AFC North: Brett Favre

Johnny Manziel's stock continues to soar.

The NFL announced Monday that Manziel jerseys outsold all others for sales from April 1 through July 17.

Imagine when the Cleveland Browns rookie completes a pass.

Meanwhile, another former NFL great weighed in with thoughts on Manziel.

This time it was Brett Favre's turn to answer a question, as the former Packers, Jets and Vikings great told ESPN 1000 in Chicago that Manziel is “a superb talent” who is “fun to watch” but also must understand it’s now about the team.

"It’s not about him,” Favre said, stressing he does not know Manziel. “It has been about him, and rightfully so. He’s been fun to watch and won the Heisman Trophy as a freshman. My goodness, the spotlight is on you.

“But you have to try to deflect that as much as possible and just be team player. I’m not saying he isn’t; again I don’t know him.

“But there’s a lot of excitement around Cleveland right now, and what he is capable of doing. I would just say do all you can to make that team better, and again, it’s all about the team.”

In a nutshell, these statements and the jersey sales illustrate what Mike Pettine will deal with in his first training camp with the Browns.

A guy drafted in the first round who has had it be all about him in college now must make it about the team -- while his jersey is the most popular one in the NFL.
The revolving door at quarterback for the Cleveland Browns continues on its trend-setting pace.

No NFL team has had more starting quarterbacks than the Cleveland Browns since 1999, the year the team returned to the field.

Nineteen different players -- some noble, some not so noble -- have taken the first snap. Jason Campbell becomes No. 20 on Sunday.

This season's Browns will have three different starters in the first eight games.

"It's something I'm used to," left tackle Joe Thomas said. "It's not like I've ever played with one quarterback a whole season."

Thomas joined the Browns in 2008. He hasn't missed a play since he was drafted. In that time, the Browns have had 10 starting quarterbacks, with No. 11 set to go in Kansas City on Sunday.

The teams with the fewest starters are not surprisingly among the better and most consistent teams in the league. Teams with talented quarterbacks win, and part of being a dependable player is being reliable. The best play well, and play often.

New England has had three starters -- Drew Bledsoe, Tom Brady and Matt Cassel.

Green Bay has had three -- Brett Favre, Aaron Rodgers and Matt Flynn when the Packers gave Rodgers a couple late-season games off.

Indianapolis has had five -- but three started games in 2011 when Peyton Manning missed a season. One could say that Curtis Painter, Dan Orlovsky and Kerry Collins were underpaid, because they gave the Colts the chance to go from Manning to Andrew Luck.

On the opposite end, Miami ranks second to the Browns with 18 staters since 1999, and Chicago has had 17.

The average per team is 11.3, which means the Browns will be far above average when they hit 20. Nearly double in fact.

When players shrug off the changes and call it life in the NFL -- which some Browns have done -- it's not really accurate.

It's more life in Cleveland.
Eddie Lacy and Brandon WeedenUSA TODAY SportsThe Packers may have to rely more on their run game, while Browns QB Brandon Weeden seeks to recover from a forgettable outing.
The Green Bay Packers have made it past a difficult stretch in which they played four playoff teams from last season in their first five games.

And they came out of it with a respectable 3-2 record.

The Cleveland Browns, despite going from Brandon Weeden to Brian Hoyer and now back to Weeden at quarterback, also aren't out of anything yet at 3-3. Packers reporter Rob Demovsky and Browns reporter Pat McManamon break down the matchup:

McManamon: Rob, what will Green Bay do at receiver with all those injuries, and how much will it affect the offense?

Demovsky: It's bound to have a significant impact. Randall Cobb more or less became the focal point of the passing game last season and if anything, that intensified this season. Sure, he's only a slot receiver and the Packers still have the deep threat of Jordy Nelson on the outside. But in this offense, a lot of those quick-hit passes -- especially against teams that blitz -- are directed to the inside. No team used more three-receiver sets than the Packers had until Cobb went down last week against the Ravens. They had used a three-receiver set on 90 percent of their snaps. That number likely will go down beginning this week against the Browns. They might have to rely on their new-found running game more than ever. But with fewer threats in the passing game, teams might be able to load up to stop running back Eddie Lacy.

The Browns have offensive issues of their own, Pat. Brandon Weeden's turnovers in the loss to the Lions looked like killers, especially that backhanded, underhand flip. How can they get him to play smarter?

