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Friday, September 10, 2010
Final Word: AFC North

By James Walker

NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 1:

Troy Polamalu
Troy Polamalu will be matched up against tight end Tony Gonzalez.
There is a great matchup in Pittsburgh on Sunday between a future Hall of Famer and potential Hall of Famer. Atlanta Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez, one of the greatest tight ends ever, will be monitored closely by Pittsburgh Steelers star safety Troy Polamalu. This will be a stellar battle of athleticism versus size, as Gonzalez likes to shield opponents with his big frame to ward off defenders to make receptions. The Steelers will be aggressive with their blitz packages this week. So you can expect Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan to look to Gonzalez as a safety valve.

If you're into trends, Pittsburgh has had its way against the Falcons. The Steelers are 11-2-1 all time against Atlanta, including a 5-0-1 mark in Pittsburgh. The Steelers also have an NFL-best seven-game winning streak in openers. So why is Pittsburgh a home underdog? Backup Dennis Dixon is starting at quarterback in place of the suspended Ben Roethlisberger.

Keep an eye on the Cleveland Browns' pass rush, which didn't produce much in the preseason. Cleveland's defense, ranked No. 31 last season, struggled in a lot of areas but was eighth in the NFL with 40 sacks. It was baffling how the starters couldn't get to the quarterback during preseason. Sunday's game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will prove if Cleveland defensive coordinator Rob Ryan was holding back this preseason with vanilla schemes or if the lack of pass rush is a legitimate concern.

Cincinnati Bengals' receivers will look to exploit a mismatch against the New England Patriots' secondary. A season-ending shoulder injury to veteran Leigh Bodden leaves New England with starting cornerbacks Darius Butler and rookie Devin McCourty, who have two combined years of experience. The Bengals, meanwhile, have two experienced veterans in receivers Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens, who should have success Sunday. Cincinnati caught a break because Bodden, who once played for the Browns, usually defended Ochocinco well.

If there were a championship in the NFL for trash talking, the New York Jets and Baltimore Ravens would be the two top contenders. As you've seen this week, no teams in the league do it better, and what makes it fun is that New York and Baltimore are two bullies who are good at backing it up. The Ravens know Jets coach Rex Ryan well and were aware of the mind games he would try to pull to get under Baltimore's skin. But the time for talking is almost over. We will have plenty more on this "Monday Night Football" game this weekend in the AFC North blog.