AFC North: Matt Flynn

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers will take one decided advantage into their first meeting with the Packers since Super Bowl XLV: a relatively clean bill of health.

All of the Steelers dealing with injuries, including defensive end Brett Keisel, practiced Friday and are listed as probable for the 4:25 p.m. ET game on Sunday at Lambeau Field. The Packers, meanwhile, will be without Pro Bowl quarterback Aaron Rodgers for at least another week.

The Packers have officially ruled out Rodgers, who broke his collarbone on Nov. 4, and Matt Flynn will again start in his place.

The difference between the two is huge, especially when it comes to the Steelers.

Rodgers lit up the Steelers the two previous times he played against them, including the Super Bowl win he led the Packers to in 2010.

Rodgers has thrown for 687 yards and six touchdowns with no interceptions in two games against the Steelers.

“He just knows where everybody is, and he’s so quick with the ball,” Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said. “He’s like (Dan) Marino the way he gets rid of the ball.”

Flynn has resuscitated his career since returning to Green Bay, and he has led the Packers to back-to-back comeback wins.

LeBeau said the Packers' offense hasn’t changed with Flynn playing quarterback.

“The ball’s out quick and they’re not dissimilar to the Bengals,” LeBeau said.

Keisel will likely be among the Steelers who play against the Flynn-led Packers offense.

Keisel (foot) practiced fully on Friday, and the 12th-year veteran is expected to play Sunday after missing all but a few snaps of the Steelers’ past five games because of plantar fasciitis.

Keisel is third on the Steelers with 23 quarterback pressures.
Eddie Lacy and Jason WorildsGetty ImagesJason Worilds and the Steelers will have to stop Eddie Lacy -- one of the league's best running backs this season.
The last time the Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers met, the Lombardi trophy was on the line.

In Green Bay, the memories of Super Bowl XLV are alive and well.

In Pittsburgh, all Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said he remembers from that game is one thing: "We lost," he said this week.

The stakes are much different heading into Sunday's game at Lambeau Field. The Steelers (6-8) are in the midst of disappointing season, while the Packers (7-6-1) are fighting for their playoff lives.

Packers reporter Rob Demovsky and Steelers reporter Scott Brown discuss the rematch:

Rob Demovsky: Let's start with this question. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said this week that he doesn't regret passing on Eddie Lacy in favor of drafting running back Le'Veon Bell. Right now, Lacy looks like the better pick, but it's still too early in their careers to say anything definitive. How has Bell fit into the Steelers offense and what's the biggest reason he's only averaging 3.3 yards per carry?

Scott Brown: Bell has become a big part of the offense and he has added another dimension to it with his pass-catching abilities. He is fourth on the team in receiving, and the Steelers don't just throw screen passes or checkdowns to Bell but also use him as a receiver. Bell is still finding his way as a runner and I'd say his low rushing average is a combination of playing behind a line that is better at pass blocking as well as the adjustment he is making to the speed of the game at this level. Bell has shown flashes, such as when he hurdles a cornerback or plants a defensive end with a stiff-arm, two things he did Sunday night against the Bengals.

Rob, are you surprised at all at the success Lacy has had so early in his career and what has his emergence meant to the Packers offense?

Demovsky: The only thing that has surprised me about Lacy has been his durability. As everyone around the Steelers knows, there were major questions about his injury history coming out of Alabama. Then, early on his conditioning looked a little off -- although it was not as bad as that unflattering picture of him that was circulating during training camp. Then, he sustained a concussion and missed a game and as half. But ever since he has returned from that, there haven't been any major issues. He's managed to play through a sprained ankle the past two weeks. Whenever they get quarterback Aaron Rodgers back, they'll be tough to stop because defenses will have to respect both the run and the pass. That's something Rodgers hasn't really had since he's been the starter.

I've heard a lot of people say they think the Steelers got old in a hurry, especially on defense. Even Roethlisberger looks like an old 31. What do you see in that regard and how much, if at all, has that impacted what's happened to the Steelers this season?

Brown: Age has certainly been a factor in the decline of the defense this season, but I think it's a bit of a misconception that the Steelers' problems stem from them getting old in a hurry. There is still age on the defense, most notably in the secondary, but the Steelers have quietly gotten younger on that side of the ball -- and will continue to do so after the season. What made the Steelers consistently good before this current stretch is they always seemed to have younger players ready to step in for starters who had passed their prime. Perhaps the best example of this is James Harrison and the kind of player he turned into after the Steelers released Joey Porter following the 2006 season.