McManamon: That backhanded, underhand flip will live for a long time in the annals of Cleveland Browns misplays since 1999, Rob. A lengthy list just got longer. As for getting him to play smarter, that's the challenge. And the challenge has gone on for 18 starts. Weeden actually started fairly well as a 29-year-old rookie, but he struggled the end of last season and this season he's played in fits and starts. Which of course won't be good enough against Green Bay. With Brian Hoyer injured, the Browns have few other options -- it's not like Tom Brady is on the streets waiting for a job -- so they will stick with Weeden. But you have to wonder whether the Browns aren't coming to the conclusion that what they see is what he'll be when it comes to this 30-year-old quarterback.

Rob, Weeden does not read the rush well and does not move well. The Packers are ninth in the league in sacks. Is that yet another bad recipe for Weeden and the Browns offense?

Demovsky: It remains to be seen whether they can keep up their sack pace. They did it without Clay Matthews last week, getting five sacks at Baltimore, but now they're going to be without another outside rusher, Nick Perry. Matthews and Perry each have three sacks on the season, which ties A.J. Hawk for the team lead. At some point, those injuries have to slow down their pass rush. The one thing that's helping them is they're playing the run very well, probably the best they have since they led the league in rushing defense in 2009. After shutting down Ray Rice last week, they're up to third in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game (78.2). That's putting teams in a lot of third-and-long situations, which allows defensive coordinator Dom Capers to blitz. That's how Hawk got all three of his sacks against the Ravens.

Perhaps the Browns can help protect Weeden if they run the ball effectively to keep the Packers from rushing like crazy. What are their prospects for doing that?

McManamon: Running the ball would protect Weeden. But it helps to have a ... well ... a running game. At present, the Browns are in make-do mode with the running game, and as the season continues that will more and more become a problem. Since the trade of Trent Richardson the Browns have relied on aging Willis McGahee, young Bobby Rainey and fullback Chris Ogbonnaya. These guys give effort, but there's only so much they can give. McGahee can't run outside, Rainey is inexperienced and Ogbonnaya is what he is. The Browns rank 22nd in the league by running for 86.8 yards per game -- though they are averaging 3.9 yards per carry. If the Browns want to run, they will have to commit to it and pound it out, something I am not sure they can do.

Rob, the Browns have had 19 starting quarterbacks since 1999 -- and it appears next year or soon after that number will hit 20. Do the Packers and their fans realize just how fortunate they have been these many years to have Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers?

Demovsky: They should. There are only a handful of organizations who can say they've had the kind of quarterback transition that the Packers had. The 49ers with Joe Montana to Steve Young come to mind. Maybe the Colts have that now with Andrew Luck following Peyton Manning. Not only was Favre a great quarterback, but he was there week in and week out. Rodgers is pretty much the same way. Those guys rarely get injured and when they do, they still play.

Most Packers fans here are still fond of Mike Holmgren, for leading them to the Super Bowl XXXI title. His tenure with as a Browns executive was much shorter. What impact, if any, did he have on the organization?

McManamon: Let's just say the feelings for Holmgren are a lot warmer in Green Bay -- odd as that sounds -- than in Cleveland. Many fans feel Holmgren's epitaph with the Browns should be "As a president, he was a great coach." A lot of that is frustration at constant losing. Some is frustration at the job title and salary scale Randy Lerner gave Holmgren. More still that Holmgren never took on the coaching duties himself. On balance, Holmgren's tenure was no worse than many, and better than some. He and GM Tom Heckert brought in some good players who are helping the team win now. But with any regime change comes more change, and Joe Banner has gotten rid of some of Holmgren's guys -- notably Richardson. Holmgren's biggest gamble was selecting a quarterback in the first round a year ago who is now 30. But Weeden clearly would have been helped by more continuity in the front office.

PITTSBURGH -- The sternoclavicular sprain that Ben Roethlisberger is dealing with is considered uncommon. But this is the same injury that forced Brett Favre to end his ironman streak of 297 consecutive games played. Favre returned after missing one game before sustaining a season-ending concussion.

The sternoclavicular joint is the connection of the sternum (breastbone) to the clavicle. According to Harvard Health Publications, SC joint sprains occur most often "when a driver's chest strikes the steering wheel during an auto accident, or when a person is crushed by an object."

