Every morning, grab a cup of coffee and get your AFC North wake-up call here:
The only AFC North team not in the playoffs will be just as busy as the ones who are. The Cleveland Browns will begin their search for an offensive coordinator as well as start the decision-making process on quarterback Colt McCoy and running back Peyton Hillis.
Head coach Pat Shurmur said he would be willing to give up play-calling duties to the right offensive coordinator candidate. "I want to get the right guy," Shurmur said, via The Cleveland Plain Dealer. "That's a relationship that's very, very important."
Shurmur indicated there will be an open competition for the quarterback job, which means McCoy is going to have to win it if he wants to keep it. "It's critical that he gets better. He'd tell you the same thing," Shurmur said, via The Plain Dealer. "We'll move forward with that in mind and we'll do what we have to do to put the best quarterback on the field for our franchise."
As far as Hillis, Shurmur said he spoke with the running back but remained non-committal about re-signing him. "As we move forward, we're just hopeful it works out for everybody," he said. "But that's one of those questions I really can't answer at this point."
Hensley's slant: My first-blush reaction is Brad Childress will end up being the new offensive coordinator, McCoy won't be the starter in 2012 and Hillis will be running the ball somewhere else. When you finish 29th in yards and 30th in scoring, there's got to be some major changes on offense. If the Browns can't get Childress, quarterbacks coach Mark Whipple could easily be promoted.
BENGALS: Kicker Mike Nugent isn't worried after missing three of nine field-goal attempts the past two games, including two from less than 40 yards. “The past few hits the past couple of games I’ve been happy with how I’ve hit the ball, but I just haven’t been reading it right,” Nugent said, via The Cincinnati Enquirer. Nugent set franchise records for field goals made (33) and points scored (132). Hensley's slant: History says the Bengals will need all the points they can get out of Nugent. Cincinnati has lost by eight or fewer points in five of their six losses to teams that currently have winning records. The Bengals can't afford a postseason repeat of Shayne Graham.
RAVENS: Several reports say keeping personnel executive Eric DeCosta, who is viewed as the heir apparent to general manager Ozzie Newsome, could be getting increasingly difficult. According to The Baltimore Sun, the openings in Chicago and Indianapolis are attractive jobs, and would give DeCosta plenty to think about. DeCosta has been with the team since it moved to Baltimore and has been the team's director of player personnel since 2009. Hensley's slant: It's really going to take a great offer and a great team to pry DeCosta away. Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti has done everything in his power from a contractual standpoint to keep him as the successor to Newsome. Of course, the Ravens are probably shedding no tears over the firing of Bears general manager Jerry Angelo, who was involved in that draft-day fiasco with Baltimore.
STEELERS: Just like the Steelers in 2005, this year's team likely has to win three road playoff games to reach the Super Bowl. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette says this year's team is not the 2005 one and far from it. The 2005 Steelers entered the playoffs on a roll and were healthy. In 2005, the Steelers won their final four regular-season games by 105-33. Hensley's slant: The biggest obstacle for the Steelers isn't playing on the road. It's the health of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. If he remains limited by that high ankle sprain, it will be tough for the Steelers to make a strong run at the Super Bowl.