AFC North: Braylon Edwards

Using a second-round supplemental pick on former Baylor wide receiver Josh Gordon might have been a gamble for the Cleveland Browns, but it was a smart gamble.

When Mike Holmgren took over the Browns, the cupboard was bare at wide receiver. Even though former coach Eric Mangini used 2009 second-round picks on wide receivers Brian Robiskie and Mohamed Massaquoi, neither offered the play-making ability to match the previous offenses that had Braylon Edwards and tight end Kellen Winslow.

[+] EnlargeBaylor's Josh Gordon
Brett Davis/US PRESSWIREBaylor receiver Josh Gordon offers more potential at the position than anyone on the Bowns' roster.
Don’t expect much more than 45 catches from Gordon as a rookie, because he’s so far behind for conditioning and learning an NFL offense by entering the year so late. But at least quarterback Brandon Weeden has more potential to work with at receiver. Gordon, Greg Little and fourth-round choice Travis Benjamin form the core group of receivers he will work with over the next couple of years.

Ultimately, general manager Tom Heckert will be judged on the decision last year to give wide receiver Julio Jones to the Atlanta Falcons in a five-pick deal. Jones is considered a future Pro Bowl receiver. The trade gave the Browns the extra ammunition to get Little last year, along with fullback Owen Marecic. It gave them the ability to draft Weeden as the starter in 2012.

Getting Gordon -- even at the cost of a second-round pick -- was worth it. It might take Gordon until 2014 to be a legitimate starter. Little or Gordon might never be as good as Jones, but if Heckert is right on Gordon, the Browns have more potential playmakers at receiver to start climbing out of the bottom of the AFC North in the next few years.

Sitting back and waiting until next year’s draft for a receiver would have been a bad gamble. They can develop Gordon now. Face it, the Browns aren’t going to be a playoff team this season. They are rebuilding. Gordon is a nice piece of the puzzle.
Cole from Ontario, Canada, writes: I'm a huge Ravens fan and though I like Jacoby Jones as a player we all know that Cam Cameron's offense barely acknowledges the third wide receiver. With that being said, why would they pay a two-year, $7 million deal to a guy who is going to be a return specialist? I just don't understand the move.

Jamison Hensley: I didn’t know the Ravens’ fandom crossed the border. As for your question, I don’t think Cam Cameron has ignored a third wide receiver. I get the feeling that the Ravens want to become a more pass-oriented team as Joe Flacco progresses. The problem has been Baltimore catching veterans at the end of their careers -- T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Lee Evans -- who never lived up to expectations as the No. 3 receiver. You saw toward the end of last season that the Ravens put more of a focus on getting Evans the ball. Baltimore showed that it wanted to spread the ball around. And while Jones will never be a primary target, he has more years left than Houshmandzadeh and Evans. The reasons for the size of the contract are: Baltimore needed more experience at the receiver position and it had to pay that much so it wouldn’t lose Jones to the Panthers.


Zach from Ohio writes: Looking at all the players drafted by AFC North teams, what three offensive and defensive players do you think will have the best season and biggest impact on their team?

Hensley: For offense, Browns running back Trent Richardson is a no-brainer. He is my pick for offensive rookie of the year. The easy picks for the other two would be the two guards, the Steelers’ David DeCastro and the Bengals’ Kevin Zeitler. If you want to go beyond the first round, I would keep my eye on Steelers running back Chris Rainey and Bengals wide receiver Marvin Jones.

On defense, Ravens linebacker Courtney Upshaw will have to step up in place of the injured Terrell Suggs. The same goes for Browns defensive tackle Billy Winn, who has a chance to fill in for the injured Phil Taylor. Those two likely will make the biggest impact on their teams. While many will point to Bengals cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, I can see defensive tackle Devon Still playing a big role in Cincinnati’s rotation up front.


Michael from Oldenburg, Indiana, writes: What do you think about the Bengals potentially adding Braylon Edwards to their suddenly crowded wide receiver position?

Hensley: I'm not saying it would be a move that would definitely work out, but it's a move Cincinnati should explore. Unlike a lot of teams, the Bengals have the cap room to take a chance on Edwards. Cincinnati needs a No. 2 wide receiver and a target with experience. As I pointed out in a "Wake-up Call" this week, no wide receiver on the Bengals has more than 65 career receptions. Edwards has 341 catches (but just 15 last season) and has averaged 15.6 yards per reception for his seven-year career. One question is whether he would ready for the season. He is still rehabbing a knee injury and expects to participate in training camp.