The odds are probably against Roethlisberger playing Sunday night with this shoulder sprain, although Roethlisberger can never be completely ruled out because of his track record of playing with injuries. It will ultimately depend on his pain tolerance and getting his throwing motion back.
Here are the latest happenings Wednesday in the AFC North:
Here are the most interesting stories Tuesday in the AFC North:
  • Cleveland Browns quarterback Colt McCoy spent a couple days this offseason with future Hall of Famer Brett Favre to learn the West Coast offense.
Morning take: This was a wise move by McCoy. He couldn't learn the offense from coaches during the lockout, so McCoy sought help from someone who played under Browns president Mike Holmgren.
  • Cincinnati Bengals assistant coach Mike Zimmer stands up for his defense following their 34-3 preseason loss to the Detroit Lions.
Morning take: Usually, a coach doesn't need to stand up for their group in the preseason. But there's so much early concern in Cincinnati that Zimmer felt it was necessary.
  • Baltimore Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta is hoping to fill the void Todd Heap left behind.
Morning take: Pitta's playing style looks fairly similar to a young Heap. Tight end is important in Baltimore's offense. Therefore, Pitta and Ed Dickson will get opportunities to make plays.
Morning take: This should be the focus. The Steelers do not have many position battles or much to prove in the preseason. These next few weeks should be all about preparing for their biggest rival.

AFC North: Oldie but goodie

July, 15, 2011
Projecting the best 30-and-over player in my division by the start of the 2014 season.

The NFL is such a year-to-year league that it's hard to predict which veteran players will continue to thrive. Injuries can take a toll on any superstar in his 30s and that player may never be the same.

But the "oldie but goodie" player I predict will still be dominant in the AFC North three years from now is Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. The 29-year-old will be 32 in 2014, and quarterback is one of the few positions NFL players can still dominate at an advanced age.

Other quarterbacks such as Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Brett Favre have recently put together some of their best seasons well into their 30s, and there's no indication Roethlisberger couldn't do the same. According to Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, Roethlisberger played the best football of his career in 2010, which is a sign the two-time Super Bowl champion is in his prime years.

Health is the only concern for Roethlisberger. Pittsburgh has never put a good offensive line in front of him, and Roethlisberger's been sacked an astounding 221 times the past five seasons. That’s an average of 44.2 sacks per season.

As a result, Roethlisberger has suffered a variety of injuries to his foot, ribs and shoulder. But he's been fortunate to avoid any season-ending ailments. As long as that continues, Roethlisberger should thrive in Pittsburgh for years to come.
Colt McCoy and Terrelle PryorKirby Lee/US PresswireEven with Colt McCoy in the fold, the Cleveland Browns should take a look at Terrelle Pryor.
Former Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor shouldn't have to look far for his ideal NFL fit. If they're smart, the neighboring Cleveland Browns should be the first team in line to take the raw and talented prospect in next month's supplemental draft.

Cleveland, coming off back-to-back 5-11 seasons, is desperate for talent at any position. Pryor presents the perfect scenario for the Browns: He comes at no risk but could offer a high reward.

Pryor is projected to be a fourth-round pick in July's supplemental draft by everyone not named Drew Rosenhaus. That's a modest cost for someone with Pryor's athletic ability, big-game experience and pedigree. That is especially the case for the Browns, who have nine draft picks next year -- including two first-rounders -- following a cunning trade with the Atlanta Falcons.

The Browns have draft picks to spare in 2012. Why not grab Pryor now and begin teaching him the nuances of the NFL game?

In Cleveland, Pryor would work with two quarterback gurus -- Browns president Mike Holmgren and head coach Pat Shurmur. The pair developed NFL quarterbacks such as Brett Favre, Matt Hasselbeck, Donovan McNabb and Sam Bradford, just to name a few. Like many observers, I have doubts about Pryor at quarterback in the NFL. But I like his chances a lot better working with Holmgren and Shurmur.

At best, Pryor turns out to be a viable starting quarterback in the NFL. Otherwise, Pryor could try his talents at wide receiver. Oh, by the way, the Browns need help there, too. They have arguably the league's worst group of receivers.

Holmgren said after the draft that his only regret was that Cleveland didn't select a developmental quarterback in the later rounds.

