AFC North: NFL playoffs

How dangerous are the Bengals?

December, 24, 2012
12/24/12
4:30
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The Cincinnati Bengals clinched back-to-back playoff berths for the first time since 1981-82. But, in his Insider post Insider, ESPN's Matt Williamson doesn't believe the Bengals' celebration will last very long.

Locked in as the sixth seed, Cincinnati will likely face New England (Denver, Houston and Baltimore are also possibilities for the No. 3 seed). If the Bengals have to play Tom Brady and the Patriots in New England, Williamson predicts Cincinnati to be one-and-done in the postseason:
The Bengals still have a great defense. But I don't think that alone, mixed with great play from A.J. Green, is enough to be serious contenders in the AFC -- especially if Cincinnati has to go on the road to New England. It's been a nice season for the Bengals, but it's likely to end in the first round of the playoffs.

Based on watching the Bengals this season, their defense won't be intimidated by Brady. Cincinnati has beaten two Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks this year in Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger. The key will be not flinching under the playoff pressure (like the Bengals did in Houston last season) and putting consistent pressure on Brady.

Expanded NFL playoffs: Yay or nay?

December, 13, 2012
12/13/12
1:17
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Commissioner Roger Goodell said Wednesday that the league would spend the next few months considering playoff expansion. But is the idea even worth exploring? Would further expansion of the playoff field be good for the game or the fans? Our NFL experts weigh in.

PITTSBURGH -- The lack of a first-round bye hurts the banged-up Steelers, who haven't been in this situation too many times.

This marks only the fourth time that the Steelers have played a wild-card game on the road but their first since 2005. Their previous trips were at Houston (1989), Kansas City (1993) and Cincinnati (2005). Pittsburgh has a 2-1 record away from home in the wild-card round.

In 2005, the Steelers became the first No. 6 seed in NFL history to win the Super Bowl. Since then, two other wild-card teams have done so (New York Giants in 2005 and Green Bay last year).

Take your pick: Flacco vs. Ryan

February, 26, 2009
2/26/09
11:00
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Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

Last week's debate discussing Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and Tony Romo of the Dallas Cowboys was heated but pretty much one-sided. (How did that argument get started anyway?)

 Flacco
 Ryan

In this week's AFC North version of "Take Your Pick," we ask readers to pick between a pair of hot-shot rookie quarterbacks in Joe Flacco of the Baltimore Ravens and Matt Ryan of the Atlanta Falcons now that they have a year under their belts.

Both signal callers put up great numbers and led their teams to the playoffs. Ryan and the Falcons were bounced in the first round, while Flacco won two postseason games and led Baltimore to the AFC Championship Game.

Last spring, I wrote a piece on ESPN.com saying Flacco would have more success in his career than Ryan. I was called crazy at the time, but so far my statement holds true. I was even asked to do a radio show in Atlanta where the hosts were astonished by my view. Ten months later it's a legitimate question.

So let's ask it again. Who will be more successful: Ryan or Flacco?

Take your pick.

Baltimore's defense taking over

January, 4, 2009
1/04/09
3:01
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Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

MIAMI -- Dolphins Stadium is getting quiet and quarterback Chad Pennington is getting flustered.

That means the defense of the Baltimore Ravens is starting to take command of this football game.

Baltimore is putting on a clinic through three quarters, taking a 20-3 lead in this wild-card matchup after Le'Ron McClain's latest touchdown run. But it's the Ravens' defense that has forced turnovers in four of Miami's last five possessions dating to the first half.

That has quickly turned a 3-3 tie to a 17-point lead for Baltimore. Pennington has four interceptions and Miami's offense hasn't gotten much done on the ground, either. Expect the Dolphins to air it out more in an attempt to put together a rally.

Rookie QB Ryan out, Flacco up next

January, 3, 2009
1/03/09
7:50
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Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

MIAMI --"Matty Ice" didn't look so smooth Saturday in his playoff debut.

"Joe Cool" is up next on Sunday.

As football analysts and former players have said this week, the postseason differs from the regular season. The intensity is higher, mistakes are magnified, and rookies are often affected.

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, the 2008 Rookie of the Year, learned that hard lesson in Saturday night's 30-24 wild-card loss to the Arizona Cardinals. Ryan played like a first-year quarterback, throwing for 199 yards, two touchdowns, two interceptions and one lost fumble. His three turnovers were the difference in a close postseason game.

Now it's Joe Flacco's turn when the Baltimore Ravens (11-5) face the Miami Dolphins (11-5) Sunday. Flacco, like Ryan, has looked solid for most of the regular season, and the Ravens hope that continues in the playoffs.

But will Flacco's postseason performance be better than Ryan's Sunday?

Can the Ravens surpass Atlanta by being the only team this year to win a playoff game with a rookie head coach and rookie quarterback?

Everyone will find out Sunday afternoon.

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