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Thursday, September 3, 2009
What to watch: AFC North

By James Walker
ESPN.com


Posted by ESPN.com’s James Walker


With starters in the AFC North and around the league playing one or two series tops, don’t expect to learn much from this week’s final batch of preseason games.

But here are the top things worth watching in the preseason finales for each AFC North team:

Pittsburgh Steelers: Rashard Mendenhall


Why: Pittsburgh’s 2008 first-round pick has been a tough player to figure out. The tailback is inexperienced and coming off a major shoulder injury, so Pittsburgh’s coaching staff is trying to see where Mendenhall currently stands in his development. This Thursday against the Carolina Panthers is Mendenhall’s final chance to impress the coaches before the regular season, where every game counts. So far the results have been mixed.

Cincinnati Bengals: Running backs

Why: There is a lot of competition in Cincinnati’s backfield -- both at the fullback and tailback positions. The Bengals have a lot of decent players and not enough roster spots to keep them. Most likely, the hardest decisions will come down to choosing between Brian Leonard and DeDe Dorsey at tailback, and Fui Vakapuna and Chris Pressley at fullback. Two of these four players will probably not be on the team next week, and Thursday’s game against the Indianapolis Colts will go a long way in helping the Bengals make that decision.

The return of Terrell Suggs

Why: Suggs missed a full month this summer with a heel injury. Thursday against the Atlanta Falcons will mark the Pro Bowler’s first preseason action of the season. Suggs doesn’t need a lot of work but just enough to ease concerns that going 100 percent in the regular season won’t be an issue. So tune in early, Ravens fans, because Suggs won’t be playing very deep into the game.

Cleveland’s quarterback situation

Why: A situation that will go deep into the game will involve Cleveland’s quarterbacks. Brady Quinn and Derek Anderson have rotated snaps all summer, and it appears the pair will do so again Thursday night against the Chicago Bears. Browns coach Eric Mangini hasn’t named a starter for this game or for Week 1 of the regular season. So while nearly everyone, including this AFC North blogger, believes it will be Quinn, Mangini’s aura of mystery has actually made Cleveland’s fourth preseason game worth watching to the end.