Frank from Poughkeepsie, N.Y., writes: As a regular follower, I was a little nervous about the changing of the guard at first, but you have done a fine job since taking over our division's blog. Keep it up. My question revolves around the best rivalry in football, the Steelers and Ravens. As a Steelers fan, last year’s rivalry games were miserable for us: A Week 1 blowout making me want to cry, and a Week 9 loss that the Ravens stole from us with eight seconds to go. With the additions to the offensive line for the Steelers, and not any "significant" additions to the Ravens, do you see the sweep going the other way, in favor of the Steelers, this year? Also, since the two games are played in a span of 15 days, do you think momentum will be a force here? If Suggs is back in time, will he be the difference maker?

Hensley: To start off, I think it’s absolutely crazy that the NFL schedule makers put the Steelers-Ravens games so close together. There should be a rule where they play one game early and one game in December. That will allow the teams to gauge where they stand in the first half of the season and to fight for a playoff spot (or division title) at the end of the season. As far as predictions go, I usually say it will be a split. It’s tough for these teams to sweep one another. The health of Suggs is a major factor. He plays some of his best games against Pittsburgh. Suggs also has the distinction of sacking Ben Roethlisberger more times than anyone else.


Kenneth from West Salem, Ohio, writes: Just had a question involving the statement of Colt McCoy being able to compete for his starting role. If Brandon Weeden struggles early does it open the door for a quarterback controversy? My thoughts are a resounding yes. The Browns should have just released him. We gave a third rounder [for McCoy], but gave a first for Weeden. The fans would not be chanting Seneca nearly as quickly.

Hensley: If Weeden gets the starting job -- and I believe everyone can agree this is going to happen -- it would take a major rut for the Browns to turn back to McCoy. Browns fans can chant for McCoy all they want, but the team knows the importance of Weeden playing this season. Weeden would have to throw a lot of interceptions, lose composure and look lost in the offense for the Browns to pull him.

Head coach Pat Shurmur would have to be convinced that Weeden’s confidence would be damaged if the Browns left him in there. Just remember that Cleveland averaged 13 points per game with McCoy as the starter last year and the Browns didn’t bench him. And, just like last year, Cleveland has to figure out if Weeden is the franchise quarterback. I don’t see the Browns sitting down Weeden unless there is an injury.
Every morning, grab a cup of coffee and get your AFC North wake-up call here:

Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said the team isn't close to signing free-agent wide receiver Braylon Edwards, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer.

A move wouldn't happen until next month because Edwards is still rehabbing his knee. He is expected to be ready for training camp.

“We’re pretty full with players and we’ll keep seeing if there are guys who are released who can help us and make us competitive,” Lewis said. “We want to strike the balance with the young players too. I don’t want to fill up our 90 spots with all old players. We’ve got to have some young guys to help supplement the draft picks and so at the end of the day you have an opportunity of guys trending up. We don’t want to have too many guys on the other side of their careers.”

Lewis doesn't think Edwards would disrupt chemistry because the receivers room belongs to A.J. Green, adding "it's his offensive football team and he has come back with that attitude."

Hensley's slant: The Bengals have the cap room to take a chance on Edwards. Cincinnati needs a No. 2 wide receiver and a target with experience. No wide receiver on the team has more than 65 career receptions. Edwards has 341 catches (but just 15 last season) and has averaged 15.6 yards per reception for his seven-year career.

BROWNS: Phil Taylor's agent said the defensive tackle is remaining positive while awaiting results of the MRI. Taylor injured his pectoral muscle Thursday while lifting weights. "Phil is staying positive. He's got a great attitude," Peter Schaffer told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. "He'll either be 100 percent [when the results come in] or if he needs surgery, he'll come back 100 percent. Things happen. Phil is going to be fine either way. If he misses time, he'll come back strong." Hensley's slant: The surprise contributor of the 2012 draft could be defensive tackle Billy Winn, a sixth-round pick out of Boise State. He slid in the draft because of questionable work ethic, but his skills could make him the top candidate to fill in for Taylor.