"I think philosophically, I always like to take a quarterback in the draft late," Holmgren explained. "But that also had to make sense. This year, based on our roster needs and what we had and what we needed to do, we did the right thing. Now, are we finished adding to the quarterback pile? I don’t think so. ... I think we are going to try and figure out a way to get another guy in here."

Adding Pryor in the supplemental draft would address those concerns.

Despite his big name, Pryor would not be a threat to second-year quarterback Colt McCoy, who enters the year as the starter. Pryor and McCoy played in the 2009 Fiesta Bowl and developed a healthy respect for each other in college.

[+] EnlargeTerrelle Pryor
AP Photo/Jay LaPreteTerrelle Pryor finished his college career with 6,177 passing yards, 57 TDs and 26 interceptions.
Pryor would provide "McCoy insurance" for Cleveland, which is needed. The Browns are backing McCoy this season, but no one knows for sure if he is the long-term solution. With Pryor, the Browns would have two young quarterbacks to develop simultaneously and could double their chances of having one pan out.

Behind McCoy is backup Seneca Wallace, who signed a three-year extension in March and knows the West Coast offense better than anyone. But the third quarterback spot is there for the taking.

Struggling veteran Jake Delhomme, 36, is holding the seat warm until a new collective bargaining agreement is reached. After that, Delhomme’s immense $5.4 million salary kicks in and Cleveland is expected to terminate his contract.

If you were general manager of the Browns, would you rather have an aging, overpaid veteran as the third-string quarterback, or an inexpensive player with upside like Pryor, who may develop into something greater down the road? The answer is a no-brainer.

The Browns are not the favorites to land Pryor. The current regime has taken a conservative approach to building the team's foundation -- and there's nothing wrong with that. Drafting Pryor is anything but conservative, but this would be a perfect calculated risk for Cleveland to take.

The worst-case scenario is that Pryor flops in the NFL and the Browns miss on a fourth-round pick, a spot that doesn't have a high success rate to begin with. Cleveland could wait to use that pick next year on a punter or a right guard and get the same result.

Opportunity is knocking in Cleveland. The team just has to be smart enough and willing enough to answer the door.

The Browns would be wise this summer to take a flier on Terrelle Pryor.
I recall a moment with newly retired guard Alan Faneca in August 2008 while covering a preseason game between the New York Jets and Cleveland Browns.

It was a crazy day because the Jets had just signed quarterback Brett Favre. Despite being an AFC North writer based in Cleveland, my entire purpose at the preseason game was to document Favre's arrival to the Jets.

In the process of doing that, I interviewed Faneca after the game to get his take on all the attention that Favre was bringing to the team.

"It was definitely a different game day than normal," Faneca said. "You wake up, and everybody is talking about you on the news. Being a night game, you have nothing to do but watch what's on the TV in the room and you get caught up to date."

After our Favre chat, I asked Faneca how he was fitting in with the Jets. He said it would take him some time getting used to a new environment. At heart, Faneca was a Pittsburgh Steeler, and that was his first game in a different uniform.

That offseason, Faneca was disappointed the Steelers didn't offer him a contract extension. At the time, Pittsburgh did not want to overspend for an offensive lineman who was over 30, despite Faneca coming off another Pro Bowl season in 2007.

Faneca joined the Jets and made two more Pro Bowls. He also started all 16 games last season for the Arizona Cardinals and registered nine Pro Bowls total in his tremendous career.

Faneca was one of the most dominant and durable offensive linemen in the past decade and will be most remembered for his 10-year stint with the Steelers, with whom he won his only Super Bowl after the 2005 season. Faneca probably could have played another season or two but felt it was better to go out healthy and on his own terms, which was a good move.

Cleveland Browns fans have spoken.

After millions of votes over the past five weeks, Browns running back Peyton Hillis will grace the cover of the popular "Madden NFL 12" video game. Hillis, a No. 10 seed, capped his amazing run through the tournament by beating Philadelphia Eagles quarterback and No. 3 seed Michael Vick in the finals. It was the fifth time Hillis upset a higher seed.

After just one season, Hillis has quickly captured the hearts of Browns fans, who came out in droves to support the tailback. He was acquired last year in an offseason trade for another popular Cleveland player, quarterback Brady Quinn.

