AFC North: Matt Stover

The NFL announced that 33 former star players will announce the second- and third-round picks for their teams on Friday. Here are the ones representing AFC North teams:

BENGALS: Wide receiver Isaac Curtis. The four-time Pro Bowl player finished with 7,101 receiving yards, which was a franchise record until broken by Chad Ochocinco in 2007.

BROWNS: Wide receiver Gary Collins. A member of the NFL's all-decade team for the 1960s, he remains the Browns' leader in career receiving touchdowns with 70.

RAVENS: Kicker Matt Stover. A member of the Ravens' Ring of Honor, Stover holds the record for most points scored with one franchise.

STEELERS: Center Dermontti Dawson. A member of the 2012 Hall of Fame class, Dawson as named to seven straight Pro Bowls (1992 to 1998) and was a six-time first-team All-Pro.

AFC North links: Winslow feeling strong

May, 27, 2011
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Baltimore Ravens

Matt Stover is walking away from the game with no regrets.

The Ravens have cancelled plans to cut pay for employees during the lockout.

Cincinnati Bengals

In light of his recent plan to wrangle snakes, Yahoo! Sports has come up with a few other offseason activities for Chad Ochocinco.

Cleveland Browns

Kellen Winslow says his right knee is feeling better than it has in years.

Dick Jauron is excited about his opportunity as the Browns' defensive coordinator.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Ron Cook of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette says James Harrison's recent remarks were out of line.

Warren Sapp had some words for Harrison and LaMarr Woodley.

AFC North links: Arrington supports Lewis

May, 26, 2011
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Baltimore Ravens

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

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

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

Cincinnati Bengals

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

Cleveland Browns

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

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

Pittsburgh Steelers

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

Joe Starkey of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review thinks Harrison should "quit complaining."
The Baltimore Ravens will hold a news conference Thursday to announce the retirement of longtime kicker Matt Stover, the team announced on its website. Stover had a distinguished 19-year career spent mostly with the Cleveland Browns and Ravens.

Stover
Stover
Stover became the most famous holdover between the rival franchises when the Browns left Cleveland and moved to Baltimore. He kicked for the Ravens during the team's first 13 seasons, which included Baltimore's Super Bowl run in 2000. Stover also spent five seasons kicking for the Browns.

Stover most recently had a brief stint with the Indianapolis Colts in 2009 and became the oldest player to participate in a Super Bowl. He was 42 at the time.

Stover will retire with a career field-goal percentage of 83.7 and will be remembered as one of the most reliable kickers in NFL history.
Here are the most interesting stories Tuesday in the AFC North:
  • Pittsburgh Steelers (6-3) receiver Hines Ward (concussion) says he will play Sunday against the Oakland Raiders (5-4).
Morning take: Pittsburgh's offense didn’t look the same in the first half when Ward went down against the New England Patriots. It's no surprise Ward aims to return for this big game.
  • Is the Baltimore Ravens' (6-3) pass defense worse with safety Ed Reed?
Morning take: Statistically, Baltimore has allowed more passing yards since Reed's return, but it doesn't make sense to say the Ravens are worse. Reed's presence forces opponents to plan against him, and Reed already contributed three interceptions.
Morning take: Joe Reedy of the Cincinnati Enquirer lists Matt Stover and Shaun Suisham as early favorites. I'm not sure Stover would come back to a losing team, but Pittsburgh may be a consideration.
  • The Cleveland Browns (3-6) continue to show heart this season.
Morning take: Cleveland could have been a factor had it not blown some early games. But the Browns have to settle for being a spoiler, starting Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars (5-4).

Best Ravens Team Ever: 2000

June, 23, 2010
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Notable players: LB Ray Lewis, OT Jonathan Ogden, S Rod Woodson, TE Shannon Sharpe, RB Jamal Lewis, LB Peter Boulware, CB Chris McAlister, DT Sam Adams

[+] EnlargeRay Lewis
AP Photo/Nick WassRay Lewis and the Ravens' defense helped the young franchise win its first, and so far only, Super Bowl.
Analysis: The 2000 Ravens are the clear choice for a franchise that's only been in existence for 14 years. It was the only team to win a Super Bowl and also had arguably the most dominant defense of all time.

Baltimore was far from a perfect Super Bowl team in 2000. Most notably, the team had issues at quarterback. The Ravens started with Tony Banks under center but finished with Trent Dilfer, who played efficiently enough for Baltimore to make an incredible run to end the season.

At one point, the Ravens were a middle-of-the-pack, 5-4 team. Then Baltimore got hot, winning seven straight to end the regular season and four more postseason games, including a victory over the New York Giants in Super Bowl XXXV.

Led by middle linebacker Ray Lewis, the Ravens set several defensive records in 2000, including fewest points (165) and fewest rushing yards (970) allowed in a 16-game season. Baltimore also pitched four shutouts.

