers simply don’t sign many/any veterans. This year, a Canadian import will have a big impact in the special teams.

PFT’s Power Rankings

1. Pittsbugh Steelers
2. New England Patriots
3. San Diego Chargers
4. New York Giants
5. Tennessee Titans
6. Indianapolis Colts
7. Minnesota Vikings
8. Baltimore Ravens
9. Philadelphia Eagles
10. Green Bay Packers
11. Dallas Cowboys
12. New Orleans Saints
13. Atlanta Falcons
14. Chicago Bears
15. Carolina Panthers
16. Arizona Cardinals
17. Miami Dolphins
18. Houston Texans
19. Jacksonville Jaguars
20. Cincinnati Bengals
21. Buffalo Bills
22. Washington Redskins
23. New York Jets
24. Seattle Seahawks
25. San Francisco 49ers
26. Denver Broncos
27. Kansas City Chiefs
28. Cleveland Browns
29. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
30. Oakland Raiders
31. St. Louis Rams
32. Detroit Lions