PITTSBURGH -- The Steelers all but made it official last Saturday when they set their 53-man roster that running backs Le'Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount will play in the season opener.

The Steelers only kept two other running backs, and one is a fullback (Will Johnson) while the other is a scatback (Dri Archer) who is also listed on the roster as a wide receiver.

Coach Mike Tomlin had said after Bell and Blount were arrested for possession of marijuana -- Bell was also charged with driving under the influence -- that the Steelers had not ruled out suspending both players.

Clearly the eighth-year coach publicly left that option to impress upon Bell and Blount how badly they had erred after getting charged less than two hours before the Steelers flew to Philadelphia for their third preseason games.

But there was never any serious question about whether the Steelers would suspend them. As for whether the two have already been punished, Tomlin said, “That will be between us.”

More significant in regard to the season opener is how the Steelers will use Bell and Blount Sunday against the visiting Browns.

Tomlin has said that both Bell and Blount will share the workload at running back.

But at his weekly news conference Tomlin said he does not necessarily see Bell having to accept a reduced role after averaging just over 20 touches per game last season.

When asked if he could see Bell getting 20 to 25 touches a game this season, Tomlin said, “I think we drafted him with that in mind.”

Of course the Steelers drafted Bell before they added Blount, who may be the most talented runner on the roster, and the ultra-fast Archer this offseason.

The backfield is a little more crowded this season.

But Bell's versatility will help the Steelers keep him heavily involved with offense while also taking advantage of Blount and Archer, who they will try to get the ball in space.

Bell caught 45 passes in 13 games as a rookie, and his receptions should rise this season. If Bell also averages around the 17.2 carries he received per game in 2013 he could get well over 300 touches this season provided the former second-round pick stays healthy.

One of the more interesting storylines with the season opener less than a week away is how the Steelers will use Bell, Blount and Archer.

And how the math will play out at running back.
The Pittsburgh Steelers open the ESPN NFL Power Rankings at No. 13, though they are behind two teams in the AFC North.

The Bengals (No. 9) and the Ravens (No. 12) are among the six AFC teams ranked ahead of the Steelers. If the rankings turn out to be accurate -- and Sept. 2 is a looong way from the end of December -- the Steelers would be on the outside looking in at the playoffs for a third consecutive season.

Rankings are incredibly subjective, especially since teams have yet to play a game this season.

What isn't debatable when it comes to the Steelers is how imperative it is they get off to a fast start after losing their first four games in 2013.

And the season opener on Sunday is a must-win given the questions the Browns have at quarterback and their miserable history at Heinz Field. Also the Steelers' second and third games are both on the road as they play at Baltimore on Sept. 11 and at Carolina on Sept. 21.

When asked if the Steelers' 0-4 start last season, their first since 1968, impressed upon the young players the importance of playing well early, coach Mike Tomlin said, "I hope that point already hit home. I don't need an 0-4 start to let me know how significant good starts are. I'll proceed with the same mentality that I have throughout the course of my career."

The Steelers have lost three consecutive season openers, but the Browns haven’t beaten them in Pittsburgh since 2003.

Steelers healthy with opener looming

September, 2, 2014
Sep 2
PITTSBURGH – The Steelers should head into the regular season with a relatively clean bill of health.

Wide receiver Martavis Bryant is nursing an A/C shoulder sprain that kept the rookie from practicing on Monday, but coach Mike Tomlin hasn’t ruled out Bryant playing Sunday against the visiting Cleveland Browns.

“At this stage early in the week we’re going to leave the light on for all of these men,” Tomlin said Tuesday at his weekly news conference.

A handful of players who have been working through injuries practiced at least on a limited basis on Monday, the first day the Steelers went through drills since assembling their 53-man roster.

Those include cornerback Brice McCain (groin), linebacker Sean Spence (knee), tight end Matt Spaeth (leg), wide receiver Lance Moore (leg) and long snapper Greg Warren (knee).

“I think we’re in pretty good shape,” Tomlin said.

One thing Tomlin said he is not worried about when it comes to injuries is Pro Bowl wide receiver Antonio Brown getting hurt while returning punts.

Brown will serve as the Steelers’ primary punt returner, Tomlin said, with rookie Dri Archer behind the fifth-year veteran.

Brown averaged 12.8 yards per punt return last season and scored a touchdown in that phase of the game.

“He’s a Pro Bowl-caliber return man. So that’s what you do with those guys, you play them,” Tomlin said. “I don’t live with my fears.”
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- The Baltimore Ravens parted ways with one of their Super Bowl players in order to add depth to their secondary.