Hillis rushed for 1,177 yards and scored 13 total touchdowns in 2010 to become one of the few bright spot for the Browns, who were 5-11. Now Hillis will try to duplicate that success despite his newfound popularity and the history of the vaunted "Madden curse," which has impacted past players on the cover such as Troy Polamalu, Brett Favre and Vick.

"For people to believe in this so-called curse, I can't wait to prove people wrong," Hillis said on Wednesday. "From what I believe and where I am in my spiritual life, it would be good to prove them wrong in that sense."

To win the tournament, Hillis defeated Ray Rice of the Baltimore Ravens, Matt Ryan of the Atlanta Falcons, Jamaal Charles of the Kansas City Chiefs, Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers and Vick in the finals.
The Cleveland Browns have made it no secret they are willing to listen to trade offers for the No. 6 overall pick. The team has several holes to fill and would consider sliding down the first round for the right price.

But chances are one of the top two quarterbacks -- Auburn's Cam Newton or Missouri's Blaine Gabbert -- would have to fall out of the top five to make this happen. Quarterback is the one position that gets teams most antsy to trade up. The Baltimore Ravens' deal last year with the Denver Broncos for Tim Tebow is the most recent example.

So who are possible trade partners for Cleveland this year? Let's take a look.

Tennessee Titans

Pick: No. 8 overall

Analysis: The Titans are in a pretty good spot if one of the top quarterbacks slides in this draft. Therefore, they could sit and take their chances at No. 8. But with the threat of other teams willing to move ahead, taking matters into their own hands also is an option for the Titans. The San Francisco 49ers could be a sleeper team looking for a quarterback at No. 7 as well, although they have been singing the praises of Alex Smith this offseason. With Vince Young and Kerry Collins not expected to return, Tennessee has to add someone at quarterback either via the draft or free agency.

Washington Redskins

Pick: No. 10

Analysis: The Redskins are expected to let go of Donovan McNabb once a new collective bargaining agreement is reached. So if Gabbert or Newton starts to fall within reach, look out. Washington is known to trade its draft picks to acquire talent, but usually it's for veteran players. But the point is the Redskins are not afraid to part ways with valuable selections to get a player they really want. Meanwhile, the Browns could gain extra picks and still draft a top-10 player on their board.

Minnesota Vikings

Pick: No. 12

Analysis: The Vikings are a veteran team and they are desperate, which is why I think Minnesota is the most likely of this group to trade up to land a quarterback. Minnesota has a lot of good pieces in place on offense and defense. Just two years ago this team was in the NFC title game. But last year proved that without good quarterback play, the Vikings are limited. Starter Brett Favre is retiring, leaving the unproven Joe Webb as the main option right now in Minnesota.

Miami Dolphins

Pick: No. 15 overall

Analysis: The Dolphins also are searching for a quarterback, but they are less likely to be a trade partner than the other aforementioned teams. For starters, Miami doesn't have a second-round pick. That means the Dolphins probably can't offer the Browns enough to trade up, especially since the Dolphins are at No. 15 and have the longest way to go. Also, Miami appears content with targeting second-tier quarterbacks like Arkansas' Ryan Mallett, who should be available in the middle of the first round or later.

Walker's weekend mailbag

December, 18, 2010
Let's dig into the weekend mailbag.

Bengals fan from Sardinia, Ohio, writes: With Brett Favre retiring and Tarvaris Jackson in his last year, do you think the Minnesota Vikings would be willing to trade for Carson Palmer? If so what kind of compensation do you think they would get?

Walker: The trade market for Palmer is going to be interesting because he makes $11.5 million next year. Any team willing to trade for Palmer has to pay him like an elite quarterback when that's no longer the case. The AFC North blog reported Saturday that Palmer would not accept a pay cut this offseason to stay with the rebuilding Bengals (2-11). That could increase Palmer's chances of a trade or release from Cincinnati. But the Bengals also have to be careful. If word gets out that Cincinnati is willing to release Palmer to avoid paying that high salary, teams could simply wait for the quarterback to become available and negotiate a lower salary as a free agent. That way teams won't give the Bengals any compensation.

Hank from Westbrook, ME, writes: Do you see the Bengals giving Bernard Scott more playing time in the last three games?