RAVENS: Fellow cornerback Lardarius Webb has high expectations for Jimmy Smith, last year's first-round pick. Smith's rookie season was thrown off course after he basically missed the first five games of the season with an ankle injury.“He can make a huge step,” Webb told the team's official website. “With his talent, his knowledge, I think he’s going to be a Pro Bowl corner coming up next year.” Hensley's slant: It was only last month when Webb said he wanted to be better than Darrelle Revis, so he obviously likes to think big. But as I said at that time, Smith has a chance to be better than Webb this season. Smith has the size and speed to be a shutdown cornerback.

STEELERS: Ben Roethlisberger told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that he majored in education at Miami (Ohio) because he wanted to teach and coach. He received his degree last weekend. “I still may want to coach, still like to be a coach," he told the paper. "I wouldn’t rule teaching out, but I’d say it’s unlikely.’’ As the Post-Gazette pointed out, Roethlisberger would have to serve as a student-teacher if he wanted to teach. Hensley's slant: Just imagine the pressure on the quarterback for the team Roethlisberger would be coaching. You see the Super Bowl rings when Roethlisberger is holding the play-calling sheet, and you know you can't leave the game unless you have two or three broken bones. Those are some high standards to meet.

Draft destination: Cleveland

April, 26, 2012
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BEREA, Ohio -- AFC North headquarters is moving to Lake Erie for all three days of the draft. This is the place to be in the division. The Browns have two first-round picks and three of the first 37 in the draft.

Of course, I will be posting on the Bengals, Steelers and Ravens throughout the draft as well. Keep checking back to the blog for updates, analysis and opinions.

Here are some notes and numbers for the Browns heading into the draft, courtesy of ESPN Stats & Information:
  • Total picks: 13 (4th, 22nd, 37th, 67th, 100th, 118th, 139th, 160th, 204th, 205th, 211th, 245th, 247th).
  • The 13 picks are most of any team and would be most for Browns since 2000 (13).
  • Only one team has made 13 or more picks in a draft since 2005 (2010 Eagles made 13).
  • Three 2011 draft picks (defensive tackle Phil Taylor, defensive end Jabaal Sheard, guard Jason Pinkston) started 16 games last season. No other team had more than one.
  • The Browns last selected a wide receiver in the first round in 2005 (Braylon Edwards) and last selected a running back in the first round in 2002 (William Green).

AFC North links: Arrington supports Lewis

May, 26, 2011
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Baltimore Ravens

Former Pro Bowl linebacker LaVar Arrington backs up Ray Lewis' statements about a possible rise in crime if there are no NFL games this season. "When I was growing up, there were drugs and gangs and lots of street life right in front of my face. I easily could have fallen victim to that activity if I hadn't been chasing after the guys I watched play on Saturdays in college and Sundays in the NFL," writes Arrington. "Dreaming of being the next Ray Lewis or Greg Lloyd occupied so much of my time that I didn't have enough energy to do the wrong things in the wrong places."

The Baltimore Sun's Kevin Cowherd calls recently retired Baltimore kicker Matt Stover one of the greatest Ravens of all time.

Meanwhile, the rest of the Ravens' kicking team is right on track.

Cincinnati Bengals

Bengals wide receiver Chad Ochocinco plans to continue his zany offseason. What's he up to next? Snake wrangling, of course.

Cleveland Browns

Nate Ulrich analyzes Browns president Mike Holmgren's comments about quarterback Colt McCoy.

Despite moving on to the Jets, former Browns wide receiver Braylon Edwards fulfilled his promise to provide 100 Cleveland high schoolers with college tuition.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Steelers defenders James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley are unhappy with the new rules changes and took to Twitter to voice their displeasure.

Joe Starkey of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review thinks Harrison should "quit complaining."

Morning take: Browns WR misses

February, 23, 2011
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Here are the most interesting stories Wednesday in the AFC North: Morning take: Braylon Edwards, Brian Robiskie and Mohamed Massaquoi were all recent misses for Cleveland. Should that scare the team away from blue-chip prospect A.J. Green of Georgia?
Morning take: Not nearly as much as a team like the Browns. The Steelers have a veteran group which will run the same system.
Morning take: Click the link and find out.
Morning take: The Ravens should continue to take their time with Kindle. There's not full contact until training camp anyway. So the longer the wait, the better.