The Ravens re-signed veteran journeyman Derek Cox, which now gives the team five cornerbacks. To make room for Cox, the Ravens waived linebacker Josh Bynes, who made the last tackle in the team's Super Bowl triumph 19 months ago.

The reason why the Ravens kept Bynes on the 53-man roster for three days is they were likely trying to trade Bynes. The Ravens always had the intention in bringing back Cox, who was signed by the Ravens a day before the preseason finale.

In addition to Cox, the Ravens have Jimmy Smith, Lardarius Webb, Asa Jackson and Chykie Brown at cornerback. There is also added flexibility with safety Terrence Brooks and Anthony Levine, both of whom can play cornerback.

The Ravens' decision to waive Bynes is a little surprising because he ran with the first-team defense in training camp. But this shows how much the team likes undrafted rookie linebacker Zachary Orr.
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- There shouldn't be many health questions for the Baltimore Ravens heading into Sunday's season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals.

All 53 players were suited up at Tuesday's practice, including running back Bernard Pierce and the Ravens' once-banged-up cornerbacks.

The Ravens' top three cornerbacks -- Lardarius Webb (back), Jimmy Smith (chest) and Asa Jackson (ankle) -- all participated in position drills and looked fine backpedaling as well as changing directions. All three had missed at least half the preseason, but they had returned for the Ravens' last practice on Saturday.

Pierce, who missed the preseason finale with a concussion, also practiced for the entire media-viewing portion of practice. He is expected to replace suspended Ray Rice as the starting running back for the first two regular-season games.
CINCINNATI -- It's that time of year again.

It's the time of year when NFL predictions and prognostications are en vogue, and they span the gamut. Paper Super Bowl champions are crowned. As are paper MVPs and paper rookies of the year. Paper (or, in this case, digital) division champions are declared, too.

None of it is official.

This week, as ESPN continues rolling out its season previews, a power panel of men and women who cover the league got together and made their picks for division winners, playoff entrants and end-of-season champions. Yours truly was among the group. You can take a look at my preseason selections at the link above by clicking on the "AFC Reporters" page. In addition to AFC reporters, ESPN.com's NFL Nation NFC reporters also participated in the voting, as did national writers and other contributors to the website.

As you can see, the Cincinnati Bengals were declared consensus AFC North victors by the panel. I was among those who voted them division winners.

Earlier this summer, I expressed some doubt, particularly because it appeared the rest of the division was doing appropriate re-tooling to make a repeat tougher than I had previously imagined. Now that I've seen the Bengals in training camp and watched some of the other teams in the preseason, I do believe Cincinnati has without a doubt the best team in the AFC North. While that may be the case, I still believe Pittsburgh will be a real challenge, meaning the Week 17 finale between the Bengals and Steelers could help decide the division. At the very least, the game could have an impact on where Cincinnati gets seeded in the postseason.

Yes, postseason. I've said it before and will continue saying it: The Bengals this season will do something they've never done in team history. They will reach the playoffs for a fourth straight season. Will they finally win a playoff game for the first time since 1990? I believe so. Will they win enough playoff games to get back to Arizona for this year's Super Bowl? Eh, I'm not sold on that being the case just yet.

... But I'm not saying a Super Bowl berth is impossible.

You can read my full regular-season game-by-game predictions from Tuesday morning here. The team I current have as AFC champion, New England, hosts the Bengals in one of their biggest games in Week 5. If the Bengals can come out of their bye and steal a Sunday night victory on the road at an expectedly hostile Gillette Stadium, then the 10-6 record I predicted will be too low. If they win that game, they ought to go on a run that won't just win them the division, but they could go on a run that could actually get them back to the desert in February.

We'll see.

Regardless, we do know this: The Bengals are favored to win the AFC North, and at this point, there's no reason the defending division champs shouldn't be.

Cleveland Browns game predictions

September, 2, 2014
Sep 2
ESPN.com Cleveland Browns reporter Pat McManamon makes his game-by-game picks for the 2014 season.