There were seemingly no weaknesses on defense. Baltimore's defensive line was stout with Adams and Tony Siragusa, the linebackers were elite, and the secondary had stud playmakers at safety (Woodson) and cornerback (McAlister).

Then-rookie tailback Jamal Lewis anchored the offense with 1,364 rushing yards. Tight end Sharpe was the team's most dependable receiver, recording 67 receptions for 810 yards.

Most impressive win: Although the Super Bowl win over the Giants will go down as the biggest game of the season, the most impressive was Baltimore's dominance in the AFC Championship Game, a 16-3 road win over the Oakland Raiders. The Ravens' defense smothered Oakland's high-powered offense led by quarterback Rich Gannon. Baltimore forced five Oakland turnovers.

Research Room: Longtime Ravens kicker Matt Stover made the only Pro Bowl of his 19-year career in 2000. With an inconsistent offense, Stover was clutch in connecting on 35 of 39 field goals. He led the NFL in both field goals made and field-goal attempts that season. Stover also converted all 30 extra-point attempts.

Lone ranger: Ray Lewis remains the only player currently with the Ravens from their Super Bowl team in '00. Now 35, the future Hall of Famer is still playing at a Pro Bowl level. Lewis signed a multi-year deal in '09 to make certain that he retires a Raven.

Several key members from Baltimore's Super Bowl team left the organization in the past several seasons. Jamal Lewis last played for the Ravens in '06, Ogden retired after the '07 season, and McAlister and Stover last played for Baltimore in '08.

Honorable mentions (in order):

2006 (tie): Baltimore finally got solid quarterback play from former NFL MVP Steve McNair, and the Ravens won 13 regular-season games. But in the postseason they ran into nemesis Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts, who eventually won the Super Bowl.

2008 (tie): The Ravens became the first NFL team to win two road playoff games with a rookie quarterback (Joe Flacco). But their run was stifled in fourth quarter of the AFC title game to another eventual Super Bowl champion: The Pittsburgh Steelers.

2001: Baltimore's attempt to defend a Super Bowl title ended with a second-round playoff exit. The Elvis Grbac experiment was a disaster. After signing a big free-agent deal with Baltimore, he had more interceptions (18) than touchdowns (15).

AFC North evening update

April, 15, 2010
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Here is an update on the latest happenings Thursday in the AFC North:

Here are the most interesting stories Thursday in the AFC North:

Morning take: Matt Stover's presence for so many years erased the need for a consistent kicker in Baltimore. But this is a different time.

Morning take: Rivers has just two picks in his first two seasons. More turnovers by the USC alum would go a long way for Cincinnati’s defense.

Morning take: Grantham struggled in Cleveland but was decent as a position coach with the Dallas Cowboys. Now he brings his pro experience to the college game.

  • Defensive end Nick Eason agreed to re-sign with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Morning take: Eason spent a majority of his career in the division with Cleveland and Pittsburgh and now will provide depth for the Steelers' defensive line.

Morning take: Stover falls short

February, 8, 2010
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Here are the most interesting stories Monday in the AFC North: Morning take: Stover, 42, made history by becoming the oldest player to participate in a Super Bowl. But to lose the game had to be bittersweet.
Morning take: With the Colts losing Sunday, Pittsburgh remains just one of two teams, joining the New England Patriots, to win multiple Super Bowls in the decade.
Morning take: LeBeau was elected to the Hall of Fame for his playing days with the Detroit Lions. But if he had to make a choice as coach, would he represent the Bengals or Steelers?
Morning take: It's very difficult to win championships in today's NFL without solid play from that position. Mike Holmgren's knowledge of quarterbacks will be put to the test early in Cleveland.

Morning take: LeBeau and HOF

February, 3, 2010
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Here are the most interesting stories Wednesday in the AFC North:

  • Pittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau's chances are looking good this week to get into the Hall of Fame.
Morning take: Many, including myself, would say this honor is long overdue.

  • Former Steelers coach Bill Cowher believes the Cincinnati Bengals are here to stay.
Morning take: Cowher and your AFC North blogger have something in common. We both picked the Bengals as sleepers in 2009.

  • Baltimore Ravens safety Haruki Nakamura already is working out in the offseason.
Morning take: Nakamura is coming off an ankle injury and could be a solid contributor next season if healthy.

  • Indianapolis Colts kicker Matt Stover had a chance to return to the Cleveland Browns this season but declined.
Morning take: Stover waited for the right opportunity and it eventually came with the AFC champs. It looks like he made the right call.
Here are the most interesting stories Monday in the AFC North:

  • Former Baltimore Ravens kicker Matt Stover will play in another Super Bowl--this time as a member of the Indianapolis Colts.
Morning take: Considering the history, I know there is some natural animosity in Baltimore toward the Colts. But Stover should give Ravens fans a reason to cheer on Sunday.

  • Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison sealed a 41-34 win for the AFC with a fourth-quarter interception in the Pro Bowl.
Morning take: A Pittsburgh defender closes out a game in the fourth quarter? Go figure.

  • Gil Haskell, a longtime friend and former assistant under Cleveland Browns president Mike Holmgren, is expected to join the team as a possible adviser.
Morning take: First Keith Gilbertson, now Haskell. Am I the only person who finds it curious that Holmgren is stockpiling his old coaching staff?

Morning take: I doubt you will guess this one. So go ahead and click the link.

AFC North all-decade team

January, 28, 2010
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Jamal Lewis/Jerome BettisMatthew Emmons/US PresswireRunning backs Jamal Lewis and Jerome Bettis combined to rush for 15,806 yards during the 2000s.
The AFC North earned three Super Bowl titles this past decade, which means there were plenty of great players in the division over that span.

Here is our AFC North all-decade team.

Quarterback: Ben Roethlisberger (Pittsburgh Steelers)

Analysis: You can really start and stop this argument with Roethlisberger's two Super Bowls wins in the decade. In terms of starting quarterbacks, Roethlisberger trails only the New England Patriots' Tom Brady, who won three titles in the decade. Outside of Carson Palmer of the Cincinnati Bengals, no one was even remotely close for consideration, unless you wanted to reach for quarterbacks who had one or two good seasons in the decade, such as Kordell Stewart, Joe Flacco or Derek Anderson.

Other considerations: Palmer (Bengals)

Running backs: Jamal Lewis (Cleveland Browns/Baltimore Ravens) and Jerome Bettis (Steelers)

Analysis: Typical of the AFC North, our all-decade backfield is as physical and heavy duty as it gets. Lewis, who retired after the 2009 season, registered 10,607 total rushing yards as a member of the Browns and Ravens. He had a 2,000-yard season with Baltimore in 2003. Bettis played six seasons (2000-05) in the decade with the Steelers and rushed for 5,199 yards in that span. Both players won Super Bowls and will be considered for the Hall of Fame. Although we don't have a traditional fullback, Bettis is versatile and big enough for the position.

Other considerations: Willie Parker (Steelers), Rudi Johnson (Bengals)

[+] EnlargeOchocinco
Frank Victores/US PresswireChad Ochocinco is just 48 yards short of reaching 10,000 career receiving yards.
Receivers: Chad Ochocinco (Bengals) and Hines Ward (Steelers)

Analysis: We have a good mix at receiver. Ochocinco came to Cincinnati as a raw second-round pick who worked his way to become a six-time Pro Bowler and one of the biggest personalities in the NFL. Ward, a four-time Pro Bowler in the decade, was a former college quarterback who now is one of the toughest and smartest players in the league.

Other considerations: T.J. Houshmandzadeh (Bengals), Derrick Mason (Ravens)

Tight End: Todd Heap (Ravens)

Analysis: When you look at the total numbers over the past decade, Heap was the clear choice as the top tight end in the division. Heap caught 427 passes over that span and made two Pro Bowls. Pittsburgh's Heath Miller, who has 244 receptions, is two years younger and may eventually match Heap's production. But Heap has the better numbers to date. Former Browns tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. also put up impressive numbers in just three full seasons with Cleveland.

Other considerations: Miller (Steelers), Winslow Jr. (Browns)

Offensive line: OT Jonathan Ogden (Ravens), OT Willie Anderson (Bengals/Ravens), G Eric Steinbach (Browns/Bengals), G Alan Faneca (Steelers), C Jeff Hartings (Steelers)

Analysis: Besides leaving off three-time Pro Bowler Joe Thomas, putting the offensive line together was easier than I thought. Anderson of the Bengals got the edge over Thomas for two reasons: He's a natural right tackle and played nine years last decade at a high level. Thomas, with just three years, doesn't have the same longevity.

Other considerations: OT Thomas (Browns), OT Levi Jones (Bengals), C Rich Braham (Bengals)

Specialists: K Matt Stover (Ravens), P Chris Gardocki (Steelers/Browns), KR Josh Cribbs (Browns), LS Ryan Pontbriand (Browns)

Analysis: Stover made the Pro Bowl in 2000, and his 93.3 field goal percentage in 2006 led the NFL. He's been consistent for a very long time, which is all you ask from kickers. Gardocki and Dave Zastudil is a toss up. But Gardocki led the NFL in punts two years in a row (2000 and 2001) as well as punting yards in 2000. Zastudil cannot boast those claims. Cribbs was a no-brainer, and teammate Pontbriand made two Pro Bowls as Cleveland's long-snapper.

