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Thursday, January 5, 2012
Wake-up: Bengals keep practicing outside

By Jamison Hensley

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

Even though the Bengals will play Saturday in the cozy confines of Houston's Reliant Stadium, the team practiced outside in the frigid weather for the second consecutive day.

The Cincinnati Enquirer reported that the windchill was 27 degrees when Wednesday's practice ended. That was a little warmer than Tuesday, when the windchill was 14 degrees.

When Cincinnati reporters asked why the Bengals didn't practice at the University of Cincinnati indoor facility, team spokesman Jack Brennan said: “The coaches determined there was not sufficient reason for us to get out of our regular element this week.”

The Bengals reached an agreement to practice at the University of Cincinnati when it allowed the school's football team to play two games at Paul Brown Stadium. According to The Enquirer, the Bengals still have to pay to use the facility and the school can't give the team a reduced rate. The paper estimated that it would cost $2,500 to rent the facility for four hours.

Hensley's slant: After making all the right moves this offseason, the Bengals are making the same old mistakes again. There's no reason to practice in the cold when the game will be played in 70-degree weather. Take out the wallet and practice indoors.

BROWNS: The Browns have the fourth overall pick in the 2012 draft, which isn't exactly familiar territory for team president Mike Holmgren and general manager Tom Heckert. According to the Canton Repository, they have picked in the top 10 only three times between them, which resulted in the selections of cornerback Terrell Buckley (fifth overall, 1992), wide receiver Koren Robinson (ninth overall, 2001) and cornerback Joe Haden (seventh overall, 2010). Hensley's slant: If the Browns can hit on an offensive player like they did with Haden, they will be headed in the right direction. Of course, the Browns could trade out of the top 10 like they did last season. But Cleveland will face a lot of criticism if it trades out again with the likes of quarterback Robert Griffin III, wide receiver Justin Blackmon and running back Trent Richardson on the board.

RAVENS: Ray Lewis insisted he is happy with the level that he's playing at this season. "If you ask my peers, why wouldn't I be?" Lewis said, via MASN Sports. "You go through a resume of all of the great ones, and you can always go back to when they had their downs, they had their ups, but they were able to overcome that and keep going." There has been criticism that the 36-year-old linebacker is declining and needs to take some plays off. Hensley's slant: The Ravens will need Lewis to be on top of his game next weekend if Houston or Denver comes to Baltimore for a divisional playoff game. The Texans and Broncos are the top two rushing offenses in the NFL. The Ravens, meanwhile, finished No. 2 in run defense.

STEELERS: Pittsburgh expects no dropoff when Ryan Mundy replaces safety Ryan Clark in the starting lineup, and Clark is among those saying that. According to Clark, starting Mundy couldn't come at a better situation than against the Broncos and the top-ranked run offense in the NFL. "They are going to try to run the ball, and those two guys (Mundy and Troy Polamalu) are the best two in-the-box run defenders," Clark told The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "Maybe in a way it turned out to be the perfect week for this to happen to us." Clark will sit Sunday because it could be dangerous for him to play in the high altitude of Denver with his blood condition. Hensley's slant: Clark is being a little too humble. He has played at a Pro Bowl level and led the Steelers this season with 100 tackles. So, there will certainly be a dropoff. Luckily for the Steelers, they are playing a Broncos offense that averaged 13.2 points in its last four games.