Walker: Scott only got four carries last week, so it's hard to say. But I agree the Bengals should use Scott more down the stretch. In all likelihood, starting running back Cedric Benson will not return to Cincinnati. I'm not sure Scott can be a feature back, but the Bengals need to find out what his strengths are. Scott is averaging 4.8 yards per carry this season.

Jon Teams from Barboursville, W.Va., writes: What is the deal with Pittsburgh Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians? Why has he not tried to utilize the run more?

Walker: It's a combination of having various injuries on the offensive line and having quarterback Ben Roethlisberger back under center. Pittsburgh ran the ball best when it had to. For the first month of the season, tailback Rashard Mendenhall was the only consistent offensive threat the team had. The Steelers were also healthy up front. Now the entire playbook is available with Roethlisberger and they pass a lot more, and the offensive line isn't healthy and blocking as well.

Peter from Virginia writes: Which offense is in more disarray at this point: Steelers or New York Jets?

Walker: The Steelers are having offensive line issues and the Jets are having quarterback issues. Both can really stall an offense. But it's harder to overcome poor quarterback play. So I would say the Jets have bigger issues at the moment.

Will from Alexandria, Va., writes: What do you think about the Steelers' chances in the playoffs? Do you think they can beat the New England Patriots?

Walker: I think the Steelers' chances are much better if they don't play the Patriots. Otherwise, the Steelers have as good a chance as anyone if they can get healthy.

Adam Gardner from Bel Air, Md., writes: Do you think Joe Flacco will ever become the Ravens' team leader, call audibles, and be up there with Peyton Manning and Tom Brady?

Walker: I never understood the expectations for Flacco to become Manning or Brady, who are two future Hall of Famers. I think Flacco is doing fine at this stage of his career. He has three playoff wins and is having a solid third season statistically. Ray Lewis is the leader of the Ravens, and that won't change until he retires. Flacco, for now, can just play well down the stretch and lead by example.

Brandon Crawford from Sykesville, Md., writes: With the Ravens really struggling on the offensive line, how much of this can you contribute to the loss of offensive tackle Jared Gaither?

Walker: That's a good question, Brandon. I almost forgot about Gaither, because he hasn't been available to the team all season. Gaither can be solid when he wants to be and could've helped Baltimore this year. But too often the Ravens had to stay on top of Gaither, and that gets tiring for an organization. He lost too much weight in the offseason and subsequently got hurt, and I think that was the final straw. Gaither is no longer a good fit with Baltimore, and I don't expect him to return next year.

B. Susi from Orlando, Fla., writes: I know you like the Troy Reed and now the Heath Heap mash-up. But what about the terror that would be James Lewis? Now THAT would be a terrifying linebacker.

Walker: Wow, B. Susi. That's an automatic Hall of Famer. The only weakness I can think of would be...long snapping???

Troy Reed from Walkerville, AFCN, writes: Okay, I will admit it: Troy Polamalu is better than both me and Ed Reed.

Walker: What?!? No way. Please read this tweet explaining your greatness. Neither Polamalu nor Reed could do that alone. Only you can, Troy Reed. You're the best safety in NFL history!

Matt writes: Can you please comment on Brian Daboll and his status as the Cleveland Browns' offensive coordinator?

Walker: Sure, Matt. Daboll is in major trouble. A lot has been written about Eric Mangini's future because he's the head coach. But I think the verdict is pretty much in on Daboll. The offense hasn't made any progress in two years, and it has to be driving offensive guru and Browns president Mike Holmgren crazy. I think Cleveland's failure to develop second-round picks Mohamed Massaquoi and Brian Robiskie also reflects poorly on Daboll.

Becky from Galloway, Ohio, writes: I was wondering why in December the "Battle for Ohio" between the Bengals vs. Browns couldn’t be played in The Shoe [at Ohio State]. It would be a sellout. Even if OSU got a million both teams would still make a tidy sum. I work with a number of Bengals and Browns fans. and we would all go no matter cost of tickets.

Walker: Interesting idea, Becky. But there are a couple of issues I see with this from the NFL's perspective. For starters, one team would be losing a home game every year. Would it be fair for the Browns or Bengals to play just seven annual home games and one at a neutral site, while other teams get eight? Also, home teams make a lot of money off concessions, parking and other things during the game-day experience. That's not something the Browns or Bengals would want to give up to Ohio State.

