AFC North: Sam Bradford

PITTSBURGH – Ben Roethlisberger does not anticipate playing in the final preseason game Thursday night, and he has this message for fans who are still apoplectic from the Pittsburgh Steelers’ loss in their third preseason game: Take a deep breath.

“The preseason is just that, it’s getting a chance to look at things, different reads, move guys around to see where guys can be best fit,” the Steelers quarterback said early Monday afternoon. “I don’t want to call it preseason practice, but it kind of is. We stayed healthy and that’s the most important thing.”

It is also not something to be taken lightly considering the St. Louis Rams won’t have starting quarterback Sam Bradford as they try to make a move in the NFL’s toughest division this season.

Bradford tore his ACL for the second consecutive year and already has been lost for the season.

Roethlisberger
His injury is one of a number of ones that has occurred to high-profile players, and it reinforces what Roethlisberger said about the preseason: The most important thing is making it through the four-game schedule relatively unscathed from a health standpoint.

That priority is why a lot of the Steelers starters figure to join Roethlisberger in watching Thursday when the Steelers and Carolina Panthers play in a 7:30 p.m. ET game at Heinz Field.

As bad as the Steelers played in a 31-21 loss on Thursday night in Philadelphia, the risk/reward factor when it comes to the final preseason game tilts heavily toward not exposing starters to injury.

It will be interesting to see how much work some of the wide receivers get against the Panthers.

Lance Moore, who missed the Eagles game with leg tightness, has one catch for 6 yards in the preseason. Justin Brown, meanwhile, has just three catches for 15 yards after starring in offseason practices and the first part of training camp.

With rookie Martavis Bryant coming along but not showing yet that the Steelers can count on him heavily at the start of the season there are questions at wide receiver after Pro Bowler Antonio Brown.

Or are there?

“I’m very confident,” Roethlisberger said of his wide receivers. “I like where they are I think they’re competing with each other every day and even last game seeing [Darrius Heyward-Bey make that great play, running by people, getting his feet down in the back of the end zone. I missed Justin on a play but he’s doing some really good things both in the run game and the pass game. I’m not concerned with our receivers right now.”
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jacksonville Jaguars' loss to Buffalo ended a three-game winning streak, but it also improved their draft position by two spots.

If the season ended today the Jaguars (4-10) would own the No. 4 overall pick. Houston (2-12), St. Louis (6-8) and Oakland (4-10) would have the first three picks, with the Rams picking that high because of a trade with Washington.

Bradford
Bradford
Cutler
If the current order holds, the Jaguars are in a good spot if they indeed want to pick a quarterback with their first pick. There are rumblings that the Texans are going to make a run at Jay Cutler in the offseason, which would be a smart move because the Texans -- despite this season's record -- are still a playoff-caliber team if they find a good quarterback.

Cutler would keep the Texans' window open for the next few seasons. It would be unfair to expect a rookie quarterback to carry the team, especially since none of the them appear to be in the same class as Andrew Luck.

St. Louis wouldn't appear to be thinking quarterback, although there is some uncertainty there because of the season-ending knee injury to Sam Bradford. Before he was hurt in October, Bradford was on pace to have the best season of his career, and there were reports that the Rams wanted to do a contract extension for the former No. 1 overall selection.

If the injury has changed their mind, the Rams could take a quarterback with their first of two first-round picks, but they also need help on the offensive line and at safety. Texas A&M offensive tackle Jake Matthews is an option.

Oakland would be the wild card. Terrelle Pryor appeared to be their quarterback early in the season, but now it's Matt McGloin. Is either a long-term answer? Probably not, so quarterback would be the Raiders' top need. The Raiders are unpredictable, and it wouldn't be a shock if they bypassed a quarterback for one of the top linebackers or Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins.

If the Raiders did take a quarterback, that would leave the Jaguars with at worst their second choice among the available quarterbacks. It isn't as deep a crop as originally thought now that Oregon's Marcus Mariota and Baylor's Bryce Petty have said they are returning to school. Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater and Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel are expected to leave early and UCLA's Brett Hundley is waffling, but there also are several senior prospects worth considering in the first round, including LSU's Zach Mettenberger and Fresno State's Derek Carr.
BEREA, Ohio -- Browns coach Pat Shurmur's standard response when asked about the preferred timetable to name a starting quarterback is "sooner rather than later." He said essentially the same thing when I asked him before Tuesday's practice.