The Steelers are actually pretty young on offense and while Roethlisberger is 31, he has played every snap this season. I think the offense will step to the forefront in the coming seasons while the Steelers retool the defense and Bell and the offensive line get better.

Rob, Matt Flynn had trouble sticking with a team before he returned to Green Bay. Is it too strong to say that he saved the season -- or at least prevented the Packers from dropping out of playoff contention after Rodgers went down with the broken collarbone?

Demovsky: I'm not sure if Flynn saved their season as much as the Detroit Lions' ineptitude saved their season. Same with the Dallas Cowboys and Atlanta Falcons. It's not exactly like Flynn lit up a couple of defensive juggernauts. That said, it's obvious Flynn has a comfort level with the Packers offense that he did not have in Seattle or Oakland. How else can you explain why he has performed reasonably well here and so poorly in those places?

This is obviously the first meeting between these two teams since Super Bowl XLV. Roethlisberger said this week on a conference call with reporters at Lambeau Field that the only thing he remembers about that game is that his team lost. Given that the Steelers don't have the playoffs to play for this season, does avenging that Super Bowl loss give the Steelers any extra motivation this week?

Brown: They can say that it doesn't, but I'm sure they would love a little payback for that loss even if a win by the Steelers on Sunday would come on a considerably smaller stage. I have been impressed with how the Steelers have remained focused even though they only have a sliver of hope of sneaking into the playoffs -- and that's if they manage to win their final two games. The Steelers, in fact, could already be eliminated from postseason contention before kickoff Sunday depending on what happens in the 1 p.m. ET games.

If their showing against the Bengals is a guide, the Packers will get the Steelers' best effort no matter what transpires in the early games. The Steelers seemingly had nothing to play for last Sunday night and they jumped all over the Bengals and cruised to a 30-20 win. It was their most impressive win of the season as much for the circumstances under which it came as for the opponent.

Rob, the Steelers offense has really been on the rise since offensive coordinator Todd Haley removed the reins from the no-huddle attack. Given some of the difficulties Green Bay has had on defense do you think it will need to score a lot of points to beat the Steelers?

Demovsky: The Packers defense gave up 332 yards in the first half alone last Sunday against the Cowboys. They couldn't stop the run -- they haven't really done so since early in the season -- and they seem to have costly coverage breakdowns. When their defense has been at its best is when it has created turnovers. Those two fourth-quarter interceptions of Tony Romo sure made up for a lot of defensive mistakes. The same thing happened when they pitched a shutout in the second half against the Falcons the previous week. If Roethlisberger & Co. take care of the ball, then I expect the Steelers will force the Packers to match them in a shootout type of game.

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

Steelers safety Ryan Clark delivered a shot at the Dolphins organization Sunday night after quarterback Matt Flynn became the latest free agent to sign elsewhere.

Responding to a previous tweet that claimed no one wants to sign with the team, Clark posted on Twitter: "No one! To believe I almost went there but it was easy decision not to."

Two years ago, Clark considered playing for the Dolphins and even visited Miami before re-signing with the Steelers. When someone accused Clark of a "low blow" last night, Clark responded again via Twitter: "It's my honest opinion. Not a good guy making decisions."

It would seem that Clark is referring to Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland.

The subject got started Sunday night when Clark, who went to LSU, congratulated Matt Flynn on his new deal. Flynn signed with the Seattle Seahawks after talking with the Dolphins.

Hensley's slant: While some will just pass this off as Clark being outspoken again, he wouldn't be the first player to criticize Ireland. During this year's Super Bowl, former Dolphins linebacker Channing Crowder insisted he wouldn't play for Ireland again, saying "he's not a good person." Crowder brought up Ireland's pre-draft incident with Dez Bryant where he asked the wide receiver if his mother was a prostitute.

BENGALS: Reggie Nelson agreed to a deal Sunday that is believed to be the biggest for a safety this offseason, according to the Bengals' official website. No details of his contract were provided. Nelson chose the Bengals over the Jets. It's believed both offers exceeded $4 million per season. "I'd be lying if I didn't say it was hard," Nelson told the website. "I had a great visit with the Jets. Yeah, I went back and forth. But my agent [Hadley Engelhard] was able to come to a great agreement with the Browns [family, Bengals owners]. I'm back in orange and black." Hensley's slant: The suddenly busy Bengals will have another important day Monday, when free-agent running backs Michael Bush and BenJarvus Green-Ellis visit. It's believed that Bush is the favorite. Also, Texans tight end Joel Dreessen is visiting the Bengals Monday after meeting with the Saints.