Quick Take: Jets at Steelers

January, 16, 2011
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Three things to know about next Sunday's New York Jets-Pittsburgh Steelers AFC Championship Game:

1. The road to the Super Bowl now goes through Pittsburgh. The Steelers caught a break Sunday night with the Jets' upset win against the New England Patriots. Pittsburgh, the AFC's No. 2 seed, will play host to the conference title game for the second time in three years. The Steelers said Saturday night that they were confident regardless of the opponent. But playing at home in the postseason is always a preference, and the Patriots and quarterback Tom Brady have had Pittsburgh's number in recent years.

2. Don't forget the Jets beat Pittsburgh too. While the Steelers avoided a trip to New England, the team with the best record in the regular season, they will face a Jets team that went into Heinz Field on Dec. 19 and handed Pittsburgh a 22-17 defeat. New York outplayed Pittsburgh in Week 15, particularly on special teams. The Steelers also were without Pro Bowl safety Troy Polamalu, who missed the game with a calf/Achilles injury.

3. There are tons of AFC North connections in this game. This will be a big week for Jets receiver Santonio Holmes, whom Pittsburgh traded this offseason to New York. Holmes will make his second trip to Pittsburgh this season, but this time a ticket to Super Bowl XLV is at stake. Jets coach Rex Ryan, linebacker Bart Scott and defensive lineman Trevor Pryce are among those who joined New York from the Baltimore Ravens' organization. Receiver Braylon Edwards was acquired in a trade with the Cleveland Browns, and the Browns traded their No. 5 overall pick to the Jets in 2009 to allow New York to draft quarterback Mark Sanchez. Jets safety Brodney Pool also played five seasons in Cleveland.

Double Coverage: Best divisional rivalry

December, 1, 2010
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Double CoverageESPN.com IllustrationTwo of our NFL bloggers weigh in on which division boasts the better rivalry.
Two of the NFL's hottest rivalries will take center stage in Week 13. Lucky for us.

The Pittsburgh Steelers will visit the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday night. The New York Jets then will visit the New England Patriots on Monday night. Combined record of the four teams: 34-10.

Millions of football fans will be tuned in to see both marquee matchups with superstars and storylines aplenty.

But which pairing represents the NFL's best divisional rivalry?

Each matchup has a history, quality quarterbacks and plenty at stake for the playoffs. A couple of feisty bloggers -- James Walker from the AFC North and Tim Graham from the AFC East -- will state a case for why his division has the better rivalry.

James Walker: Tim, I just want to apologize in advance, because I don’t think you have much of a leg to stand on comparing these two rivalries. Do you accept my apology?

Tim Graham: If that's really what you think, then the only thing to accept is your resignation. The Jets-Patriots rivalry goes back 50 years, showcases ESPN's team of the decade versus the biggest media sensation, involves espionage, features incredible player and coaching crossover and will generate significantly more attention this week than the Steelers and Ravens. Yet I don't have a leg to stand on? This should be amusing.

Walker: OK, let's get down to business. First, I'm going to tell you why the Jets-Patriots rivalry doesn't stack up to Ravens-Steelers. For starters, the Jets aren't even the Patriots’ biggest rival in the AFC. The Colts are. Indianapolis and New England have played eight straight years in much bigger games -- sometimes with the Super Bowl at stake.

Meanwhile, there is no debating the Steelers and Ravens are each other's biggest rival. Both teams have played on the biggest stages, including the AFC Championship Game in 2008, when the Steelers went on to win Super Bowl XLIII. Finally, here's another difference: Pittsburgh and Baltimore both have championships within the past decade. When both rivals are able to reach the pinnacle while beating up each other along the way, that's when a rivalry is truly special. The Ravens and Steelers have it. The Colts and Patriots have it. The Jets and Patriots? I don't think so.

[+] EnlargeTom Brady
Ed Mulholland/US PresswirePatriots quarterback Tom Brady said earlier this season that he hates the Jets.
Graham: Your opinion about the Colts representing a bigger rival than the Jets would be pertinent if the Patriots agreed with it. Tom Brady earlier this year declared "I hate the Jets," and he wasn't joking. The Patriots play the Jets twice a year. Division games are worth more than any other game in terms of importance. A Patriots-Colts game is more like a playoff exhibition.