Week 1: at Pittsburgh Steelers

The league could not have given Mike Pettine a more difficult opening game. The Steelers will not start poorly after an 0-4 opening doomed their 2013 season, and the Browns open where they have not won since 2003. Prediction: Loss

Week 2: New Orleans Saints

It doesn't get any easier in Week 2, as a secondary that was suspect in the preseason lines up against Drew Brees. Too, a Browns offense that could do next to nothing gets an aggressive Rex Ryan defense. Coming home is no help. Prediction: Loss

Week 3: Baltimore Ravens

The Ravens are too strong physically for this Browns team. Baltimore has a defense that can overpower the Browns and an offense that always seems to do enough to win. Prediction: Loss

Week 5: at Tennessee Titans

Smart money has the Browns switching to Johnny Manziel to play quarterback coming off the bye. Starting on the road should help him -- or so the theory goes. The Browns are not a great team, but this could be their first really winnable game. Prediction: Win

Week 6: Pittsburgh Steelers

Rob Chudzinski said the Browns had to stop acting like the AFC North's little brother; he was fired. Pittsburgh, more than any other team, treats the Browns like a kid brother. Especially if they are facing a rookie quarterback. Prediction: Loss

Week 7: at Jacksonville Jaguars

The low point of the season as the Browns lose to the lowly Jaguars for the second year in a row. The 1-5 start dooms fans again to watching a team playing the bulk of the season with little at stake. Prediction: Loss

Week 8: Oakland Raiders

The first half ends with a manageable game. The Raiders have quarterback issues, like the Browns, and they lack overall talent, like the Browns. In this case, the home field matters just enough. Prediction: Win

Week 9: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Two 4-12 teams from 2013 square off in a game that should mean little. The law of averages says the Browns have to win one game on the road. May as well be this one. Prediction: Win

Week 10: at Cincinnati Bengals

Cincinnati is a better team with a better quarterback and with one of the league's best receivers. The Browns seem to find a way to play Cincinnati close, but close won't be good enough here. Prediction: Loss

Week 11: Houston Texans

This is the "must-win" game for Pettine. If he can't beat the team that had the worst record in the league a year ago, a team that has quarterback issues, then he might be in Chudzinski-land when the season ends. Prediction: Win

Week 12: at Atlanta Falcons

Atlanta's struggles a year ago were an aberration, a result of an off year and injuries. The Falcons play at a different level than the Browns. Prediction: Loss

Week 13: at Buffalo Bills

Another must win for the Browns. Pettine used to coach in Buffalo, and the Bills took Sammy Watkins instead of the Browns. Losing this would have serious implications, though the way the Browns played in the preseason it feels like we're giving the Browns too many wins. Prediction: Win

Week 14: Indianapolis Colts

Andrew Luck is too good for the Browns. Enough said. Prediction: Loss

Week 15: Cincinnati Bengals

The Browns squeak one out here that they probably shouldn't. Every team wins one of these games, and the Browns seem to play well against the Bengals. They have defeated the Bengals in three of the past four seasons, which is quite a feat for this team. Prediction: Win

Week 16: at Carolina Panthers

Let's see, a Browns team playing out the string again facing a Panthers team with Cam Newton that might have playoff hopes riding on a win? Easy call. Prediction: Loss

Week 17: at Baltimore Ravens

Given the competitiveness of the three good teams in the AFC North, this game still should matter to Baltimore, which means it takes care of business. The results of this game mean the Browns finish with double-digit losses in each of the past seven seasons, though fans and media will point to the 4-4 finish as "hope for the future." Blech. Prediction: Loss

Predicted Record: 6-10

History says the Cincinnati Bengals are going to have a tough time beating Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco in Sunday's season opener.

Since Flacco entered the league in 2008, only one quarterback has won more Week 1 games than Flacco. That's Tom Brady and he's a perfect 6-0.

Flacco is 5-1 in season openers, and he has been unbeatable when he starts the year off at home. He's 4-0 at M&T Bank Stadium with a 100.8 passer rating. Flacco has completed 60.8 percent of his passes for 959 yards (an average of 239 yards), throwing eight touchdowns and one interception.

The Bengals know firsthand about Flacco's fast starts to a season. Flacco used a no-huddle attack to rout Cincinnati 44-13 in the 2012 season opener. His first throw was a 52-yard strike to wide receiver Torrey Smith. Flacco finished 21-of-29 for 299 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions.

Flacco's first start came against the Bengals. In 2008, he led the Ravens to a 17-10 win over Cincinnati, beating the Bengals more with his legs than his arm. His 38-yard touchdown run in the third quarter proved to be the difference in the Week 1 victory.

Flacco has brought more than just season-opening wins to the Ravens. He has given them stability.