BROWNS: A few days after ending the speculation of Kevin Kolb-to-the Browns, the same can go for Flynn, who signed three-year, $26 million deal (including $10 million guaranteed) with the Seattle Seahawks. It doesn't look like the Browns were interested in Flynn, although earlier reports indicated that the team had exchanged contract offers with him. Hensley's slant: I agreed with the Browns' game plan at quarterback this offseason, when they tried to trade up for Robert Griffin III and didn't pursue Flynn. He might have some good seasons in Seattle, but the Browns need to find themselves a franchise quarterback. But that might not come until next year's draft.

RAVENS: The Baltimore Sun's Mike Preston believes John Harbaugh and the Ravens' coaching staff wanted to re-sign center Matt Birk more than general manager Ozzie Newsome. "For the past two seasons, the Ravens have struggled in short-yardage situations and they haven't gotten much push from Birk, whose best days are behind him," Preston wrote. Preston notes that the Ravens would've cut left tackle Bryant McKinnie if they could have kept Birk and guard Ben Grubbs. Hensley's slant: With the Ravens unable to sign free agent Evan Mathis over the weekend, here's my options on what the team can do at left guard. But adding an offensive lineman isn't the Ravens' only focus. Baltimore brought in wide receiver-returner Ted Ginn Jr. for a visit Friday. He was the Dolphins' first-round pick in 2007, when Cam Cameron was the head coach, and played last season in San Francisco for Jim Harbaugh.
This could be the day when you can officially scratch Kevin Kolb and Matt Flynn off the "potential Browns quarterback" list.

The Arizona Cardinals have to decide by 4 p.m. Friday whether to release Kolb or give him a $7 million roster bonus. The determining factor is Peyton Manning. If the Cardinals feel like they have a strong shot at him -- it doesn't look great from recent reports -- they will cut ties with Kolb. If Arizona thinks it has little chance to lure Manning to the desert, the Cardinals are expected to keep Kolb and pay him the bonus, according to the Arizona Republic.

The Browns presumably would look at Kolb if he became available. He has ties with Browns general manager Tom Heckert and coach Pat Shurmur from their days with the Philadelphia Eagles.

Of course, Matt Hasselbeck could be available if Manning chooses to go to the Titans. Hasselbeck has a long history with Browns president Mike Holmgren, although his age (he turns 37 in September) is a deterrent. But let's not bring up using personal relationships to help broker a deal to Holmgren. It's a touchy subject right now.

The situation with Flynn might get resolved as early as today but it could take the weekend. You remember Flynn. He's the quarterback that the Browns reportedly exchanged offers with -- or never contacted in free agency -- depending on whom you believe.

It looks like Flynn isn't on the Browns' radar. He is meeting with the Seattle Seahawks today and is visiting the Miami Dolphins next, according to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter.

Initially, after the season, I thought adding Flynn would have been a good idea because you could address quarterback without having to give up a draft pick (or multiple ones to trade up for Robert Griffin III). But the opinion changed when you saw Flynn was a hyped-up version of Colt McCoy in terms of being a timing passer who doesn't possess elite arm strength.

So, adding Flynn isn't the answer for the Browns. But standing pat with McCoy and Seneca Wallace isn't the perfect solution either.
Conflicting reports have emerged on the Cleveland Browns' interest in Matt Flynn, who is widely regarded as the second-best quarterback in free agency.

On Tuesday, the first day of NFL free agency, a source told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel that the Browns exchanged contract offers with Flynn. On Wednesday morning, a league source told the Cleveland Plain Dealer that the reports about the Browns pursuing Flynn are untrue.

So, who do you believe? I'm sticking with my earlier assessment that the Browns don't have much interest in Flynn. It's too big of an investment — potentially a $50 million contract — for a quarterback with two starts. The Browns would be making the right call to be wary of spending that money on a quarterback who doesn't have elite arm strength. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Flynn completed less than half of his passes outside the field numbers (17 of 36) from 2008 to 2010.

Flynn is a timing passer who makes decisive reads but won't be able to deliver the throw on a 25-yard comeback route. If the Browns wanted a quarterback like that, then they should just stick with Colt McCoy.

