Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker
Here are some thoughts, news and notes from around the AFC North division this week:
From the day he was drafted, I always got the sense that receiver Braylon Edwards wasn't happy in Cleveland, and this is all coming to the surface now with his recent comments. The losing certainly doesn't help. But Edwards has a big-city personality, and northeast Ohio doesn't fit the bill. Only a player of LeBron James' stature can really be a huge star in a non-glitz city like Cleveland, and that probably bothers Edwards to some degree. He is articulate, engaging and marketable. But he is also in a small market playing for a consistently-losing team. Edwards nearly got his wish to go to a large market when the Miami Dolphins considered him with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2005 draft. Instead, the team chose tailback Ronnie Brown. Now Edwards will probably have to wait until he's a free agent in 2010 to move on.
Here is another sign that Cleveland Browns coach Romeo Crennel will be let go after the season. I'm hearing that, behind the scenes, the Browns are beginning to compile a list of future head-coaching candidates. Although many of the names are hard to come by, defensive coordinator Rex Ryan of the Baltimore Ravens is one on Cleveland's radar. It appears the Browns will move very quickly with the coaching search and tread slowly with their situation with general manager Phil Savage. This might be a sign that Savage has the best chance of the two to make it through this turbulent season.
I've been told by numerous people in Pittsburgh that this is the tightest group the Steelers have had in several years. There is a special chemistry and belief developing that's shared between the players and coaching staff. Head coach Mike Tomlin also has a keen sense of when to swiftly address issues, such as recent cases with Willie Parker and Santonio Holmes, and when to give his players some rope. Great leadership and chemistry cannot be underrated in the NFL.
Pittsburgh needs to be very careful with its special teams. No one is talking about it, because Pittsburgh is winning. But the Steelers have been average at best in the third phase of the game for most of this season. The punting has been terrible, but the defense is so good at getting three-and-outs that it hasn't mattered. And the Ravens beat Pittsburgh last week in the return game, which also is an issue.
I'm wondering if Saturday's game between Baltimore and the Dallas Cowboys could be an elimination game of sorts, or will both teams get into the postseason regardless of the outcome? For now, both teams control its own destiny. But a loss by the Ravens would open the door for one of the three AFC East teams to potentially sneak into the final wild card spot with one game remaining. Dallas also has challengers in the NFC, including a dangerous road game against the Philadelphia Eagles (8-5-1) in the season finale.
The price tags of potential Baltimore free agents Terrell Suggs and Ray Lewis just went up this week after the pair earned Pro Bowl bids. Suggs already expects to be among the highest-paid linebackers/defensive ends in the NFL and just added another notch to his belt. Lewis means so much to the franchise and also expects to be fairly compensated. His representatives can fend off age concerns at the negotiating table with his Pro Bowl-level of play this season.
Also, expect an interesting battle in the offseason over the value of Cincinnati Bengals receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh. I picked the brain of two respected people around the NFL the past few weeks and their opinions differed. One said teams could try to peg Houshmandzadeh's worth somewhere around the contract of New England Patriots receiver Wes Welker (five years, $18.1 million) because they are similar, possession-type receivers. Another NFL insider believes Houshmandzadeh will get a deal significantly better than Welker's with all the big-time money being thrown at receivers lately. The Bengals also could use the franchise tag to keep Houshmandzadeh for one more year.