But Shurmur went one step further Wednesday, hinting Brandon Weeden could be named the starter at the beginning of training camp in late July.

On Wednesday, Shurmur compared the Browns' quarterback situation to the one he had when he was the offensive coordinator in St. Louis. The Rams split reps throughout the offseason practices between Sam Bradford, the team's first-round pick, and A.J. Feeley.

"At the beginning of training camp, we named Sam the starter," Shurmur said Wednesday. "He had a pretty good year his first year."

Most assume it's only a matter of time anyway before Weeden receives the title as starting quarterback. Shurmur said ideally the Browns would already have a starter named.

"When you have new players that you really like, and that’s why you picked them, you just need to see them come in and do it before you make that move," Shurmur said.
Cleveland Browns quarterback Colt McCoy knows it's been a bad few months when he can't toss a few passes without getting an entire school in trouble.

McCoy
In Springfield, Ill., last month to make an appearance at an annual Fellowship of Christian Athletes banquet, he threw balls to students of Sacred Heart-Griffin High School, including one football player. That prompted someone to submit a complaint to the Illinois High School Association about whether the workout represented an illegal practice, according to the Springfield State Journal-Register.

What? This is too late for April Fools'. I don't see Ashton Kutcher around so no one is getting punked. It's hard to believe that anyone thought anyone else was gaining an advantage because McCoy threw a few harmless passes before, let me stress this again, a Fellowship of Christian Athletes banquet.

Let me answer the complaint: No, this wasn't illegal. The only thing wrong about this situation is that someone submitted a complaint.

"He shared his faith and played with them and threw the ball around a little bit," Sacred Heart-Griffin football coach Ken Leonard told Fox News. "It was unbelievable experience. I'm sorry if any rules were broken, but in this instance, if I was wrong, I don't want to be right."

Marty Hickman, executive director of the Illinois High School Association, told the State Journal-Register that the matter is being reviewed.

This past year has been so difficult that McCoy has to wonder whether he was on the cover of the Madden video game.

His 2011 season ended with a concussion that knocked him out of the final three games. His starting job would've gone to either Robert Griffin III or Sam Bradford, if the Browns reportedly had their way this offseason.

Now, McCoy finds out that he can't throw a football without getting scrutinized.
So, it appears that Colt McCoy was actually the Browns' third choice to be their starting quarterback this season.

The Browns asked the St. Louis Rams about trading for quarterback Sam Bradford before turning their attention to Robert Griffin III, sources told ESPN 850 AM in Cleveland. The Rams turned down the Browns, according to the report.

Bradford
Bradford
McCoy
McCoy
Rams coach Jeff Fisher confirmed teams called about Bradford, but he wouldn't specify the teams. “I prefer not to get into specifics about the conversations. I can say there were teams that inquired,” Fisher said at the NFL owners meetings Wednesday.

The Browns' interest dates back to 2010, when team president Mike Holmgren attempted to trade up to the top spot to draft Bradford. The connection to Bradford is even strong now with head coach Pat Shurmur, who was Bradford's offensive coordinator in 2010.

This report comes a day after the Browns said they were "moving forward" with McCoy as their quarterback. Browns officials continue to say they believe in McCoy, but their actions indicate he is the starter by default.

The Browns were reportedly interested in Bradford before getting turned down. They wanted to move up in the draft to take RG3 before the Rams foiled Cleveland again, trading the second overall pick to the Redskins.

In a strange twist, the Rams could be the ones calling the Browns on draft day. Their expected target is wide receiver Justin Blackmon, who should be available when the Browns are on the clock with the No. 4 pick.

"I don't know if we'd consider going that high," Fisher said. "Those conversations aren't going to take place until draft day because your guy's got to be there. It'll be interesting to see what kind of compensation they want. We're very happy with the compensation we've got right now over the next couple of years."

Fisher also sidestepped Holmgren's account that the Browns were blocked from moving up in the draft because of a close relationship between the Rams and Redskins.

"I didn't pay much attention to his comments," Fisher said. "They were very fruitful discussions. They are a potential trade partner with us."