This is Flacco's seventh consecutive season opener. Before Flacco, Kyle Boller had the most season-opening starts for the Ravens with three. The Ravens had eight quarterbacks start the first 12 openers in team history.

Turnover at quarterback is a frequent occurrence in the NFL. This year, a quarter of the teams will have a different quarterback starting this year's season opener than last year's one.

Flacco is in a select group of quarterbacks in terms of longevity. There are only nine quarterbacks scheduled to make their seventh straight season-opening start since 2008: Flacco, Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Eli Manning, Jay Cutler, Matt Ryan, Philip Rivers and Tony Romo.

Pittsburgh Steelers game predictions

September, 2, 2014
Sep 2
ESPN.com Pittsburgh Steelers reporter Scott Brown makes his game-by-game picks for the 2014 season.

Week 1: Cleveland Browns

A new-look team will be the same, old Browns when it comes to this AFC North rivalry. The Browns haven't defeated the Steelers in Pittsburgh since 2003 and they have never beaten Ben Roethlisberger, an Ohio native, at Heinz Field. It won't happen this year with quarterback so much of a question mark for the Browns. Prediction: win

Week 2: at Baltimore Ravens

A terrific early-season Thursday matchup sees the renewal of one of the nastiest rivalries in the NFL. Both teams are alike in a lot of ways, which only adds to their dislike for one another. They get a national stage to beat the stuffing out of one another, and I see another close game with the home-field advantage proving to be the difference. Prediction: loss

Week 3: at Carolina Panthers

The Panthers are vulnerable this year, and this is a good time for a team with question marks in the secondary to play an opponent that needs wide receivers to emerge. The Steelers steal one in Charlotte after getting a lot of rest to recover from their game against the Ravens. Prediction: win

Week 4: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Buccaneers have made a ton of changes, the most significant one coming at head coach where Lovie Smith takes over for Greg Schiano, who was a disaster in the NFL. The Steelers come close to winning three of their first four games but the Buccaneers upset them at Heinz Field. Prediction: loss

Week 5: at Jacksonville Jaguars

I think the Jags have the right coach to lead their turnaround in Gus Bradley but they are still a year away from making a move in the AFC South. Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau isn't going to let journeyman quarterback Chad Henne or rookie Blake Bortles beat him, and the Steelers will pull away from the Jaguars in the second half. Prediction: win

Week 6: at Cleveland Browns

The Browns may have handed over the offense to Johnny Manziel by this time, and it would certainly add some sizzle to this game if he is indeed under center. The Steelers were expecting Johnny Football to start against them in the season opener. They will wait a couple of weeks to give Manziel their welcome to the NFL. Prediction: win

Week 7: Houston Texans

This will be a closer game than people think. J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney will make it tough for the Steelers to move the ball, and Ryan Fitzpatrick is a capable enough of a quarterback to beat the Steelers if they don't pressure him. Prediction: win

Week 8: Indianapolis Colts

Andrew Luck has established himself as an elite quarterback and I suspect he will be too much for the Steelers to handle, even though they play Luck and the Colts at Heinz Field. The three-game winning streak comes to an end when the Steelers finally run into a team that is anything but suspect at quarterback. Prediction: loss

Week 9: Baltimore Ravens

The biggest key for the Steelers in the prime-time rematch is not letting Joe Flacco summon some late-game heroics. Flacco beat the Steelers in three consecutive regular-season games at Heinz Field from 2010-12, delivering two of those wins with late touchdown drives. Prediction: win

Week 10: at New York Jets

Rex Ryan's bunch looks like the one team capable of challenging New England's supremacy in the AFC East. Geno Smith should be a much better quarterback than the Steelers beat last year at MetLife Stadium. I don't like this matchup for the Steelers with the Jets trying to keep pace with the Patriots in the AFC East. Prediction: loss

Week 11: at Tennessee Titans

The Steelers face former Pittsburgh offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt in their fifth and final prime-time game of the regular season. The Steelers have lost consecutive games to the Titans that they should have won. Whisenhunt should do well in Tennessee but the Titans have the look of a 7-9 or 6-10 team. Prediction: win

Week 13: New Orleans Saints

Drew Brees has fared well against the Steelers both times he has played them since joining the Saints -- and becoming one of the most prolific quarterbacks of his generation. It's hard to see the Steelers' secondary holding up under the barrage of passes Brees will throw at Heinz Field. Prediction: loss

Week 14: at Cincinnati Bengals

This game should have huge AFC North implications. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin is 5-2 at Paul Brown Stadium and I'm not a big fan of Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton. But the Bengals defense and home-field advantage should give them an all-important division win. Prediction: loss

