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Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker
The AFC North blog received a tremendous response in our inbox from our first "take your pick" week in the division. Thanks for your participation on various topics throughout the week.
Here is a healthy sample:
On the Cleveland Browns vs. Cincinnati Bengals
Amr from Toms River writes: I agree with Bobby that the Browns have just as much if not more potential than the Bengals. They recognize that in this division is more important to be able to run up the middle (a power back in Jamal Lewis and a new center) than it is to be able to pass the ball. The Bengals have been moving away from the team that got them to the playoffs which ran the ball first and passed second. The Browns have restored the career of Jamal Lewis, and have adapted a defense-first attitude. They say it is a copy-cat league, and this is more important in the AFC North that any other division.
John from Paulding writes: The game is won and lost in the trenches. If you look at things this way (and you should), then the Browns will be the obvious choice to be a better team this year. They probably won't turn many heads, but they have a better chance of improving under Eric Mangini. He has better talent in the trenches to work with than the Bengals, and he's already keeping his team in check more than Marvin Lewis has in his half-decade of coaching the Bengals.
Erik from Washington DC writes: Hey James, I'm responding to the "take your pick" segment. I agree with you that the Bengals will be deceptively good this year. It might take quite a while for teams to start taking them seriously which is good for them. They get Carson Palmer back and had a great draft for their improving defense. I do think T.J. Houshmandzadeh will be missed a lot more than people are expecting though. I also agree that the Browns will be among the worst in the league. A new coach, a QB controversy, zero receiver depth behind Braylon Edwards, Jamal Lewis is getting old, and no one besides Shaun Rogers on defense to speak of. I think it's going to be a long season for Mangini and the Browns.
Austin from Charleston, SC writes: James, for the take your pick argument, I agree with you that the Bengals could be potential sleepers. They have a top 10 quarterback in Carson Palmer, an ok defense, not to mention one of the league's best draft classes this year. Obviously the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers will finish ahead of them, but I would take the Bengals over the Browns.
On QBs Brady Quinn vs. JaMarcus Russell
Mike from Ewa Beach, HI writes: Brady Quinn in a landslide. He took a beating his first two years in college, all four times he played USC and in both bowl games. So he's tough. He may not have as strong an arm but he's more intelligent, hard working and more accurate.
Dustin from Pittsburgh writes: Hey James, on Quinn vs. Russell I believe the success of each QB hinges on the franchises each plays for. Oakland is one of, if not the most, dysfunctional NFL franchise. Al Davis still think all he needs is a strong-armed QB and a fast, deep threat at wideout. I see Russell having no success in Oakland, as that franchise has a knee-jerk reaction to everything and does not consider a long-term solution to its problems. Quinn on the other hand looks to be the starter for the Browns in '09. I really like what Mangini is doing with the Browns (not easy for me as a Steeler fan to say that). He's instilling a new type of culture and this is only going to help Quinn--and all the other younger players--mature and develop.
On WRs Santonio Holmes vs. Chad Ochocinco
Dustin from Pittsburgh writes: Hey James, in response to the "take your pick," I can see Ochocinco having a better year statistically than Holmes. The Bengals offense is designed to pass more than the Steelers and the Bengals are likely to have to play catch-up at the end of games where they'll pass more. The depa
rture of Houshmandzadeh is going to force double coverage to Ochocinco's side, but if he's as motivated as he says he is I like Chad over Santonio.
Jim from Zanesville, OH writes: James- In the Holmes v. Ochocinco debate, the hands down winner is Holmes. He is a Super Bowl MVP, caught the game winner in that game, is a dangerous (if not often used returner), and is five-years younger. Even though he was a distraction at one point during the year, he bounced back to get the SB MVP and make the biggest catch of the season. Meanwhile Ochocinco just disappeared. Santonio is a "Holmes" -run hitter.
Later this week, we will revisit the defensive linemen debate involving Cleveland's Shaun Rogers, Casey Hampton of the Steelers and Baltimore's Haloti Ngata.