Friday Forecast: Week 10

November, 11, 2011
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This is Friday Forecast, where we'll see how my predictions hold up against our readers'. This week, I will go against zcryer (who matched my 44 total points this week) and Force-10 (who matched the total points for last week's game).

Here are our predictions for the AFC North games in Week 10:

Jamison Hensley

Steelers 27, Bengals 17

Rams 17, Browns 13

Ravens 34, Seahawks 10

zcryer

Bengals 24, Steelers 20

Browns 33, Rams 30

Ravens 35, Seahawks 13

Force-10

Steelers 24, Bengals 13

Browns 20, Rams 12

Ravens 27, Seahawks 10

PREDICTION BREAKDOWN

Steelers 27, Bengals 17: A lot of the focus has been on how Bengals rookie quarterback Andy Dalton will handle the pressure of the Steelers' defense. But this game will come down to Ben Roethlisberger beating the Cincinnati pass defense. Maybe it would different if this game was earlier this year. At this point in the season, Roethlisberger has thrown for at least 320 yards in three straight games. The Bengals' defense is on a different streak the past two weeks, giving up 323 yards passing to Tarvaris Jackson and 272 yards to Matt Hasselbeck. It's tough to pick against this matchup.

Rams 17, Browns 13: It wasn't so long ago when Colt McCoy was winning more games than any other quarterback in college football history and Sam Bradford was hoisting up the Heisman Trophy. Both are now struggling in the NFL, which is why this game will come down to the running games. The Browns are so banged-up and desperate that Josh Cribbs might get time in the backfield. The Rams are riding Steven Jackson, who has back-to-back 100-yard games. Couple that with the fact that Cleveland has allowed six running backs to gain 100 yards in eight games this season. The Browns' track record says they'll get run over again.

Ravens 34, Seahawks 10: Trying to predict the Ravens is a losing proposition. Baltimore beats Pittsburgh twice along with Houston and the New York Jets, but the Ravens struggle against Jacksonville and Arizona. Their trend of playing down to the competition ends in Seattle, which has been outscored 64-15 by the AFC North this season. Joe Flacco is 10-4 against the NFC West, throwing 24 touchdowns and nine interceptions. The bigger concern is how the Ravens will play next Sunday against Cincinnati after making this cross-country trip.
If you don't want Colt McCoy to be the Browns' quarterback of the future, you might want to root for the St. Louis Rams to go winless. It could present an interesting scenario if the Rams would get the first overall pick in the 2012 draft, where Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck is the clear-cut favorite to go No. 1.

Bradford
Bradford
Of course, St. Louis could trade the top pick to a team needing a franchise quarterback and those picks in return could restock other positions. Or the Rams could trade Sam Bradford if they believe Luck is the better quarterback and better value (he would cost half as much as Bradford because of the new labor agreement).

Under the scenario that the Rams take Luck, NFC West blogger Mike Sando places the Browns as his top pick of destinations for Bradford in his weekly LuckWatch. Cleveland not only has multiple first-round picks from its draft-day trade with Atlanta (for Julio Jones), but coach Pat Shurmur was Bradford's offensive coordinator in 2010 with the Rams.

St. Louis is among three teams (Indianapolis and Miami are the others) who are winless. It's just the fourth time in NFL history that three teams have lost at least their first six games of the season.

Wrap-up: Ravens 37, Rams 7

September, 25, 2011
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Thoughts on the Baltimore Ravens' 37-7 win at the St. Louis Rams:

What it means: Any concern that the Ravens would struggle like they did at Tennessee last Sunday was gone by the end of the first quarter, when Baltimore rolled out to a 21-0 lead. The Ravens avoided consecutive losses for the first time since October 2009 and hold a share of first place in the division with a 2-1 record.

Thumbs up: Wide receiver Torrey Smith. He became the first rookie to score three touchdowns in a quarter. Smith's first three career receptions all went for touchdowns -- 74, 41 and 18 yards -- and all came in the first quarter. Not bad for a second-round pick who had been criticized for not having a catch in the first two games of the season. He stepped into the starting lineup for Lee Evans, who was sidelined with an ankle injury.

Joe Flacco on fire: His roller-coaster season continued with a 389-yard passing performance. It set a career mark and ranked second in franchise history behind Vinny Testaverde's 429 yards in 1996. This led to the Ravens establishing a team record with 550 yards of total offense.