Week 15: at Atlanta Falcons

Every season, it seems, a team goes from worst to first in its division, and Atlanta is a candidate to do that in 2014. Injuries wrecked the Falcons last season and this will be one of the Steelers' tougher road games. The offense carries the Steelers in a high-scoring win, and the Steelers keep themselves in the AFC North race. Prediction: win

Week 16: Kansas City Chiefs

This team takes a step back after emerging as one of the surprises of the 2013 season and making the playoffs. The Steelers will load up against running back Jamaal Charles and make quarterback Alex Smith beat them. They also will put up their share of points against the Chiefs defense. Prediction: win

Week 17: Cincinnati Bengals

Hello, again. The AFC rivals meet for the second time in four weeks and nothing less than the division title may be on the line. Just as in Cincinnati, home-field advantage is the difference and the Steelers close the regular season on a three-game winning streak. Prediction: win

Predicted record: 10-6

Cincinnati Bengals game predictions

September, 2, 2014
Sep 2
ESPN.com Cincinnati Bengals reporter Coley Harvey makes his game-by-game picks for the 2014 season.

Week 1: at Baltimore Ravens

Opening weekend hasn't been kind to the Bengals in recent years. Five of Cincinnati's past six Week 1 games have ended in losses, including their past two road openers at Baltimore. Along with those ominous first-game figures, the date Sept. 7 has been relevant throughout the franchise's history, too. The Bengals have never won on the date, going 0-4 all time. Combine all of that with the fact the Bengals are playing at a venue they've struggled at recently -- four straight losses at M&T Bank Stadium -- and a close Week 1 loss appears likely. Prediction: Loss

Week 2: Atlanta Falcons

Disappointed by their play at Baltimore, the Bengals will rally at home against a Falcons defense that's still finding some of its identity at all levels. Expect quarterback Andy Dalton to respond with a performance reminiscent of his 8-for-8 outing in the preseason home opener against the Jets. If he does and the offense can limit turnovers, the Bengals should come away with a big win. Prediction: Win

Week 3: Tennessee Titans

The Titans aren't as polished at quarterback as the Bengals and they enter the season still searching for help in certain special-teams areas. With Cincinnati back home and playing a franchise it has beaten three of the past four times, another pre-bye week victory should come. Prediction: Win

Week 5: at New England Patriots

The Bengals eked out a one-touchdown win over the Patriots in last year's close, defense-inspired contest in Cincinnati. This time around, expect New England, buoyed by the bright lights of a national stage and a raucous home crowd, to come away with a close win. In his regular-season debut, receiver Marvin Jones should make a difference for the Bengals' offense, but Tom Brady will prove just unbeatable enough. Since the Bengals were one of the few defenses that flat-out embarrassed Brady last year, snapping his 52-game touchdown streak in the 13-6 win, look for Brady to try hard to exact some revenge. Prediction: Loss

Week 6: Carolina Panthers

Back home against the Panthers, the Bengals will try to move beyond their .500 start and generate some post-bye momentum. If the Bengals are going to position themselves for a midseason run, this would be the week to do it. Carolina's numerous losses on offense this offseason won't make it quite as competitive as it was last season. Prediction: Win

Week 7: at Indianapolis Colts

Cincinnati has won the past two meetings with the Colts, and should take this one, too. Last December, the Bengals routed Indianapolis in a 42-28 game that was much more lopsided than the final score. Andrew Luck struggled with a fast, constantly blitzing defense. More of the same should come this year. With Dalton & Co. finally hitting an offensive stride in the middle of the season, don't be surprised if Cincinnati cracks 40 once again. Prediction: Win

Week 8: Baltimore Ravens

With the playoff race just starting to heat up by this time of year, the Bengals know that a win could put them somewhere in the upper reaches of the AFC North. This is only the second division game, but all division games matter. Prediction: Win

Week 9: Jacksonville Jaguars

Although the Jags made noted improvements in the offseason and Blake Bortles could make them a contender in the AFC South, this trip to Cincinnati won't go well for the upstarts. The Bengals should be rolling at this point in the year. Prediction: Win