Of course, the logical question becomes: If the Browns aren't pursuing Flynn, which quarterback will they pursue? After getting outbid for the No. 2 overall pick and a shot a Robert Griffin III, there really isn't a franchise quarterback out there. The problem is, the Browns have to bring in competition for McCoy.

I've already mentioned the possibilities of Kevin Kolb (who is due a $7 million roster bonus from Arizona at the end of the week) and Matt Hasselbeck (who could get pushed out if the Titans sign Peyton Manning). Sure, neither one will inspire Browns fans to start saving money for playoff tickets. But both won't require sizable contracts that would stop the Browns from drafting a franchise quarterback in next year's draft.

If the Browns want to add a young quarterback this year, they could look at a first-round prospect like Texas A&M's Ryan Tannehill or a second-round one like Oklahoma State's Brandon Weeden. There are question marks with both of these quarterbacks as well. Tannehill only has 19 career starts in college, and Weeden will be a 28-year-old rookie.
The Cleveland Browns are exchanging contract offers with free-agent quarterback Matt Flynn, a source told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

The Miami Dolphins are also in contract talks with Flynn, according to the paper. If this is true -- and I have my doubts -- this move makes little sense to me because Flynn is a similar style quarterback to Colt McCoy. I'm still not sold on the Browns having a strong interest in Flynn, the longtime backup for the Green Bay Packers.

Pursuing Flynn is also a risky move because the Browns will likely have to pay him between $50 million and $60 million on the basis of two starts, albeit two strong starts.

The better move for the Browns is to wait and possibly sign Kevin Kolb or Matt Hasselbeck, two quarterbacks who have a familiarity with Browns officials. Kolb must be released by Friday afternoon in order for the Arizona Cardinals to avoid paying him a $7 million roster bonus. Hasselbeck, 36, who wouldn't be a long-term solution at quarterback, would be available if the Tennessee Titans sign Peyton Manning.

Kolb has ties with general manager Tom Heckert and head coach Pat Shurmur from their days with the Philadelphia Eagles. Hasselbeck played under Holmgren when he was the head coach for the Seattle Seahawks.

With Kolb and Hasselbeck, the Browns could sign them to contracts that wouldn't preclude them from drafting a quarterback of the future next season. At the very least, they would be stop-gaps for Cleveland.
As a disclaimer, I can't classify any of the remaining options at quarterback as the "best move" for the Cleveland Browns because there really isn't one after losing out on Robert Griffin III.

But as free agency begins Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET, the best option is to wait and see if Kevin Kolb is released from the cap-strapped Arizona Cardinals. He's due a $7 million roster bonus on March 17, so there's no guarantee he will be available. The risk is not doing anything on the quarterback front for the first four days of free agency for someone who might not get let go. But Kolb represents the best value considering the alternatives.

The Browns shouldn't sign Matt Flynn to a $50 million contract based on two starts. They shouldn't reach for Texas A&M's Ryan Tannehill in the top 10 of the draft. And they shouldn't put their hopes in a 28-year-old rookie like Oklahoma State's Brandon Weeden.

Browns general manager Tom Heckert said it was doubtful the team would sign a big-name quarterback in free agency, but that was before Cleveland fell short in its bid for RG3 on Friday night. The fact the Browns were pursuing a deal to move up and get RG3 proves team officials aren't sold on Colt McCoy as their quarterback in 2012.

Adding Kolb makes sense for the Browns, even though he doesn't provide the playmaking ability of RG3 or the same buzz as Flynn.

Unlike Flynn, the Browns have a familiarity with Kolb. Heckert and Browns coach Pat Shurmur were with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2007 when they drafted Kolb.

And, unlike Flynn, Kolb's contract will be much more reasonable because his stock is down after a disappointing first season in Arizona. Injuries and ineffectiveness left him 2-6 in his eight full games as a starter. But Kolb showed flashes during his time with the Eagles.

At the very least, Kolb versus McCoy would be a stronger quarterback competition than McCoy against a rookie.

It's hard to get a read on the Browns' level of interest in Kolb. According to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Browns weren't as interested in Kolb as most thought they were last year. Heckert addressed Kolb on Thursday with Cleveland reporters, saying, "I still think Kevin is going to be a good player. Time will tell on that. He hasn't really played a whole lot. Even last year he was hurt."