Comment and complaint department

Ken from Long Beach, Calif., writes: As terrible as the Oakland Raiders have been the past few seasons I would gladly trade ownership with them. Living in L.A. I have seen the freak show that is Al Davis, but one thing remains certain about him; he wants to win. I am not sure I can say that about Mike Brown. I love my Bengals but I can't wait for L.A. to get a team so I can file my fan free agency and get the heck out of Mike Brown's land of despair.

Jacob from Cincy writes: I watched DeSean Jackson take a 10-yard pass 91 yards to the house, I thought back to how we passed him up in the draft and how the guy we passed him up for has been inactive all season. Where would the Bengals be if they drafted Jackson over Jerome Simpson?

Walker: Jacob, Simpson would probably play like Jackson in Philly and Jackson would be a bust in Cincy. Just kidding. It would have made a big difference in Cincinnati's offense. Ken, so many Bengals fans are at the end of their rope. I've held firm in saying it's good fandom to stick with your team. The Bengals haven't had back-to-back winning seasons in 28 years. Why leave now?

Joe from Cincinnati writes: "Cleveland Browns (5-8) at Cincinnati Bengals (2-11), Sunday at 1 p.m. Blasik's comment: The Bengals have better personnel than the Browns, and Colt McCoy will be a little rusty coming back. As much as I love to see the Bungles lose, this streak has to end sometime, right? Walker's score: Bengals, 17-16" -- I feel all Bengals fans knew, or at least had a sneaking suspicion, that you hate the Bengals and were extremely biased against them. But your stating how much you love to see them lose makes it woefully apparent.

Walker: Joe, when did I change my name to Amanda Blasik? We had a guest predict games this week. Please read the blog again. Also, for those who think I'm too harsh on the Bengals, read last year's coverage. For those who think I'm a Bengals homer, read this year's coverage.

David from Fontainebleau, France, writes: I think it is incredibly unlikely that the Panthers take Stanford QB Andrew Luck with the No. 1 pick of the draft as you suggested they would. They just picked Jimmy Clausen and Tony Pike this year. Three picks on the QB position in two drafts? I don't see it happening.

Walker: David, it's probably too early to predict the top of the draft board, but keep in mind that Clausen was a second-rounder and Pike was a sixth-rounder. Clausen hasn't showed anything for the 1-12 Panthers to get a vote of confidence for next year. Carolina also will have a new coaching staff in 2011 that's not tied to these draft picks, and a new coach always has the tendency to bring in his own players. I wouldn't rule it out.

Barry Veet from Hazleton, Pa., writes: Just wanted to tell you in my fantasy football playoffs this week I was down 61 points with only Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson left. I came back and was up 1.6 points until Schaub threw that INT in OT. Talk about an unbelievable heartbreak, losing by .4 after an improbable comeback.

Walker: Tough way to end your season, Barry. I assume Ravens cornerback Josh Wilson probably isn't your favorite player.

Will from Nashville, Tenn., writes: Hey, James. Thanks for not posting that comment comparing the Bengals and the Heat until after the Heat went on a seven-game winning streak and making me look like a fool for the question. At 9-8 when I did post the comment, the Heat were a little more disappointing and it maybe would have drawn a little better comparison to the Bengals. Way to show some respect to a loyal reader.

Walker: You are correct, Will, and my apologies. We get a lot of questions in our inbox and sometimes we can't always get to them immediately. By the time I got to yours, it was outdated.

AFC North Homer of the Week

We didn't have a strong batch of homer comments this week (good job, everyone). So we had to dig deep and find one of the runners-up from last week.


Andy from Canada writes: Hey, James. Longtime reader and much respect. I am driving down to Buffalo regardless of weather for the game this weekend and Peyton Hillis will break 200 yards rushing. Post me if I'm right, and post me if I'm wrong. I have faith. Thanks.

Walker: Andy, Hillis did get 108 rushing yards. But I'm sure you didn't anticipate his three fumbles. Nonetheless, Hillis is having a great year.

If you have any additional questions, comments or complaints, please send them to our AFC North inbox.

Mangini ready to face some friendly ghosts

November, 11, 2010
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.

