Wednesday, December 15, 2010
How I See It: AFC North Stock Watch
By James Walker
1. Jake Delhomme, Cleveland Browns quarterback: People in Cleveland have been asking this question all week: Why is Delhomme still the starting quarterback? Delhomme has struggled mightily this season and had two more turnovers (one interception, one fumble) in an ugly loss to the Buffalo Bills. Seneca Wallace is healthy and played better this season. Rookie Colt McCoy (ankle) is getting healthier and may also be available this week. With Browns coach Eric Mangini coaching for his job down the stretch, he needs to play the quarterback that gives Cleveland the best chance to win. Based on performance, that quarterback is not Delhomme.
2. Carson Palmer, Cincinnati Bengals quarterback: Speaking of quarterbacks, the other Ohio quarterback isn't doing well, either. Palmer had his sixth multiple-interception game of the season in a 23-7 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Two of his three picks were taken the other way for touchdowns. Palmer threw for 178 yards and had a 48.7 passer rating as his stock continues to plummet. Will the Bengals pay Palmer $11.5 million next season? It remains to be seen.
LaMarr Woodley returned an interception for a touchdown on Sunday -- one of two for the Steelers.
3. Baltimore Ravens in the fourth quarter: Baltimore was a Josh Wilson interception away from an ugly collapse against the Houston Texans. The Ravens blew a 21-point lead to Houston and needed overtime to close out the game. It's hard to pinpoint where the biggest problem is. The offense is stalling in the fourth quarter, which constantly puts the defense on the field. But the defense also looked tired against Houston and has to make more plays. The Ravens will make the playoffs. But if they want to make a deep run, they have to figure out how to put opponents away in the fourth quarter.
1. Steelers' defense: Pittsburgh is ranked No. 4 in total defense. But over the past month, no team is more dominant on that side of the football. The Steelers are allowing an average of just nine points per game over their past four and they are undefeated in that span. Safety Troy Polamalu has entered the NFL MVP conversation with a series of big plays in recent weeks. He combined with Pro Bowl linebacker LaMarr Woodley to score Pittsburgh's only touchdowns against Cincinnati. With the NFL shifting away from punishing hits this year, it's harder to play suffocating defense. But the Steelers appear to be finding their groove in time for the playoffs.
2. Derrick Mason, Ravens receiver: Mason wasn't shy about ripping Baltimore's offense last week, calling it the "Bad News Bears." But Mason did something about it by going out and catching two big touchdowns in Baltimore's win over Houston. Mason had six receptions for 78 yards. Baltimore's offense still has things to work on. But two touchdown catches for Mason is good progress.
3. Hines Ward, Steelers receiver: The 13-year veteran quietly had one of his best games of the year against the Bengals. Ward had a season-high eight receptions for 115 yards, which helped set up three field goals for the Steelers. Pittsburgh struggled to get into the end zone. So Ward didn't get a lot of credit for his solid performance. But the veteran proved that he still has it.