At this point, the Browns missed out on their first attempt for a quarterback when the Redskins outbid them for RG3. Now it's time to see what the Browns' next move will be.

AFC North team needs: Browns

March, 12, 2012
Free agent officially kicks off at 4 p.m. Tuesday, so let's take a look at the three biggest needs for the Browns:
1. Running back: The best way for the Browns to address this position is to draft Alabama's Trent Richardson with the fourth overall pick. There really isn't a better option in free agency. The Browns could re-sign Peyton Hillis, but they probably would only do so if he comes at a bargain rate. Cleveland needs to find an established playmaker here, because Montario Hardesty and Brandon Jackson are question marks in terms of health, and Chris Ogbonnaya is a third-down back. If you miss out on your chance for a franchise quarterback, you have to make sure you're set at running back.

2. Quarterback: The big question is whether the Browns will pursue Matt Flynn in free agency. It could be difficult to land the longtime Packers backup, because the Miami Dolphins are expected to go after him if they can't make any headway with Peyton Manning. The Dolphins would have the edge for Flynn, because new head coach Joe Philbin worked with him in Green Bay. Flynn, though, looks like a more highly touted version of Colt McCoy. If the Browns don't sign Flynn in free agency and don't draft Ryan Tannehill in the first round, they are looking at starting McCoy for the second straight season. He is 5-16 as a starter, and ranked 27th in the NFL in passing last season.

3. Wide receiver: Cleveland has one of the worst wide receiver groups in the NFL, and desperately needs a No. 1 target. The Browns were tied for the most drops in the NFL last season, and made only six catches of more than 40 yards, which tied for fourth-fewest in the league. Some have linked Cleveland to the Giants' Mario Manningham, but the better fit is the Colts' Pierre Garcon. He gives the Browns what they need the most at that position -- speed. Garcon finished with four catches of 40 yards or more, and three of his touchdown catches were longer than 40 yards. He did this without Manning throwing the ball to him. The Browns aren't expected to go after big-name receivers like Vincent Jackson or Marques Colston. After Garcon, Manningham and Robert Meachem, the next level of wide receivers include the Cowboys' Laurent Robinson, the Cardinals' Early Doucet and former Browns first-round pick Braylon Edwards.

The Cleveland Browns were the biggest losers in Saturday's pre-draft blockbuster trade in which the Washington Redskins moved up to the second overall pick by trading three first-rounders and an additional second-round pick to the St. Louis Rams.

[+] EnlargeMatt Flynn
Jeff Hanisch/US PresswireNow that the Browns are out of the RG3 sweepstakes, will they turn their attention to signing Matt Flynn in free agency?
The Browns lost out on Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III. They lost out on the best franchise quarterback in this draft outside of Stanford's Andrew Luck. They lost out on the dynamic playmaker who would have been the focal point of a rebuilding offense and franchise.

The Browns reportedly made a push for the second overall pick, going so far as to offer at least three No. 1 picks to the Rams and possibly even the second-round pick, one source told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter. In the end, the Browns were on the losing end like they've been so many times since rejoining the NFL in 1999.

Some will argue that this is a good move for the Browns because they didn't mortgage their future. But this is truly bad news for Cleveland because they're stuck with mediocrity in the present.

The Browns are now going to have to overpay for Matt Flynn. Like RG3, there is no guarantee that Flynn is an NFL starting quarterback. Unlike RG3, Flynn lacks the tools to carry an offense. He doesn't have the size or arm strength teams covet in a quarterback, which is why the Redskins paid such a high price to leapfrog the Browns for RG3.

And, by paying that price, the Redskins are assured of getting RG3. The Browns, meanwhile, are assured of nothing. While it's assumed that the Browns will focus on Flynn, there's no guarantee that they will land the longtime Green Bay backup. Flynn could reunite with former Packers offensive coordinator Joe Philbin in Miami if the Dolphins lose out on Peyton Manning.

If the Browns lose out on Flynn, they're left with either drafting Texas A&M's Ryan Tannehill in the top 10, signing Jason Campbell or Kyle Orton in free agency, or staying with Colt McCoy for another season. I know -- don't everyone rush out and buy that Campbell jersey all at once.

When looking at these options, the Browns should be regretting the fact that they didn't do enough to get RG3. Whatever the Redskins had planned to offer, Cleveland should've offered more. RG3 has the arm, speed and charisma that the Browns franchise desperately needed. Now, without RG3, the Browns are simply desperate for a quarterback once again.