You do make a good point about the Ravens and Steelers each winning a Super Bowl in the past decade. But recent titles don't necessarily make rivalries. If they did, then the Packers, Vikings and Bears don't have rivalries. Storylines and animus make rivalries. In that regard, Jets-Patriots is unsurpassed.

Walker: Brady says he hates the Jets, but a rivalry is a two-way street. How much hatred does New York really have for the Patriots? It can't be too deep-rooted. Most of New York's key people recently came from the AFC North and other teams, including head coach Rex Ryan. I'd be willing to bet Santonio Holmes hates the Ravens more than he hates the Patriots. I know Bart Scott hates the Steelers. We've talked about it several times while he was in Baltimore. Braylon Edwards? He hyped his return to Cleveland 10 times more than this week's game against New England. Do you really think key players like Edwards, LaDainian Tomlinson and Antonio Cromartie have a feel for the Jets-Patriots rivalry? I doubt it.

But there is legitimate, two-way hatred between the Steelers and Ravens. Hines Ward hates the Ravens. Ray Lewis hates the Steelers. The markets of Pittsburgh and Baltimore simply cannot drive the point home like bigger cities New York and Boston can. For example, Ravens defensive end Terrell Suggs basically told me he doesn't like the Steelers, either, which is similar to what Brady said about the Jets. Yet it didn't get any attention. The Jets-Patriots rivalry may be unsurpassed in hype. But the Ravens-Steelers rivalry is unsurpassed in substance.

Graham: Come on, James. You need to do more than take a glance at 2010 rosters to understand the Jets-Patriots rivalry. Every team has free agents who need to learn a rivalry. The point about Brady's hatred was that he never said that about the Colts, which you propose is a bigger rival for the Patriots than the Jets are.

But you want substance? How about Bill Parcells taking the Patriots to the Super Bowl and then leaving them for the Jets amid such controversial circumstances the NFL forced New York to send four draft picks to the Patriots over three years, including the first-round pick in 1999, as a penalty? How about the infamous Curtis Martin defection from the Patriots to the Jets and the infamous "poison pill" contract? How about Parcells abdicating his Jets job to Bill Belichick and then Belichick writing his resignation on a cocktail napkin moments before the Jets thought they were introducing him as their next head coach? How about the Jets blocking Belichick from joining the Patriots until he filed a federal lawsuit and then settling on the Patriots shipping five draft picks to the Jets over three years, including their 2000 first-rounder? How about Patriots defensive coordinator Eric Mangini departing to be Jets head coach and leaving the bridge in cinders? How about the Patriots filing tampering charges against the Jets on receiver Deion Branch? How about a little thing called Spygate? How about Damien Woody, Danny Woodhead, Ty Law, Vinny Testaverde, Roman Phifer, Larry Izzo, Hank Poteat and Chris Baker (among many other role players) wearing both uniforms within the past decade? Steelers-Ravens has nothing even remotely close to a third of that rundown.

[+] EnlargeJoe Flacco
Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesJoe Flacco will have to constantly prove himself against the Steelers and Ben Roethlisberger.
Walker: Why you think playing for both teams makes it more of a rivalry is beyond me. I think it lessens your argument. I can't imagine Ed Reed or Lewis wearing a Steelers jersey. Ward would never sign a deal to play for the Ravens. Not in a million years. These two teams hate each other too much. Yet all these Jets and Patriots players simply flip-flop between teams at their leisure? That’s weak and not the sign of a hated rivalry, in my opinion.

Graham: That's rather Pollyanna to think Ravens would never go play for the Steelers or vice versa. Do you honestly believe if the Steelers had hired Ryan, then all of those players who followed him to the Jets wouldn't have gone to Pittsburgh? Please. Players pursue the best opportunity based on money, playing a system they love and a chance to win a title.

Here is how players switching teams make for a better rivalry: It thickens the plot. Fans who used to wear a player's jersey burn them. The expatriate player shares playbook secrets and other intelligence. That player has a chip on his shoulder and comes back to haunt his old team.

