It's a Friday during the regular season, and you know what that means. My always popular and mildly successful Friday Forecast will be posted later this morning with my predictions for the games involving AFC North teams. Last year, I went 38-12 (.760) on my picks, which prompted Bengals linebacker Rey Maualuga to say it was "nothing spectacular." The Final Word, which is five nuggets of information for Sunday's games, and the injury report will be up on the blog in the afternoon. But first, here's your wake-up call ...
BENGALS: Carlos Dunlap, the team's best edge rusher, did more team drills in Thursday's practice but he would not speculate on whether he would be able to play this Sunday against Cleveland. “They’ve done a good job of adding conditioning with my rehab so I feel pretty good,” Dunlap told the Cincinnati Enquirer, “but obviously being out there for any game is different than any rehab you can do.” Dunlap missed the final three preseason games and the regular-season opener with a knee injury. The Bengals need to have a steady pass rush against rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden, who threw three of his four interceptions while under pressure.
BROWNS: Dimitri Patterson is extremely confident that he can hold down the starting spot of Joe Haden, a promising cornerback who is beginning his four-game suspension. "If I was a guy who had over 80 starts, I'd be considered that [a top-five corner], as well," Patterson told The Plain Dealer. "The NFL's a matter of opportunity. At the end of the day, it's not about replacing him. It's about me. That's it." It was presumed that Patterson would beat out Sheldon Brown this summer after he re-signed with the Browns. Now, Patterson has that opportunity to show he deserves to be more than a nickelback.
RAVENS: Jacoby Jones made more of an impact as the team's third receiver than a returner, and that may be the case for most of the season. Jones will continue to split punt returns with Lardarius Webb. "We have two guys that both have punt return skills, and we'll use them both," special-teams coach Jerry Rosburg said, via The Baltimore Sun. "They both have scored and can score touchdowns, so having two punt returners rather than just one is a benefit." Jones and Webb put up similar numbers last season. Jones ranked 14th in the NFL with a 10.6-yard average, and Webb was 16th with a 10.0-yard average. The biggest difference is Jones takes more risks. He only had seven fair catches while Webb signaled for one 20 times.
STEELERS: For the second straight week, Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall went through another practice of drills. But no one, including Mendenhall, has hinted when he might return. Mendenhall, the team's leading rusher the past three seasons, is coming back from ACL surgery in January. He could be close considering Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, whose ACL injury occurred one week before Mendenhall's, ran the ball 17 times in the season opener. "I think it's great for him, but, for me, I'm just taking it day by day,'' Mendenhall told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Mendenhall will want to come back as quickly as possible because he will be an unrestricted free agent after the season. Until he comes back, the Steelers need to take a longer look at Jonathan Dwyer.