Week 10: Cleveland Browns

Johnny Manziel could very well be the Browns' starter by this point, making this Thursday night game even more of a media spectacle than it already will be. The important midseason division game is one the Bengals have to win, and one that could seal Dalton's claim on being a more improved quarterback in big-game, pressure-packed scenarios. Entering this season, Dalton is 10-17 with a 24.2 QBR in division games, playoff games and Sunday, Monday and Thursday night games. He's 2-4 in prime time, specifically. Against a good Cleveland defense and the Browns' rookie quarterback, Dalton will shine. Prediction: Win

Week 11: at New Orleans Saints

This game begins a string of three straight road games for a Bengals team that could be banged-up by now. It will have been eight weeks since the off week, and the arduous nature of the schedule will begin catching up to Cincinnati against a good opponent that has an even better home-field advantage. Prediction: Loss

Week 12: at Houston Texans

With their five-game winning streak snapped the week before, the Bengals will be looking to rebound against a team that could still be looking for solid quarterback play. All Cincinnati has to hope for this week is the defense plays a good game and the offensive line keeps Dalton upright against an aggressive defensive line. That should happen. Prediction: Win

Week 13: at Tampa Bay Buccaneers

With Carolina expected to be down and the Falcons going through their own potential struggles, Tampa Bay could make waves in one of the more wide-open divisions in the league. The additions of former Bengals Michael Johnson and Anthony Collins this offseason gives this game another intriguing storyline. Expect the home team to win a close game. Prediction: Loss

Week 14: Pittsburgh Steelers

In a later-than-usual home game against the division rivals, the Bengals hope to kick off a series of division wins. Three of their last four games are against AFC North foes, two against Pittsburgh. Being at home will make a difference. Prediction: Win

Week 15: at Cleveland Browns

Regardless of which quarterback is under center for the Browns, the Bengals could struggle this particular week. They've lost two of their past three games at Cleveland and are playing this one later than any of the other three. Mid-December in Northeast Ohio typically means snow and brutal cold. This could be one of those typical AFC North slugfests the Bengals have been good at in recent years. Still ... Prediction: Loss

Week 16: Denver Broncos

The biggest nondivision game of the season, a win in this Monday night game would put the Bengals at the forefront of the playoff-race conversation. But Peyton Manning's offense is too good and it has played too well on the big stage in recent seasons to walk away with a loss here. Dalton's mission will be to avoid forcing turnovers, but even that might not be enough. Prediction: Loss

Week 17: at Pittsburgh Steelers

Five of Cincinnati's past seven games in the Steel City have resulted in losses. There are few reasons to believe this contest won't go similarly. If the Bengals have clinched the division and the Steelers are still trying to get in the playoffs, Pittsburgh could win this one. If the teams are both trying to either close out playoff berths or a division championship, you'll see top-notch play on both sides. Banking on that being the case, Cincinnati wins to get to 10-6. Prediction: Win

Predicted Record: 10-6

ESPN.com Baltimore Ravens reporter Jamison Hensley makes his game-by-game picks for the 2014 season.

Week 1: Cincinnati Bengals

The Ravens are banged up in the secondary, but they tend to be at their best against Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton. Baltimore is 3-0 against Dalton at home, picking him off seven times. Prediction: Win

Week 2: Pittsburgh Steelers

On a short week, the benefit of playing an easier season-opening opponent (Cleveland Browns) is a definite edge for the Steelers. Plus, the Ravens haven't dominated Pittsburgh at M&T Bank Stadium, winning only two of the past four games played there. Prediction: Loss

Week 3: at Cleveland Browns

The Ravens have won 11 of their past 12 games against the Browns. They even get a few extra days to prepare for the Browns because they're coming off a Thursday night game. Prediction: Win

Week 4: Carolina Panthers

If this game is close, wide receiver Steve Smith will find a way to will the Ravens to a win over his former team. Is there any way Smith doesn't get 100 yards receiving in this game? Prediction: Win

Week 5: at Indianapolis Colts

The Ravens are vulnerable in the secondary, which is why they'll struggle against elite quarterbacks this year. And Andrew Luck is an elite quarterback, especially at home, where he is 13-3. Prediction: Loss

Week 6: at Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Ravens aren't going to lose to Josh McCown for a second straight year. The reason? Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil are going to get pressure against that Bucs offensive line. Prediction: Win

Week 7: Atlanta Falcons

In a game where the quarterbacks will headline, Matt Ryan will get the better of Joe Flacco. This looks like a bounce-back year for the Falcons. Prediction: Loss

Week 8: at Cincinnati Bengals

The Ravens historically don't play well in Paul Brown Stadium. Baltimore has lost four of its past five games in Cincinnati. The Ravens even lost there last season when Dalton threw three interceptions. Prediction: Loss