Walker: Moving onto quarterbacks. I think there are some similarities between the teams' four passers. Joe Flacco is the third-year upstart trying to get to the championship level of Ben Roethlisberger, who already has two rings. Much of Flacco's status eventually will be determined by how much success he has against Roethlisberger and the Steelers within his division. It seems the Ravens and Steelers are always in the way and have to go through each other to have a deep run in the playoffs and get to the Super Bowl. What dynamic do you see developing with Brady and a young Mark Sanchez?

Graham: I don't know if there's much of a quarterback comparison beyond the glamour element at this stage. Brady and Sanchez have a lot in common from an off-the-field standpoint. They sell a lot of jerseys, attract a lot of ladies, walk a lot of red carpets, appear in a lot of photo shoots and do a lot of cameos. But they're too far apart in experience to compare résumés.

[+] EnlargeSteelers and Ravens
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesThe Ravens and Steelers have competed recently in many high-profile matchups -- including the 2008 AFC Championship Game.
I see the Jets and Patriots as more of a fan base and organizational rivalry: teams from two of the greatest sports markets, with two of the NFL's most influential owners, and two of the best defensive coaches in the game -- heck, two of the most controversial coaches of this generation. Ever since Ryan took over as Jets head coach, he has been tweaking Belichick. Some thought the rivalry would wane when the Jets fired Mangini, but Ryan -- a guy who helped build the Steelers-Ravens rivalry, by the way -- came along and made it juicier.

Walker: Now is our favorite part. It's prediction time. It's no secret the Steelers and Ravens are built and play similarly. So it's usually a close game. Baltimore is going for its first series sweep since 2006, but Roethlisberger didn't play in the first meeting because of a suspension. Now he's back and is 7-2 all-time against Baltimore. But I have a feeling this is the Ravens' week. They are healthier overall, 5-0 at home and appear to be peaking at the right time. The Steelers, on the other hand, have been up and down. Both teams usually bring out the best in each other, but I'm picking the Ravens to win, 20-17. So who are you picking between the Patriots and Jets, Tim? Don't chicken out.

Graham: I predict the loser of the Jets-Patriots game will have the same record as the team that wins the Ravens-Steelers game. Predicting a score has no bearing on our debate of which rivalry is better. But I will say the Jets and Patriots provide a rare showdown between teams with the NFL's best two records. This is only the fifth time in "Monday Night Football" history two clubs with records of 9-2 or better will play, and the first game under those circumstances that doesn't involve the Joe Montana-led San Francisco 49ers in Candlestick Park.

This is a special game befitting a special rivalry. Your game features clubs that needed overtime to beat the Buffalo Bills. I'll expect that resignation letter by kickoff.

Final Word: AFC North

November, 12, 2010
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» NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 10:

[+] EnlargeBraylon Edwards
Jamie Mullen/US PresswireExpect Jets receiver Braylon Edwards to be excited to play in Cleveland, where his career began.
Braylon Edwards returns: The Cleveland Browns should expect a motivated Braylon Edwards when they host the New York Jets Sunday. As a former first-round pick of the Browns, Edwards developed a reputation as a "bright-lights player" during his tenure in Cleveland. Despite his inconsistency, when the spotlight was on, Edwards usually was at his best. Although this isn't a prime-time game, this is a big one for Edwards, who wants revenge after being traded by the Browns. He also felt mistreated by Cleveland fans. The Browns should expect his best effort. Edwards has 25 receptions for 453 yards and five touchdowns with the Jets.

Fourth-quarter woes: If the game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and New England Patriots comes down to the final quarter, the advantage could be for New England. According to ESPN's Stats and Information, Pittsburgh has the NFL's No. 2 defense in the first three quarters, but is ranked last in yards allowed in the fourth quarter. Last week the Steelers led the Bengals, 27-7, on "Monday Night Football." Cincinnati scored 14 unanswered points in the fourth quarter, but an incomplete pass to rookie Jordan Shipley ended a late rally. Pittsburgh's late struggles on defense date to last season.

The Palmer rollercoaster: Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer has yet to put consecutive quality starts together. He will try to accomplish that feat against the Indianapolis Colts. In three previous outings this season when Palmer had a passer rating of 80.0 or higher, his average rating was an abysmal 60.6 in the following game. Palmer posted a respectable 88.7 passer rating against Pittsburgh and will need to perform well again to have a chance against the Peyton Manning-led Colts.

