AFC North mailbag
Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker
Thanks to all the readers for their questions and comments regarding the AFC North. Let's see what's on your mind.
Dan K from Baltimore writes: James, I'm a big fan; my boss always catches me reading your stuff. It seems like the Ravens are overlooked this year in the AFC North and the other teams in the division are getting a lot more attention. Even if the quarterback position remains shaky at best, what do you think the odds are that the Ravens could replicate their Superbowl run from the 2000 season? The scenario looks familiar - the Ravens are flying under the radar, the QB position remains questionable, a new head coach (even though it was Billick's second season when they won the Superbowl) and the defense looks solid. You think they can be considered more than a sleeper team this season?
James Walker: Thanks for the kind words, Dan. And tell your boss I said it's OK to read my blog from time to time. To answer your question, this team shouldn't be compared to the Super Bowl team of 2000. This year's defense remains solid, but overall it's older than the unit in 2000 when many of the Ravens' best defenders were 26 or younger and approaching their prime. Trent Dilfer led the offense in 2000, but there also were enough All-Pro caliber pieces such as Shannon Sharpe, Jamal Lewis and Jonathan Ogden around the quarterback to hide some of those deficiencies. Even backup tailback Priest Holmes was a dynamic player coming off the bench that year for Baltimore. This year's team doesn't have as many options offensively to win it all this year, but the Ravens will win more than five games.
Reader from Augusta, Ga. writes: What you think about keith rivers from usc? He got 7 sacks starting already with hard hitting sacks. Do you think he will prove his self as starting at all the games? Let me get some feed back.
James Walker: I'm high on Keith Rivers and have been since talking to scouts and personnel people leading up to the NFL draft. Rivers was one of the few players everyone was uniformly confident in terms of getting instant production and having extremely high character. The Bengals need both and did the right thing with their first-round selection.
Bryan from Texas writes: James, the Browns do have to play the NFC East this year. Considering the fact that Washington, New York, and now even Dallas have players who excell in the secondary, how can the recievers expect to contribute in their non- conference games?
James Walker: Bryan, Cleveland's receivers will be fine. Braylon Edwards is a Pro Bowl talent that last year played against top-level corners such as Nate Clements of the San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks' Marcus Trufant and Chris McAlister of the Baltimore Ravens. The addition of Donte' Stallworth also will help as a speedy No. 2 option.
Reader from Honolulu writes: Your answer as far as "if the cowboys will sweep the AFC north" left me scratching my head. Please enlighten me on why they would lose to Cleveland and Pittsburgh just because they travel there. I can see Pittsburgh being a competitive game but there will be no competition in Cleveland.
James Walker: I am shocked by the amount of comments and e-mails I received recently claiming how easily the Dallas Cowboys will sweep through the AFC North. The Cowboys have more talent on paper than each individual team, but it's strictly a numbers thing. Dallas has to beat four teams and its toughest games are on the road against the Browns and Steelers, which many feel are the top teams in the division. Therefore, it's not out of the realm of possibility.
Greg from Oregon writes: James, do you see Mendenhall taking over for the Steelers at Running back this season? Or at least sharing most of the carries with Willie Parker?
James Walker: Thanks for the question, Greg. Willie Parker remains the featured back in Pittsburgh as long as he stays healthy. So far he looks strong and may even get more opportunities around the goal line this year. But Rashard Mendenhall will get enough opportunities to make an impact. He still has a lot to learn, such as getting his pads lower, but he's showing promise.
Leo from Morgan Hill writes: What do you think the chances of the Brownies signing Ty Law or maybe trading for someone like Lito Sheppard?
James Walker: It's not going to happen, Leo. The Browns have players on their own roster who want pay raises. So they're not going to break the bank for an aging corner in Ty Law or mortgage their future by trading away another first- or second-round draft pick for Lito Sheppard. Browns fans need to accept their roster as it is currently constructed going into the season. The way the NFL is set up, you can't be deep at every position. Unless you're the Dallas Cowboys.