Week 9: at Pittsburgh Steelers

The Ravens haven't been swept by the Steelers since 2008. But this could be the season when Pittsburgh takes back the AFC North. Prediction: Loss

Week 10: Tennessee Titans

Joe Flacco is 11-1 at home in November with a 98.2 passer rating. Look for the Ravens to pick on former teammate Bernard Pollard in the passing game. Prediction: Win

Week 12: at New Orleans Saints

The Ravens return to the site of their Super Bowl championship, but this is far from a neutral field. This is the Ravens' most difficult road game of the season. The Saints are 20-4 at the Superdome over the past three seasons. Prediction: Loss

Week 13: San Diego Chargers

In his past four games against the Ravens, Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers has averaged 295 yards passing, throwing seven touchdowns and two interceptions. His passer rating is 102.3. Only Peyton Manning has a better rating (131.2) against the Ravens since 2007. Prediction: Loss

Week 14: at Miami Dolphins

Flacco is 4-0 against Miami, which includes a divisional playoff win in January 2009. He has completed 61.9 percent of his passes against the Dolphins and has a 95 passer rating. Prediction: Win

Week 15: Jacksonville Jaguars

Since 2009, the Jaguars are tied with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Cleveland Browns for the worst record in December. The Jaguars have lost 16 of 22 games in that month. Prediction: Win

Week 16: at Houston Texans

New Ravens offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak will want to prove something to all the Texans fans who thought his attack was too predictable. Plus, could the Ravens be facing rookie quarterback Tom Savage at this point? Prediction: Win

Week 17: Cleveland Browns

The schedule is set up for the Ravens to finish strong, and history heavily favors the Ravens in this one. The Browns are one of two teams who haven't won a regular-season finale since 2010 (St. Louis is the other). Cleveland's average margin of defeat in the past four season-enders is 15.7 points. Prediction: Win

Predicted Record: 9-7

BEREA, Ohio -- One of the biggest takeaways from how coach Mike Pettine -- and by extension GM Ray Farmer -- want to build their roster came in how many defensive backs the Cleveland Browns kept on the roster. The magic number was 12: seven cornerbacks and five safeties.

That’s a big number, indeed, and clearly the combination of Pettine-Farmer believes that the best way to rush the passer is to have receivers covered so the pass rush has time to reach the quarterback. It is a viable philosophy, and one Pettine has taught both in stops as the defensive coordinator for Buffalo and the New York Jets.

Asked on Monday why he kept so many defensive backs on his initial 53-man roster, Pettine said it was a combination of the best players being at a position of need.

“Well it’s probably a little bit of both,” Pettine said. “We felt that these guys are talented NFL corners that were worthy of being on the roster. The number is towards the high end, but once you get above your minimum requirements at each position, you look to keep the best players in general. You never want to keep a guy for the sake of filling out a quota, as long as you’ve met the position minimum that you can function on game day.”

Asked why the position is so important, Pettine said given the nature of spread offenses in the NFL, he believes the more versatile defensive backs you have who can match up and cover, either along the perimeter or in the middle of the field, the better.

“I think the whole trend in the league -- the spread offense -- is to match up and single guys up, and that’s a big part of what we do,” Pettine said. “We’ll play a lot of split safety, Cover 2, where corners are really essentially almost playing an outside linebacker-type position, with deep responsibility. We need guys that can match up and can run. That’s why we were fortunate that we found as many as we did and we were able to keep them.”

Extra points:
  • Cornerback Joe Haden said he is physically fine and will play Sunday in the Browns' opener at Pittsburgh.
  • The Browns announced they signed offensive lineman Karim Barton and wide receiver Charles Johnson to the practice squad on Monday, bringing their squad to nine players.
BEREA, Ohio -- It is no secret that a young quarterback’s best friend can be a reliable, productive running game (and a sure-handed tight end). If Brian Hoyer is going to have that, it will be up to Ben Tate to provide it.

One of the more interesting roster cuts the Cleveland Browns made over the weekend was waiving running back Dion Lewis, whom they acquired in a trade with Philadelphia prior to the 2013 season. It’s not that Lewis is a game-changing back. He isn’t. A fifth-round draft pick in 2011 out of Pittsburgh, Lewis missed all of last season after breaking his left fibula in a preseason game.

But during training camp, Browns coach Mike Pettine praised Lewis for his ability to gain yards on critical third downs. It was thought that for that reason alone Lewis would likely make the team.