Roughing up Bradford: The Ravens' defense was relentless with Rams quarterback Sam Bradford. Baltimore recorded 11 quarterback hits and five sacks (from five different players).

What's next: The Ravens return home to have a Sunday night showdown with the New York Jets and former defensive coordinator Rex Ryan.

Ravens ready for Rams' no huddle

September, 24, 2011
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The Ravens believe they have an answer to the Rams' no-huddle offense. And it's not faking an injury.

Rams quarterback Sam Bradford ran a hurry-up offense Monday night that was so effective that a New York Giants player fell to the ground and caused a media stir about faking injuries.

Baltimore knows the Rams will use it Sunday, and the defense will be ready.

“It’s something they’ve done both games so far and they’ve done it really well,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “So, the ability just to get the communication done and get lined up, all those things are going to be really important.”

Harbaugh thinks the Ravens can capitalize on the youth of the 23-year-old Bradford.
"He’s a smart guy, he’s an elite quarterback talent-wise [and] he’s young," Harbaugh said. "I think he’s going to be one of the premier guys. Our challenge is going to be to make him look young. That’s what we need to do. We need to see that part of it, because it’s there. But that’s easier said than done.”
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.
Multiple reports suggest this week that the Cleveland Browns' coaching search could soon come to an end, and the current leader of candidates who were interviewed is St. Louis Rams offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur.

Therefore, in this week's "Thought of the Day" in the AFC North blog, we survey the Dawgpound to see how Browns fans would feel about this hire. Shurmur would be the third head coach for Cleveland since 2008 and the most important decision president Mike Holmgren makes in his tenure.

Is Shurmur the right coach to lead the Browns back to prominence? He has an offensive pedigree and did a good job with rookie quarterback Sam Bradford in St. Louis. Working with Colt McCoy will be important. Also, the division has had recent success with hiring former assistant coaches in Mike Tomlin and John Harbaugh.

In contrast, the Browns organization isn't nearly as stable as the Ravens and Steelers. Since 1999 all of their hires without head-coaching experience have been disasters in Cleveland. Should the Browns have gone for a bigger name with a proven track record of winning?

Share your "Thought of the Day" comments on Shurmur potentially leading the Browns in 2011 below, or to our division inbox and AFC North Twitter page. We will run the best responses throughout the week.

Walker's mailbag: Marvin Lewis' future

November, 13, 2010
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Let's see what's in the weekend mailbag.

Harry Smythe from Gaithersburg, Md., writes: If Marvin Lewis doesn't re-sign with the Cincinnati Bengals, is there any chance he would come back to Baltimore to coach defense?

James Walker: I haven't heard anything along those lines, Harry. According to people I've talked to, the feeling I get is three things are possible (in no particular order): Lewis could return to Cincinnati, he could test the waters to try to get another head-coaching job, or he could coach in the college ranks. Personally, I view Lewis as more of an NFL coach than a college coach. But I'm told don't rule it out.


Gabe from Iowa wants to know if Jon Gruden would be interested in coaching the Bengals.

Walker: Gruden was complimentary of quarterback Carson Palmer and the Bengals during the "Monday Night Football" telecast, but I wouldn’t read too much into it, Gabe. Cincinnati is a tough sell for any big-name coach because, frankly, it's not viewed as an attractive job in NFL circles. The Bengals have heavy-handed ownership, no general manager and a scant scouting staff. Any coach who comes in must deal with that. If Gruden leaves ESPN's television booth next year, he will generate plenty of interest from more attractive suitors. Even within the AFC North, Cleveland is as a stronger possibility for Gruden than Cincinnati, because the Browns have a more traditional front-office setup and Gruden has a relationship with Cleveland president Mike Holmgren.


Shaneeka from High Point, N.C., writes: I keep reading about how disappointing the Bengals' season has been due to their talent level. But are they really that talented? I mean, what starters on the Bengals could walk into Pittsburgh or Baltimore and start over the Steelers and Ravens current starters?

Walker: Shaneeka, comparing the Bengals to the two of the NFL's most talented teams is a bit unfair. But Bengals starters Johnathan Joseph, Leon Hall, Terrell Owens, Chad Ochocinco, Andrew Whitworth and Bobbie Williams are a half-dozen players who could start for Baltimore, Pittsburgh or both right now.