Mangini-Belichick divide still strong

November, 4, 2010
Eric Mangini and Bill BelichickUS PresswireFormer colleagues Eric Mangini and Bill Belichick had an ugly falling out that lasts until this day.
BEREA, Ohio -- Cleveland Browns head coach Eric Mangini recently embraced the idea of mending fences with former friend and mentor Bill Belichick.

But based on the response this week from the New England Patriots' coach, Mangini shouldn't hold his breath.

There is still a frosty divide that separates the teacher and former pupil. The two coaches will meet for the eighth time Sunday when Belichick and the Patriots (6-1) travel to face Mangini's Browns (2-5). Including the postseason, Belichick is 5-2 against Mangini dating to Mangini's days as head coach of the New York Jets.

And New York is where Mangini's relationship with Belichick took a turn for the worse. In September 2007, the Mangini-led Jets filed a complaint with the NFL against Belichick stating that a Patriots cameraman was taping New York's defensive signals. That prompted a lengthy investigation by the NFL -- famously known as "Spygate" -- that resulted in a $500,000 fine for Belichick, a $250,000 fine for the Patriots and a loss of their 2008 first-round pick.

The investigation also found that Belichick had been taping signals since 2000. It was a major hit to Belichick's reputation, and the blow was dealt by a team coached by Mangini, whom Belichick had taken under his wing as a former ball boy in Cleveland and gradually developed into an NFL head coach.

Mangini and Belichick haven't been on speaking terms for several years.

"I'd say never say never," Mangini said of a possible reconciliation. "Obviously, he was very important to me and I respect him, very important to my family and all those things. But we'll see. Time will tell."

At this week's conference call, not for one second did the Patriots' coach care to entertain the thought of making up with Mangini.

Belichick was asked to describe the relationship with his former pupil.

"We're both coaching teams that are going to play on Sunday," said Belichick, ignoring the topic.

If Mangini reached out, would Belichick be receptive to it?

"Right now I'm really receptive to working on the Browns and trying to get our team ready to play," Belichick responded.

Where did the two coaches go wrong?

"I'm just trying to get our team ready to play this week, just like I do every single week," Belichick said.


It's pretty clear where both parties stand: Mangini remains optimistic that time will heal this wound, and Belichick isn't interested in being friendly.

But why now for Mangini? After letting things fester for several years, why has Mangini gone public in trying to patch things up?

The most prevalent theory in NFL circles is that Mangini realizes he's on the hot seat. After "Spygate," his firing in New York, and an unceremonious breakup last year with another friend in former Browns general manager George Kokinis, Mangini doesn't have the best reputation around the league.

If Mangini doesn't win enough games this year -- the Browns are on pace to win only four or five -- Cleveland president Mike Holmgren could go in another direction. And for Mangini to get another shot as a head coach or coordinator in the NFL, an image makeover may be necessary. Mangini also has been noticeably more personable with the media this season.

Belichick's tree looms large in the NFL forest, as Mangini knows.

"I am really happy that I had that chance [to work under Belichick], because I think he's arguably one of the best, if not the best, coaches in the league," Mangini said.

[+] EnlargeBill Belichick and Eric Mangini
Stew Milne/US PresswireEric Mangini was an assistant coach under Belichick for nine seasons with the Jets and Patriots.
On the field, Mangini was able to have some degree of success against Belichick, because Mangini had more veteran talent in New York. For example, two of Mangini's wins against New England came with Chad Pennington and Brett Favre at quarterback.

This week the Browns have the tough task of trying to beat the Patriots with rookie quarterback Colt McCoy. The third-round pick is expected to get his third straight start as veteran quarterbacks Seneca Wallace and Jake Delhomme recover from ankle injuries.

McCoy has shown accuracy and potential in splitting games against the Pittsburgh Steelers and New Orleans Saints. Belichick was more open to discussing McCoy than he was Mangini.

"He looks like he's an athletic kid and a good competitor," Belichick said. "He's been on the road in two tough places to play, and it looks like he's hung in there pretty well."

Will Mangini and Belichick ever be what they once were pre-Spygate? Probably not.

But if Belichick is willing, Mangini has offered an olive branch. He's open to repairing this broken friendship.

"I think everything takes care of itself over time," Mangini explained. "He's had a lot to focus on. I've had a lot to focus on. So it's just one of those things right now."



Sunday, 12/21
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