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

Friday, October 23, 2009
Final Word: AFC North

By James Walker
ESPN.com


» NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

Posted by ESPN.com’s James Walker

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 7:

 
 Joe Robbins/Getty Images
 Hines Ward leads the NFL with 599 receiving yards.
Passing fancy: Coming off his second career 400-yard game last week, expect Pittsburgh Steelers (4-2) starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to once again air it out in Sunday’s high-profile matchup against the undefeated Minnesota Vikings (6-0). Roethlisberger is leading the NFL with 1,887 passing yards and has completed 72.5 percent of his passes. Pittsburgh’s Hines Ward also is leading the NFL with 599 receiving yards. Meanwhile, Minnesota is hurting in the secondary as top cornerback Antoine Winfield’s status is up in the air with a foot injury. The Vikings allowed 385 passing yards last week in a win over the Baltimore Ravens.

Not liking favored status: The Cincinnati Bengals have not responded well in games they were expected to win this season. Cincinnati is 3-0 as underdogs and 1-2 in games it which it was favored, losing to the Denver Broncos and Houston Texans at home and barely beating the Cleveland Browns on the road in overtime. This weekend the Bengals enter Sunday's game as a slight favorite at home against the Chicago Bears (3-2). Cincinnati cannot continue to drop games at Paul Brown Stadium if it wants to remain in playoff contention during the second half of the season. It will be interesting to see how the first-place Bengals handle increased expectations moving forward.

Bengals mystery: What "significant offer" did Cincinnati reportedly present to the Dallas Cowboys for tight end Martellus Bennett? We may never know for certain. But an educated guess is it was a high draft pick, a receiver or a combination of the two. The Bengals are very deep at receiver, which means a player like Chris Henry could’ve been dangled in front of the Cowboys, who have some question marks at the position. With the emergence of Andre Caldwell, the talented Henry is getting fewer opportunities than expected after a great preseason. A draft pick also is a possibility. But I don’t think it would've been wise to trade a high pick (first- or second-rounder) for another team’s backup tight end.

Browns blues: The Browns continue to fight an uphill battle. In addition to playing some bad football this season, two unexpected issues popped up this week as a dozen players, including defensive stars Shaun Rogers and Kamerion Wimbley, came down with the flu and starting cornerback Eric Wright crashed his vehicle early Friday morning. The good news is Wright was not seriously injured. The rest of the Browns who are sick have slowly recovered from the flu but combined to miss a lot of practice time this week. That could hurt their performance against the Green Bay Packers.

Rice under radar: For all the talk of Baltimore’s recent woes during its three-game losing streak, not enough people are focusing on the emergence of second-year tailback Ray Rice, who is leading the NFL with 766 total yards from scrimmage. Rice is the leading rusher (441 yards) and second-leading receiver (325 yards) in Baltimore’s high-powered offense. The Ravens (3-3) are on a bye this week. But through six games Rice is quickly making a name for himself on a league-wide scale. Rice is healthy and still has fresh legs. So expect to see a lot more from him in the second half of the season.