AFC North links: Matt Flynn to the Browns?

March, 9, 2012
AM ET's AFC North free agency preview focuses on what the division contenders must do to catch the Ravens.

Baltimore Ravens

The Ravens could be facing significant turnover at linebacker this offseason, writes Matt Vensel of the Baltimore Sun.

Vinny Iyer of the Sporting News has a list of the best available free-agent defensive tackles, and Baltimore's Brandon McKinney is mentioned.

Cincinnati Bengals

Cornerback Leon Hall finally got a chance to meet new secondary coach Mark Carrier, writes Joe Reedy of the Cincinnati Enquirer.

Cleveland Browns

Ryan Wilson of explains why free-agent quarterback Matt Flynn makes a lot of sense for the Browns.

General Manager Tom Heckert says the Browns have not talked to Peyton Manning and don't plan to pursue the quarterback. He also said the Browns haven't ruled out trading up with the Rams for the No. 2 pick in the draft for a chance to select Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III.

Pursuing Peyton Manning doesn't make sense for the Browns, writes Terry Pluto of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Heckert says the Browns are comfortable with running backs Montario Hardesty, Chris Ogbonnaya and Brandon Jackson.

Pittsburgh Steelers

After recently turning 30, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger says he is excited about the talent around him, and hopes he is just entering his prime.
The Cleveland Browns should trade up and draft Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III. Well, that's the opinion of the AFC North blog family.

In a SportsNation poll, 44 percent of voters said RG3 should be the Browns' starting quarterback in 2012. Unlike the NFL combine, RG3 wasn't the runaway winner in this race. Colt McCoy received 37 percent in a poll that drew more than 10,000 votes, which shows that he made an impression in his first full season as the Browns' starter.

Multiple teams have had talks with the St. Louis Rams about the No. 2 pick, where Griffin is expected to get drafted. ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter reported earlier this week that the Rams have decided to trade the pick and have had discussions with the Browns (No. 4), Washington Redskins (No. 6) and Miami Dolphins (No. 8), each of whom is scheduled to pick in the top eight in April's draft.

The quarterback who received the third-most votes in the poll was soon-to-be free agent Matt Flynn (15 percent). Texas A&M's Ryan Tannehill, a first-round quarterback prospect, finished a distant fourth with 4 percent.
The AFC North is running a series where every position will be ranked and what could change at that position.


1. STEELERS: Ben Roethlisberger remains the best quarterback in the division, and it's still not even close. Despite three injuries (sprained foot, broken right thumb and high ankle sprain), he threw 400 more yards than any other quarterback in the AFC North. Roethlisberger's highlights were throwing five touchdowns against Tennessee, out-dueling Tom Brady and beating Cleveland in the first meeting on one leg. He was the true most valuable player on the Steelers, even though Antonio Brown was named that by his teammates. When Roethlisberger hurt his ankle in early December, the Steelers offense was never the same. With a healthy Roethlisberger, the Steelers don't lose at Denver in the playoffs. In Charlie Batch's only start, the 37-year-old backup completed 15 of 22 passes for 208 yards against the Rams. What could change: The Steelers have to make a decision at backup quarterback. Batch, Byron Leftwich and Dennis Dixon are all unrestricted free agents. Leftwich is the favorite to get the No. 2 job.

2. RAVENS: The biggest frustration for the Ravens is that Joe Flacco can look like a championship quarterback one week and a confused one the next. Another uneven season included four games with 300 or more yards passing and seven with less than 200 yards passing. When Flacco was at his best, he threw three touchdowns in the first quarter at St. Louis, delivered a last-minute comeback at Pittsburgh and completed 79 percent of his passes in the regular-season finale at Cincinnati. His biggest moment came in the AFC championship game in New England where he threw the winning touchdown that sent the Ravens to the Super Bowl ... until the ball was stripped from Lee Evans. Rookie backup Tyrod Taylor threw one pass. What could change: The size of Flacco's contract. The Ravens have made it a priority to sign Flacco, who is entering the final year of his contract, to an extension. It should get done before the end of August because both sides don't want this issue to hang over their heads entering the regular season.