Getting Ocho involved: Bengals Pro Bowl receiver Chad Ochocinco blew up on national television last week after catching just one pass for 15 yards against Pittsburgh. His frustration boiled over toward Palmer, and Ochocinco was briefly benched. To avoid this from happening again, Cincinnati's coaching staff must find a way to get Ochocinco involved. Yes, Ochocinco is getting most of the coverage, which has freed up Terrell Owens to have a big season. But little wrinkles such as quick outs, hitches and screens are creative ways the Bengals can get Ochocinco the football.

Extended break: The Baltimore Ravens, who lost to Atlanta on Thursday, have extra time to rest and prepare for their next game, against the Carolina Panthers (1-7) on Nov. 21. It's almost another bye week for Baltimore, which had just three days to prepare for the Falcons. The Ravens have some issues to correct, particularly in the secondary, where cornerbacks Fabian Washington, Lardarius Webb, Josh Wilson and Chris Carr had bad moments against Atlanta. I'm curious to see what corrections and improvements Baltimore makes with its pass defense.

Mangini ready to face some friendly ghosts

November, 11, 2010
11/11/10
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Eric ManginiJason Miller/US PresswireA week after beating one former employer, Eric Mangini sets his sights on another in the N.Y. Jets.
BEREA, Ohio -- Like a proud father flipping through a photo album of his children, Eric Mangini leaned forward in his office chair to display the New York Jets' offensive and defensive depth charts to a visitor seated across from his desk.

Mangini pointed at player after player after player after player. These were the guys he once coached. As he rattled them off, he tacked the phrase "was with me" after each name. Mangini articulated the names with an emphasis that reflected their importance to him.

"You go right on down the list," Mangini said from his spacious office that overlooks the Cleveland Browns' practice fields. "It's a core group of guys, and you know so much about these guys. You've had so many shared experiences with them, and now you're playing against them."

Mangini is in between games against his previous employers, referring to these two weeks as his personal version of the film "Ghosts of Girlfriends Past."

He gleefully embarrassed the New England Patriots last week and will coach against the Jets for the first time since joining the Browns on Sunday.

Mangini unwillingly departed the Jets 22 months ago. They fired him after a 9-7 season that began with a promising 8-3 start and Super Bowl chatter but disintegrated along with Brett Favre's right arm.

An outsider might assume the games create similar feelings for Mangini. They don't.

Mangini has faced his former mentor, Bill Belichick, several times. They've exchanged many frigid handshakes. Mangini, a former defensive assistant ruled a turncoat for joining the Jets, has a long history with the Patriots. The subsequent Spygate scandal drove the wedge deeper.

Still, the Patriots and Belichick are in his coaching DNA. Mangini is from them, of them.

"Being with Bill as long as I was there," Mangini said, leaning back in his leather chair and eating purple grapes from a cup, "you understand things change and parts change there each week, but philosophically it doesn't change."

His three years with the Jets were more of an association. Unlike his time with the Patriots, though, he had ownership of the Jets' roster. Those were his guys, and many of them remain on Rex Ryan's squad.

"Those are guys that I was instrumental in bringing in and developing and coaching and teaching," Mangini said.

"I told those guys when I left -- I got to address the team -- and I said 'Look, fellas, we were close here, and we made mistakes. There's a new head coach coming in here, and you guys have worked too hard to fight that guy and set yourself back. Embrace that guy and allow him the opportunity to achieve things we could have achieved.'"

Mangini didn't know at the time the Jets would hire Ryan, a gregarious figure who made the transition easier for the players. Most of them quickly embraced Ryan on his own merits, but the fact that he was a stark contrast to Mangini's austerity helped.

[+] EnlargeRex Ryan
AP Photo/Paul SpinelliEric Mangini's successor, Rex Ryan, took the Jets to within one game of the Super Bowl in his first year in New York.
The Mangini-Jets breakup has worked out for the Jets. They made the playoffs last year -- with the same 9-7 record that got Mangini fired -- and are considered among the NFL's top few teams, a Super Bowl contender.

It must be noted Mangini played a significant role in giving Ryan a roster to work with. Still, Mangini insisted he's not bitter about his exit. He has acknowledged the concept of the fall guy, and one was necessary. He remains close friends with Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum.

"It's cool to see them doing as well as they're doing," Mangini said.