Other considerations: K Phil Dawson (Browns), K Jeff Reed (Steelers), P Zastudil (Ravens/Browns), B.J. Sams (Ravens)

Defense line: Casey Hampton (Steelers), Aaron Smith (Steelers), Justin Smith (Bengals)

Analysis: It's only fair that the AFC North all-decade defense runs a 3-4 scheme. Since 2001, Hampton has embodied what a 3-4 nose tackle looks like and plays like. He has five Pro Bowls in the decade, including this past season. Aaron Smith also is a prototype for 3-4 defensive ends. He's always put personal numbers aside so other defenders in Pittsburgh could flourish. Justin Smith of Cincinnati never quite lived up to his lofty draft status. But he was a consistent player for the Bengals.

Other considerations: DT Kelly Gregg (Ravens), DE Kimo von Oelhoffen (Steelers), DE Trevor Pryce (Ravens)

[+] EnlargeRay Lewis
Tom Szczerbowski/US PresswireRay Lewis was the AP Defensive Player of the Year in 2000 and 2003.
Linebackers: ILB Ray Lewis (Ravens), ILB James Farrior (Steelers), OLB Joey Porter (Steelers), OLB Terrell Suggs (Ravens)

Analysis: You can win a lot of games with this group. You have intelligence and physicality in the middle, and plenty of pass-rush ability on the outside. Lewis, a future Hall of Famer, is the captain and emotional leader of the all-decade defense. Farrior also has the smarts to keep everyone in line, while Suggs and Porter can fly around and wreak havoc on the quarterback. There were several very good candidates at outside linebacker. But Porter and Suggs were dominant forces in the AFC North for a longer period.

Other considerations: OLB James Harrison (Steelers), OLB Adalius Thomas (Ravens)

Defensive backs: CB Chris McAlister (Ravens), CB Ike Taylor (Steelers), S Troy Polamalu (Steelers), S Ed Reed (Ravens)

Analysis: Polamalu and Reed are two of the all-time great safeties, so there is no debate there. Also, fans may recently remember the aging and injured McAlister who was cut by the Ravens last year. But at one point "C-Mac" was the most physically dominant cornerback in the division. Taylor won two Super Bowls with the Steelers and is the best of what's left at cornerback. I also considered Anthony Henry, who played in Cleveland for four years during the decade and had one stellar season when he led the NFL with 10 interceptions in 2001.

Other considerations: CB Henry (Browns), S Rod Woodson (Ravens)
Here are the most interesting stories Thursday in the AFC North:

  • Longtime ex-Baltimore Ravens kicker Matt Stover will make his return Sunday as a member of the Indianapolis Colts.
Morning take: The irony is Baltimore cut Steve Hauschka this week after not giving Stover a chance to compete in the offseason. That was a mistake.

  • Cincinnati Bengals tailback Larry Johnson's immediate role will depend on the injury status of starter Cedric Benson (hip).
Morning take: If Benson doesn’t practice, he probably won’t play. It’s probably wise to sit a game anyway with so many carries already under his belt.

Morning take: Pittsburgh’s special teams have been hot and cold for a few years now. In 2007 it was kick coverage. Last year it was punting. Now the kick coverage is shaky again.

Morning take: Perhaps my biggest questions are what's this team building toward, who are the future cornerstones and what is this team’s identity moving forward?

Ravens: Cutdown analysis

September, 5, 2009
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Posted by ESPN.com’s James Walker


Biggest surprise: The Ravens didn’t have any major surprises on Saturday’s cut list. Perhaps the only move that was mildly surprising was releasing receiver Justin Harper, who started training camp and the preseason extremely well but hit a wall as of late. He was once in competition for Baltimore’s No. 3 receiver job, yet by the end of the summer Harper finds himself looking for a job. Receiver and return specialist Yamon Figurs was on the bubble all offseason. So although he has a name people in Baltimore are familiar with, cutting Figurs wasn't a huge shock. Fourth-year cornerback Evan Oglesby made a late push but it wasn’t enough.

No-brainers: The Ravens confirmed what most media members suspected with the release of kicker Graham Gano. By midway through the preseason, it was clear Steven Hauschka was separating himself in the race to take over Baltimore’s kicking duties. But Hauschka cannot breathe easy, because longtime Ravens kicker Matt Stover remains just a phone call away. Therefore, Hauschka needs to continue to make field goals in the regular season to hold his spot on the active roster.

What’s next: The Ravens traded cornerback Derrick Martin Saturday to the Green Bay Packers for guard/tackle Tony Moll. The move adds depth to their offensive line, as Moll has 18 career starts in three seasons. Also look for Baltimore to attempt to reclaim some of its rookie draft picks such as running back Cedric Peerman and tight end Davon Drew. Even Gano may be a solid practice-squad candidate who can keep Hauschka sharp and in a competitive mode during the regular season.

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