3. BENGALS: Andy Dalton was the best rookie quarterback in the AFC and would've been the top one in the NFL if not for that quarterback named Cam. A second-round pick in 2011, Dalton became the only rookie in NFL history to throw for 20 or more touchdowns passes while winning eight or more games as a starting quarterback. The most impressive part of Dalton's game is his anticipation. He gets rid of the ball before the wide receiver gets out of his break, which is quite a feat for a first-year passer. His biggest challenge is overcoming the best defenses in the division. In four games against Pittsburgh and Baltimore, Dalton had an 0-4 record with four touchdowns and five interceptions. Against the rest of the NFL, he was 9-3 with 16 touchdowns and eight interceptions. Backup Bruce Gradkowski replaced an injured Dalton in the season opener and led two fourth-quarter touchdown drives in rallying the Bengals to a 27-17 victory at Cleveland. What could change: The playbook is set to expand for Dalton in his second season. Dalton will progress as long as the Bengals improve his supporting cast. They need to upgrade the No. 2 wide receiver spot and find a more consistent starting running back.

4. BROWNS: No one questions Colt McCoy's leadership or toughness. It's his arm strength, accuracy, recognition of blitzes and ability to make plays in the pocket that are the question marks. You can argue that he doesn't have playmakers in the passing game and the Browns receivers were tied for the NFL lead in dropped passes. While all of that is correct, it's also true that McCoy is limited as a quarterback no matter who the Browns put around him. In his first full season as a starter, McCoy ranked 27th in completion percentage (57.2), 25th in passing yards per game (210.2), 33rd in yards per attempt (5.9), 27th in passer rating (74.6) and 25th in QBR (39.8). His season ended with a concussion that resulted in a vicious hit by Steelers linebacker James Harrison. Backup Seneca Wallace isn't the answer. He is 1-6 in seven starts for the Browns. Wallace didn't look like an experienced backup with his poor clock management at the end of the first half in Baltimore. What could change: The Browns need to find a franchise quarterback, whether it's signing Matt Flynn in free agency or trading up to draft Robert Griffin III, which is what I endorse. The fallback option is keeping McCoy as the starter for another season.

Feb. 20: Special teams; Feb. 21: Defensive line; Feb. 23: Linebackers; Feb. 24: Defensive backs; Feb. 27: Offensive line; Feb. 28: Wide receivers; Feb. 29: Tight ends; March 1: Running backs.
Griffin IIIAP Photo/Dave MartinQB Robert Griffin III has all the intangibles that the Browns could put to good use immediately.
There's a growing sense that the Cleveland Browns should trade up and draft Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III. I'm here to tell you that the Browns must do it.

If they want an offensive playmaker. If they want a face for the franchise. If they eventually want to win a Super Bowl.

There are arguments against Cleveland giving up a handful of valuable picks for the Heisman Trophy winner. For each one, I will give you a convincing rebuttal on why RG3 is the Browns' only option at quarterback, from that golden arm to those priceless Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles socks.

RG3 is more athletic than most NFL quarterbacks and he's faster than most running backs. His wit is extremely quick as well. "I hope somebody falls in love with me, other than my fiancee," he said when asked about the Browns possibly trading up to No. 2 to get him.

Let the Miami Dolphins sign Matt Flynn. Let another team panic and draft Ryan Tannehill in the top 10. Griffin is different than both of those quarterbacks. He's special. He has that "it" factor that turned around the Baylor football program and figures prominently in any NFL reclamation project.

I know Flynn threw for 480 yards and six touchdowns in one game last season and Tannehill is a better fit for the West Coast offense. But RG3 brings charisma, excitement and plenty of crazy socks (yes, even Hello Kitty ones). He'll not only be the face of the franchise. He'll be the mouthpiece, too.

The drafting of RG3 would sell tickets. Actually, I think he would go out and sell tickets himself if you ask him. In yesterday's SportsNation poll, 42 percent of the nearly 8,000 voters think RG3 should be the Browns' starting quarterback in 2012.

The Browns have been irrelevant in the NFL for too long. That's what happens when you lose 97 games in nine seasons. RG3 brings bite back to the Dawg Pound.

"It would be fun to compete with Colt [McCoy]," Griffin said. "I played him one year in college, and he beat us. Maybe I'd have to go out there and beat him. Other than that, it would be an honor to go to Cleveland, to go anywhere. As far as the team goes, they just need that motivation, they need that inspiration. They've got the coaches in place to be successful."