Joel from Erie, Pa., writes: Do you believe Mike Holmgren is leaning toward firing Eric Mangini or keeping him for next year?

Walker: Holmgren hasn't made his decision, Joel. We're only halfway through the season, so it would be pure speculation. The Browns are 3-5, and Holmgren will grade Mangini's entire body of work at the end of the season. Mangini has two big wins, but I think he must do better than 3-5 in the second half of the season to boost his résumé. A 6-10 season would be a hard sell to Holmgren even though the Browns are getting better.


Kovacs from Santa Monica, Calif., wants to know if Mangini's indecisiveness is hindering rookie quarterback Colt McCoy's development.

Walker: It's up to the individual player, but it hasn't hurt McCoy so far. McCoy has taken the approach every week to prepare like the starter and that has helped him. He doesn't seem fazed by it, which shows me that he's mentally tough. Although I don't agree with Mangini waffling with his quarterbacks, McCoy is handling it well.


Todd Marchese from Goulburn, Australia, writes: What are the Steelers going to do about Jeff Reed's inaccuracy?

Walker: Todd, there's really nothing the Steelers can do. I don't think they'll bring in another kicker. I don't get the sense Pittsburgh has lost confidence in Reed. The Steelers believe he will turn it around eventually. But Reed must start making clutch kicks.


Noah from Baltimore wants to know if Ravens rookie defensive lineman Terrance Cody made an impact against the Atlanta Falcons.

Walker: Cody got significant playing time for his standards and played pretty well. He held up the line of scrimmage and was active, recording five tackles. Atlanta only rushed for 60 yards on 23 carries. The Ravens can use Cody in the rotation during the second half of the season to keep everyone fresh.

Comment and complaint department

Here are some comments and complaints from our AFC North community.

Matt W. from Nebraska writes: Can you tell me why Braylon Edwards is obsessed with hating the city of Cleveland? Did I miss something? We all know things didn't work out, but I can't understand why he is obsessed with showing such hostility and rage and making it seem like he was so mistreated. Other than boos when he dropped balls, I can't think of a time BE was mistreated by the fans. I've seen other players in other cities, including Cleveland, treated worse than he was. The way he is acting you would have thought his jerseys were burned in the street and he had a retaliatory fake commercial on the internet like a certain someone. Am I missing something?

Dave from Raleigh, NC, writes: If the Browns can improve to 5-5 (OK, let's say 6-6) by Week 13 with three division games left to play, do you think they graduate from "spoiler" to "division contender"?

Walker: Matt, Edwards, in his mind, always felt like an outsider because he played for the University of Michigan. He never thought he got a fair chance in Cleveland, but I disagree. Edwards' drops, lack of accountability and attitude didn't go over well in Cleveland. But his feelings of rejection will motivate him Sunday when the New York Jets come to town. Dave, slow down. The Browns are not winning the division this year. Playing competitively and being a good spoiler for playoff contenders is a solid role for them in the second half of the season.


John Shepherd from Dallas writes: I am a Steelers fan living in Dallas for the last 20 years. I was wondering for all the kudos Pittsburgh gets for starting 3-1 without Ben Roethlisberger, why you dowe not hear Mike Tomlin's name mentioned more for coach of the year?

E from Dayton, Ohio, writes: After watching that game Monday night, Maurkice Pouncey has to be rookie of the year. The difference with him out of the game was amazing. I thought our season was over. Pouncey will help us survive losing Starks.

Walker: John, Tomlin is in the mix, but it's too early for coaching awards. I don't feel any coach is being mentioned right now, because the second half of the season is so important. E, Pouncey's play has made everyone around him better, but it's rare that a center gets that kind of consideration. A skill player such as St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford is more likely to win.


Will writes: Why are all Baltimore Ravens fans slightly deluded. I can't stand them, and I'm not an AFC North fan. I don't believe Joe Flacco will ever win the big game, and if they do it's because of something else. His games against the Steelers, Patriots and Colts were less than OK.

Brian from the Batcave writes: James, you keep saying that the Ravens hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Steelers. Isn't that a bit premature? They still play each other one more time, and there is no reason to talk about tiebreakers midseason.