Mangini claimed that what's happening in Cleveland has made this week's preparations for the Jets less emotional for him.

Mangini barely survived his first season with the Browns. They went 5-11 but won their last four games. The Browns hired Mike Holmgren to oversee football operations. Holmgren stripped Mangini of some duties, but the product seems to be improving.

The Browns are 3-5 and enter Sunday's game against the Jets with back-to-back victories over the New Orleans Saints and Patriots.

"This has been pretty satisfying," Mangini said. "Getting the job was great because it meant somebody recognized the great work we did in New York. We had a tough last year, but we developed. This year, we're competitive and we're making more steps. It's starting to pay off to some degree."

Mangini's disparate feelings for the Jets and Patriots are evident in his personnel moves.

He and Tannenbaum have made notable trades.

The Browns sent Braylon Edwards to the Jets last year for receiver Chansi Stuckey, linebacker Jason Trusnik and two draft picks. The Jets were able to get quarterback Mark Sanchez through a blockbuster draft-day trade that sent quarterback Brett Ratliff, defensive end Kenyon Coleman, safety Abram Elam and two picks to the Browns for the fifth overall selection.

Mangini, whether with the Jets or Browns, never made a trade with Belichick.

That fractured relationship is unlikely to heal.

"I appreciate what he did for me," Mangini said. "He was a huge part of my life. We were very close friends for a long time. When things started to go south, it sucked.

"Whether it'll ever get to that stage where we're close friends again, I don't know. Maybe, maybe not. But at no point will I ever stop appreciating what he's done. I feel I know who the guy is as a person, and hopefully at some point the friendship will resume."

That's why the Jets and Patriots are different for Mangini.

But he wants to beat them just the same.

AFC North evening links: Ravens' CB

November, 9, 2010
11/09/10
6:00
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Here are the latest happenings Tuesday evening in the AFC North:

Morning take: Ravens on short week

November, 9, 2010
11/09/10
9:00
AM ET
Here are the most interesting stories Tuesday in the AFC North:

  • The Baltimore Ravens (6-2) prepare on a short week for Thursday’s game against the Atlanta Falcons (6-2).
Morning take: The short turnaround is a challenge for both teams. So I'm not sure who has the advantage. But this should be one of the top games of Week 10.

  • New York Jets receiver Braylon Edwards is already trash-talking in preparation for the Cleveland Browns.
Morning take: The former Browns first-round pick always felt he was treated unfairly in Cleveland. Nothing would make Edwards happier than having a big game Sunday.
Morning take: A fumbled return and blocked punt accounted for 10 points. And what happened to Mike Nugent's field-goal kicking?
Morning take: But the Steelers are 6-2 without playing their best football. Pittsburgh still has areas where it can improve.

Five words or less recap

September, 9, 2010
9/09/10
1:00
PM ET
We had another interesting "Five words or less" in the AFC North blog.

This week, we had this photo of Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh and New York Jets counterpart Rex Ryan, who will face off on "Monday Night Football."

Here are several responses from our AFC North inbox:

  • "Beautiful sunrise on Revis Island."
  • "Still want Gaither for Revis?"
  • "That's Ray Lewis' new dance."
  • "Mark Sanchez completes a pass."
  • "Uh oh, Big Ben's back!"
  • "We're overrated. No, we're overrated."
  • "Your brother's defense really stinks."
  • "How about those Browns?"
  • "HAHA! Edwards drops another pass."
  • "Houshmandzadeh=Championship!"
  • "You miss us, don't you?"
  • "Frank Walker is horrible!"
  • "See you in AFC Championship."
Here are the most interesting stories Tuesday in the AFC North: Morning take: It's a shameless plug, but make sure you check out Baltimore on ESPN Thursday at 8 p.m. ET. I know I will (wink, wink).
Morning take: The initial diagnoses was a mid-foot sprain, but further testing in Cincinnati this week could reveal more. If out for an extended period, this will hurt the Bengals' depth at running back.

  • After spending the weekend being inducted to the Hall of Fame, defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau returned to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Morning take: It was a memorable and well-deserved honor for LeBeau. But rest assured he's eager to get back to coaching.
Morning take: Every several weeks it seems Edwards takes another shot at Cleveland or the Browns in the media. At least it will make the Jets-Browns game interesting later this season.

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