Of course, moving up two spots from No. 4 to draft RG3 comes at a steep price. The St. Louis Rams, who hold the second overall pick, are seeking a deal similar to what the San Diego Chargers got for the rights to 2004 top overall pick Eli Manning, sources told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter. Manning was selected by the Chargers with the No. 1 overall pick in 2004 and traded to the New York Giants for two first-round picks, a third-round pick and a fifth-round choice.

That's a teeth-gnashing amount of picks to give up for the Browns, who have the fourth and 22nd overall picks in this year's first round. They are not one quarterback away from winning a championship. Cleveland needs draft choices to rebuild an offense that ranked 29th in yards and 30th in points scored.

But the Browns need someone to build around. And, if Cleveland doesn't do this, another team like the Washington Redskins gladly will. Why? Teams don't win Super Bowls without franchise quarterbacks these days. In fact, six of the past seven Super Bowl winners started quarterbacks that they selected in the first round.

Just like the Browns, the Giants were coming off a 4-12 season when they handed over those picks for Manning in the 2004 draft. Two Lombardi Trophies later and the Giants aren't second-guessing the decision.

To be honest, there really isn't a decision for the Browns when you look at the alternatives.

Cleveland could sign Flynn, a longtime backup for the Green Bay Packers, in free agency. Instead of draft picks, it would cost the Browns a $50 million contract to someone who's made two career NFL starts. Flynn doesn't have prototypical size or elite arm strength. He's a timing passer who makes decisive reads but won't be able to deliver the throw on a 25-yard comeback route.

If the Browns wanted a quarterback like that, then they should just stick with McCoy. Of course, the Flynn scenario allows the Browns to keep the fourth overall pick and presumably use it on Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon. The problem is, Blackmon isn't on the same level as A.J. Green, the wide receiver who was selected No. 4 last year, or Julio Jones, whom the Browns passed on last year. Blackmon also doesn't possess the speed that the Cleveland wide receiver group needs.

Another direction the Browns could take is trading back a few spots from the No. 4 to select Tannehill in the top 10 and acquire more picks. Tannehill is the third-best quarterback in this draft but he comes with his own share of questions. He started only 19 games at Texas A&M because he spent his first 2 1/2 seasons there as a wide receiver. Tannehill is as big of a gamble as Flynn in terms of experience.

The other option is sticking with McCoy as the starter for another season. Supporters of McCoy say you can't judge him properly because he doesn't have a supporting cast. I just get the sense that some don't want to start over again at quarterback, which is understandable. The Browns have had 16 starting quarterbacks since rejoining the NFL in 1999, which averages out to a different quarterback every 13 games.

McCoy won't lead a team to a championship, and it wouldn't matter if his top receiver was Calvin Johnson or Larry Fitzgerald. He can't throw an accurate deep ball in a league where passing downfield is essential. McCoy is a limited quarterback, whereas RG3 offers limitless potential.

The Browns will only have themselves to blame if they lose out on RG3. Cleveland can give the Rams what no one else can — the fourth overall pick. That would allow St. Louis to address a major need, whether it's drafting Blackmon or offensive tackle Matt Kalil.

Drafting RG3 will require more work in free agency. The Browns have to spend money to improve at wide receiver (perhaps Pierre Garcon) and running back (if Cleveland makes the right call and parts ways with Peyton Hillis).

Still, the addition of RG3 provides a foundation for the offense and a hope for the future.
This is the biggest question facing the Browns this offseason: Who will be their starting quarterback for 2012?

The Browns can sign longtime Packers backup Matt Flynn in free agency. Cleveland would likely have to beat out the Miami Dolphins for Flynn, who threw for 480 yards and six touchdowns in his only start last season.

They can draft Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III at the top of the first round (which would likely require a trade up to the No. 2 spot). He created a buzz at the NFL combine with his speed and his interview with reporters.

They can select Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill later in the first round (that is, if he is around when the Browns draft 22nd overall). Teams are looking at his upside more than his statistics as a senior (he threw for 3,744 yards with 29 touchdowns and 15 interceptions).

Of course, the Browns don't have to make a move at all and stay with Colt McCoy for another year. In his first full season as a starter, McCoy ranked 26th in completion percentage (57.2), 25th in passing yards per game (210.2), 32nd in yards per attempt (5.9), 25th in passer rating (74.6) and 25th in QBR (39.8).

I will weigh on this topic tomorrow, but you can give your opinion today. Go ahead and register your vote or let me know what you think in the comments section below.