Print and Go Back ESPN.com: AFC North [Print without images]

Thursday, December 8, 2011
Wake-up call: Hillis expected to play tonight

By Jamison Hensley

Every morning, grab a cup of coffee and get your AFC North wake-up call here:

Browns running back Peyton Hillis is expected to play in tonight's game at Pittsburgh, a league source told NFL.com.

Hillis injured his hip four days against Baltimore and has been limited all week in practice. He's officially listed as questionable.

This would mark the third straight time that Hillis has suited up after missing five games. Two weeks ago at Cincinnati, Hillis rushed for 65 yards. Last Sunday, he totaled 97 yards (45 yards rushing and a 52-yard catch).

Hensley's slant: This is big news for the Browns because they can't risk putting the ball in the hands of banged-up quarterback Colt McCoy all game. In his first meeting against Pittsburgh last year, Hillis had a respectable 90 total yards, although he averaged only 3.4 yards per carry. The Steelers rank seventh against the run this season.

BENGALS: Former Cincinnati cornerback Johnathan Joseph returns to town with Houston and the NFL's top-ranked defense. He is tied for fourth among AFC defenders with 14 passes broken up. In explaining why he left the Bengals in free agency, Joseph told The Cincinnati Enquirer: "[The contract] was definitely better here. That was one of the main things I had to consider was the guarantee and the financial situation that was offered here and a lot of other things that they had in place at the moment that didn’t look so well in Cincinnati at the time." Hensley's slant: In a critical game for the Bengals' postseason hopes, Joseph will figure into one of the biggest matchups of the game. Joseph, a first-round pick of the Bengals in 2006, will line up against wide receiver A.J. Green, the Bengals' top pick in 2011. In seven wins this season, Green has averaged 19.2 yards per catch and has scored four touchdowns.

RAVENS: Baltimore, which plays the Colts on Sunday, acknowledged being fearful of a winless opponent. "Because I lost to a 0-for team,” outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said, via The Baltimore Sun. The last time the Ravens met a winless opponent in December was 2007, when they fell to an 0-13 Dolphins team in overtime. Hensley's slant: Whether they have to draw on that memory or the ones of losing at Jacksonville and Seattle this season, the Ravens shouldn't have a problem with finding motivation to play the Colts. Taking teams lightly hasn't really shown up at home (outside of that close call against Arizona). The Ravens have been dominant at M&T Bank Stadium and are looking to set a franchise record with their ninth straight home win. This won't be a repeat of 2007 in Miami.

STEELERS: Outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley, who isn't expected to play tonight, addressed his offseason comments that the Ravens wouldn't reach a Super Bowl with Joe Flacco as their quarter. "I'll be wrong if I say a team like Baltimore or Cincinnati or the Jets or anybody else that we play against -- I'd be wrong to say that they're going to the Super Bowl because if I say that, that means we're not going to the Super Bowl," Woodley told NFL Total Access on Tuesday. "And I would never say that because going into the matchup, that means I'm already saying we're gonna lose the game. I plan on playing football in February no matter who we play." Hensley's slant: Never felt Woodley was slighting Flacco because he should believe his team -- and no one else's - is going to the Super Bowl every year. And the way the postseason seedings are shaping up, it looks like Woodley might have a chance to back up his words against Flacco and the Ravens next month in either the divisional round or the AFC championship game.