He didn’t, and as of Monday, the Browns are going with Tate and three rookies: Terrance West, Isaiah Crowell and Glenn Winston, whom they claimed off waivers from San Francisco.

After primarily serving as Arian Foster's backup for four years in Houston, Tate signed a two-year deal for $6.1 million to be Cleveland’s primary rusher. That apparently means on third downs, too.

Asked Sunday if he is comfortable with Tate’s ability to turn third downs into first downs, Pettine said, “We are."

“He’s ahead of those guys, and I think he’s been solid in protection,” Pettine said. “I think he does a nice job catching the ball. I would think that he has the edge over those guys as far as third down. That’s not saying they won’t be there, but he’s ... probably the guy you can trust the most right now would be Ben.”

Pettine better hope so. Given the collection of unproven receivers on the roster and Hoyer’s inexperience, the Browns are going to need a solid running game that can keep the chains moving.
BEREA, Ohio -- Six undrafted rookie free agents made the Cleveland Browns' initial 53-man roster -- a roster that is constantly evolving at the bottom -- and none was more unlikely than Ray Agnew. The 5-foot-10, 247-pound fullback out of Southern Illinois has an NFL pedigree; his father, Ray Sr., played defensive end and defensive tackle for New England, the New York Giants, and St. Louis, where he won a Super Bowl.

But the younger Agnew is a fullback, an endangered species in the modern NFL. Browns offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan actually values fullbacks in his zone-rushing scheme, and Agnew is in the mold of Washington fullback Darrel Young.

[+] EnlargeRay Agnew
Mark Duncan/AP PhotoRay Agnew, an undrafted rookie, is excited to possibly experience some regular-season playing time as a Cleveland Browns fullback.
I caught up with Agnew the day after the initial cuts to talk about his nerve-wracking weekend, his father, and playing his position.

How stressed were you on Saturday waiting to hear about the cuts?
Agnew: Oh, I was very stressed, just like everybody else, staring at my phone all day, trying to keep my mind off of it, watch TV, watch Netflix or something. But you can't help but be nervous. It's something that you really want for yourself.

Running back is a position where the past two drafts there hasn't been one picked in the first round. Fullback is an even more endangered species. How do you explain being able to carve out a niche for yourself here?
Agnew: You know, I think I just did it just being the best I could be every practice, just doing what I do best, not trying to do to much, just staying within what I'm comfortable with in my wheelhouse. Just trying to really show them that, 'Hey, this is who I am, this is what I do well,' and you know if they thought it could help their team then they'll keep me around and if not then hopefully I'll land somewhere else.

Can you explain the role of FB in Kyle Shanahan's offense?
Agnew: It's obviously very important because I think his offense is one of those that uses the fullback a lot, one of the very few. And, obviously, he can spread it out, sling it but also it's important to have a fullback in this run game and his zone read because they're kind of the eyes for the running back. We're the first to see the opening. We see the opening, we run through the hole, the running back follows us.

The key for a fullback in this offense is just to not stop your feet, you know, just run. You've got to keep running. If you keep running and you have good head placement then the running back can cut off of you. The way the zone works is it doesn't tell the running back you have to run at this hole. The zone is the running back gets the ball, he looks at one hole, if it's not open he goes to the next one, goes to the next one, goes to the next one. If the fullback is lollygagging through the hole or stopping in the hole, he's going to constrict it for the running back and it's not going to be good, it's probably going to result in a negative play. That's basically what the fullback does in this offense.

Is it true you haven't gotten a carry since high school?
Agnew: That is very true. Hopefully that will change this year.

Have you been lobbying for a Ray Agnew package?
Agnew: No, not really. I'm still a rookie so I kind of keep my mouth shut and do my work. It would be nice to get a few carries.

Your Twitter handle is @Underrated_FB. Why?
Agnew: I've had that for a while. I did it on purpose, because I feel like I've been underrated my whole life, and there's nothing wrong with that. I kind of relish that, being an underrated person, being under the radar and working my way up. I'm totally fine with that. It's just something I noticed. Every time I go on my Twitter it reminds me of where I've been and that good things hopefully are ahead.

Who did you call first on Saturday after you made the Browns' roster?
Agnew: Oh, I called my dad first. He's just proud of me, happy for me. He's been there with me throughout my whole life. He's seen what I've been through in my football career. All I've ever wanted to do in my life, whether it's football or anything, was make my dad proud. To hear him say he's proud of me, that means a lot.