AFC North: Chan Gailey

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

Browns owner Randy Learner stressed that he does care about the team despite a reputation of being an "absentee owner."

"I do care. Of course I care," Lerner told WTAM-AM radio in Cleveland, via The Chronicle-Telegram. "I don't know ways of showing you care are clear to me other than to provide support and show up. It sickens me when we lose games. It sickens me when we have a season like we’ve just had."

Lerner believes president Mike Holmgren and general manager Tom Heckert are the right men to guide the Browns into the playoffs.

“It’s not a business where you’re going to get time,” Lerner said. “But we’re not going to get anywhere if you keep turning this thing over. Mike Holmgren is as honorable and committed a football leader as I’ve been around.”

Hensley's slant: Lerner has repeatedly shown that he cares when he has fired coaches and general managers in search of the winning combination. If he didn't care, he would keep the status quo so he doesn't have to pay ex-members of the staff even after they leave. It's not a question of whether he cares or not. It's a question of whether he'll get the right people in place.

BENGALS: Mike Zimmer is now on the radar of the Indianapolis Colts, who have asked for permission to speak to the Bengals defensive coordinator about their head-coaching position, according to ESPN and the Indianapolis Star. It's been a busy month for Zimmer, who remains in the running for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' head coaching job but was eliminated from consideration for the Miami Dolphins' opening. Hensley's slant: It's hard to gauge the Colts' interest in Zimmer because it's so early in their search process. Saints offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael and Titans defensive coordinator Jerry Gray are also expected to interview with the Colts. It's still a good sign that teams are interested in speaking to Zimmer. He just has to wonder whether getting turned down by multiple teams this year would hurt his stock going forward.

STEELERS: A decision on offensive coordinator Bruce Arians is expected soon, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The paper reported this week that Arians might not return to the team. If Arians is gone, the Steelers are expected to promote from within. According to the Post-Gazette, running backs coach Kirby Wilson was Arians' likely successor, but his health, after suffering severe burns over 45 percent of his body in a fire Jan. 6 at his home, "precludes that possibility." Hensley's slant: Why shouldn't the Steelers promote from within? It's been a successful formula for the Steelers to maintain some continuity at offensive coordinator. This has worked with Tom Moore, Chan Gailey, Mike Mularkey, Ken Whisenhunt and Arians.

RAVENS: There will be continued coverage of the team today heading into the AFC Championship Game, from the prediction blog to a column on Ed Reed to the Final Word blog.

AFC North: Final Word

September, 11, 2009
9/11/09
4:00
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com’s James Walker


Five nuggets of knowledge about this weekend's games:

 
 Ronald C. Modra/Sports Imagery/Getty Images
 Bad news for Chiefs QBs: Terrell Suggs will have fresh legs for Sunday's game with Kansas City.
Ravens get favorable matchup: Of all the teams in the AFC North, the Baltimore Ravens should have the easiest matchup this weekend at home against the Kansas City Chiefs. Baltimore is a defense-oriented team facing a team that just fired its offensive coordinator in Chan Gailey and may be without quarterback Matt Cassel. The Ravens are big favorites in this game and rightfully so.

Suggs itching to make impact: After missing all of training camp with a heel injury and playing just a few snaps in the final preseason game, look out for a well-rested Terrell Suggs. The Pro Bowl defensive end/linebacker is accustomed to sitting out in the summer and still getting off to a fast start. The past two seasons Suggs was franchised and didn’t sign his tender until late. The result was fresh legs and solid production.

Cleveland’s QB question: Brady Quinn is expected to start for the Browns Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings, but that’s only half the story. The other part is how Cleveland’s starting quarterback will perform in its season opener. Browns coach Eric Mangini had a long, drawn-out process to determine his starter this year. In fact Mangini didn’t notify Quinn or Derek Anderson until Tuesday -- just five days before the season opener. If the Browns get poor play from their quarterback position Sunday and it results in a loss, expect Mangini to get a lot of the blame because the decision could have been made two weeks ago after the third preseason game.

Favre and AP: Cleveland’s defense has a lot on its plate trying to slow Vikings quarterback Brett Favre and tailback Adrian Peterson. Favre arrived late but is viewed by many as the missing link to making Minnesota a Super Bowl contender. He will keep Cleveland’s defense honest, preventing it from stacking the box. And Peterson led the league in rushing. He's a threat every time he touches the football. The Browns don’t have the personnel to match up with Minnesota, so they will have to play extremely efficiently in all three phases.

The Ocho vs. The Champ: Two of the NFL’s top players at their respective positions will face off when receiver Chad Ochocinco of the Cincinnati Bengals meets Denver Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey. Both stars are coming off down years in terms of injuries and performance in 2008. But Ochocinco in particular looks to be in great shape and has given Bailey trouble in the past. This matchup could go a long way to determining the outcome of Sunday’s game.

Debut of Walker's AFC North picks

September, 10, 2009
9/10/09
3:30
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com’s James Walker


We’re going to have even more fun in Year 2 of the AFC North blog. So let’s start by unveiling a new feature Thursday of picking a winner for each division game in 2009.

I know, I know. There’s a lot of pressure as our hard-core AFC North fans will have no problem piling on if I struggle picking games. But I don’t plan on it this year, so neither should you. (How’s that for confident trash talk? Hope I can back it up.)

With the Pittsburgh Steelers kicking off the regular season tonight, here is the AFC North blog’s picks for Week 1:

Tennessee Titans at Pittsburgh Steelers, Thursday at 8:30 p.m.

Analysis: The Titans are talking a little too much for my liking, while Pittsburgh has been eerily quiet. Where I’m from, it’s the quiet ones you have to worry about.

Pick: Steelers, 17-13

Kansas City Chiefs at Baltimore Ravens, Sunday at 1 p.m.

Analysis: The Chiefs don’t have their former offensive coordinator (Chan Gailey) and may not have their starting quarterback (Matt Cassel), either. The Ravens have Haloti Ngata, Ed Reed, Terrell Suggs and Ray Lewis. Advantage Baltimore.

Pick: Ravens, 24-10

Denver Broncos at Cincinnati Bengals, Sunday at 1 p.m.

Analysis: The lowly Broncos are the perfect opponent for a rusty Carson Palmer. Cincinnati gets its first win much earlier than last season.

Pick: Bengals, 24-17

Minnesota Vikings at Cleveland Browns, Sunday at 1 p.m.

Analysis: The Vikings aren’t 100 percent sure who they’ll face at quarterback, although all indications are pointing to Brady Quinn. I doubt it matters all that much to Vikings tailback Adrian Peterson.

Pick: Vikings, 20-10

Last week’s record: N/A

Overall record: N/A

Projected Week 1 record: 4-0 (Ha!)

Opener setting up nicely for Baltimore

September, 1, 2009
9/01/09
10:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker


With the NFL regular season right around the corner, the Baltimore Ravens are catching some early breaks, courtesy of the Kansas City Chiefs.

 Cassel

First, Kansas City reportedly loses its starting quarterback, Matt Cassel (knee), for two to four weeks, which would include its season opener against the Ravens. Then, the Chiefs relieved offensive coordinator Chan Gailey from his duties Monday leading into the final preseason game.

Whether the Gailey move helps Kansas City remains to be seen. But at the very least, continuity is at stake early in the season against a Baltimore defense that finished No. 2 in the NFL in 2008.

Cassel's injury definitely hurts. He was Kansas City's major acquisition this offseason and was expected to upgrade the Chiefs' struggling offense. Now the Chiefs likely find themselves going into a hostile M&T Bank Stadium Sept. 13 without their quarterback and offensive coordinator.

That's not a good combination.

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