Walker: I believe the Ravens are a solid Super Bowl contender, Will. Flacco showed some grit Thursday in bringing the Ravens back from down 13 against the Atlanta Falcons in a big game. It wasn't his fault Baltimore lost. Brian, the Ravens own the head-to-head tiebreaker, but that doesn't mean it can't change. If it does in December, then I will write the Steelers own the head-to-head tiebreaker.


John from Newlexignton, Ohio, writes: I have been a die-hard Bengals fan my whole life and I am 33. After this year I am done getting up for football season, done thinking that this team can do anything but screw up like always. Do you see any reason why I should watch football ever again?

Walker: John, don't give up your fandom. I understand that it's not easy being a Bengals fan, and this is another disappointing year. But cheer them on the rest of the season and keep in mind that a lot of changes could be made in the offseason.

AFC North Homer of the Week

Our favorite homer is back! The first three-time winner for "Homer of the Week" still believes in the 2010 Bengals.

John W. from Denver writes: This is getting harder each week to do this, but I still think the Bengals are the best team. They are a great team. It's not that the other teams are better, it's just they keep defeating themselves. I predict a huge turnaround this week with the Bengals winning 30-7 against the Colts. It isn't over yet, 10-6 is still possible. WHO DEY!!!!

Walker: We're going to retire John W. and put him in the "Homer of the Week" Hall of Fame. His comments aren't giving anyone else a chance.

If you have any questions, comments or complaints, feel free to send them to our division inbox or AFC North Twitter.

Final Word: AFC North

October, 15, 2010
10/15/10
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» NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 6:

[+] EnlargeColt McCoy
Jason Miller/US PresswireColt McCoy makes his rookie debut against a Steelers team that's ranked fourth in the league in total defense.
Rookie magic? Cleveland Browns rookie quarterback Colt McCoy will face a stiff test in his NFL debut Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers are fourth in total defense and very aggressive, forcing three turnovers per game. But rookie quarterbacks in McCoy's class have had success this year. For example, Sam Bradford of the St. Louis Rams already has two wins under his belt, and last week Max Hall of the Arizona Cardinals upset the defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints in his NFL debut. McCoy will try to follow in those footsteps and pull off an upset against the Steelers, the No. 1 team in ESPN.com's Power Rankings.

"I'm proud to say that Sam and I are close, I know Max a little bit," McCoy said this week. "It's awesome to see a rookie quarterback go out there and do good things because the NFL is tough. It doesn't matter who you are playing, everybody is good. We are playing the best of the best, the best there is, so you have got to understand that. Obviously to see those guys do it, that will give you a little bit of confidence going out there."

Cleveland's Wildcat: The Browns will try to take the pressure off McCoy in his first start by mixing in the Wildcat offense with Josh Cribbs. Cleveland hasn't used the formation much this season, but it was very successful in the Browns' previous meeting against Pittsburgh last December. Cribbs led the Browns with 87 rushing yards on eight carries from the Wildcat formation to lead them to a 13-6 upset victory. The Steelers struggled against the formation and have to prove they can stop it. Whether it's on offense or in the return game, Cribbs has performed well against Pittsburgh.

Protecting Ben Roethlisberger: The last time these two teams played, the Browns also threw the kitchen sink at Pittsburgh and recorded eight sacks. The Steelers were in a late-season funk and the offense was baffled by the Browns. This year offensive line play has been much improved. But blocking for Roethlisberger, who is coming off a four-game suspension, is much different from blocking for Charlie Batch. Roethlisberger holds the ball longer than most quarterbacks and improvises to make big plays. Sometimes that can lead to sacks. Pittsburgh's offensive line will have to hold its blocks a little longer with Roethlisberger under center.

Budding rivalry: Although the two teams are in different divisions, there is a growing rivalry between the New England Patriots and Baltimore Ravens. This is the fourth time the two have played since 2007 and a 33-14 playoff romp by the Ravens over the Patriots last January certainly adds intensity and a revenge factor to Sunday's game. The teams are a combined 7-2 and firmly in the AFC playoff picture.

Ball control: Will Baltimore be able to run the ball and control the line of scrimmage against the Patriots again? In last year's playoff win, the Ravens were too physical for New England and ran the football 52 times for 234 yards. The Patriots' defense had to hear all offseason how it was manhandled by Baltimore. Rest assured, the Ravens still believe they're the more physical team and will try to establish that Sunday. Baltimore, led by Pro Bowl tailback Ray Rice, rushed for 233 yards in last week's win over the Denver Broncos.

Walker's weekend mailbag

September, 18, 2010
9/18/10
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Let's see what's in the weekend mailbag.

Eddie from Charlotte, N.C., wants to know if there should be concern that Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Dennis Dixon stayed in the pocket too much last week.

James Walker: That's a great question, Eddie, and it's something that I have mixed feelings about. Dixon only rushed for four yards on two attempts against the Atlanta Falcons. But he's only doing what Pittsburgh's coaching staff wants. The Steelers want Dixon to spend more time in the pocket going through his second and sometimes third reads. His tendency is to make the first read, and if it's not there, Dixon takes off. Pittsburgh doesn't want to run its offense that way. But I think, to some degree, the team also is taking away Dixon's best asset, which helps the defense. Dixon is not a pocket passer. I think the Steelers should let "Dennis be Dennis" a little more, and allow him to scramble for first downs. It would help the offense.


Steve from Johnsonburg, Pa., writes: I know this is a long shot, but is there any way the Steelers could bring Logan Mankins to Pittsburgh?

Walker: Nope. Pittsburgh is finished negotiating contracts for the 2010 season. A trade and major signing would be way out of character of the Steelers. It's not happening.


Alex from Madison, Wis., wants to know how much cornerback Lardarius Webb's return will help the Baltimore Ravens.

Walker: Webb's expected return Sunday could not have come at a better time. Baltimore's secondary was fortunate to face Mark Sanchez of the New York Jets in Week 1. The Ravens were thin in the secondary and New York struggles to go vertical on offense. But the Bengals have a legitimate threat at quarterback in Carson Palmer and plenty of receivers to potentially give Baltimore headaches. The Ravens will need Webb, Fabian Washington, Chris Carr and Josh Wilson to all play well this week.


GPaych via Twitter writes: You think Ray Lewis was trying to send a message with that hit on Dustin Keller on that last drive?

Walker: Absolutely. Lewis, perhaps more than anyone, did not enjoy the Jets' bravado and constant talking leading up to the game. After the Ravens' D played lights out for four quarters, Lewis delivered a parting shot for the Jets to remember.


Tyler R. Smith from Palm Springs, Calif., writes: I have a fantasy football team and I have Joe Flacco, Sam Bradford and Aaron Rodgers. But I found Carson Palmer sitting as a free agent. Should I keep Flacco or trade him for Palmer?

Walker: I would pick up Palmer and release Sam Bradford. Rodgers, Flacco and Palmer are a very strong group of quarterbacks.


Joseph from Los Angeles wants to know if Eric Mangini put too much pressure on the passing game in the loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Walker: Between Mangini and offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, yes, too much pressure was put on the passing game. Jake Delhomme threw 37 times against the Bucs. The Browns led by 11 points in the second quarter and it was close the entire game, but Delhomme was playing on a gimpy ankle the entire second half. Cleveland's coaching staff failed to make the proper adjustments at halftime and it cost them. The offense went scoreless in the second half.


Eddie Kilroy from Brunswick, Ohio, wants to know how the right side of Cleveland's offensive line can improve.

Walker: This is a trouble spot for the Browns. Offensive tackle John St. Clair and guard Floyd Womack played poorly last week, and I'm not sure they are the answer on the right side for the next 15 games. Cleveland's coaching staff likes rookie guard Shawn Lauvao's potential, but he's been banged up with a bad ankle. When Lauvao gets healthy, look for him to at least get into the rotation on the right side and possibly earn a starting job later in the season.


Comment and complaint department

Chris Carpenter from Cincinnati writes: To whom it may concern on the Bengals, I would appreciate it if you would play football. The season started last Sunday. Your physical abilities are great; however, your mental execution was that of a Pee Wee team. You are able to play better. Your fans deserve a better product on the field. On a related note with the upcoming CBA issues: The owners may sign your checks, but the fans are really the ones who pay you. The owners will be rich with or without football. Just food for thought while you played like crap. A concerned fan.

Jason from Cocoa, Fla., writes: James, the biggest argument coming from "Bengaldom" is that they went 6-0 in the division last year. My question is, what does that have to do with 2010? Absolutely nothing. I know there are Ravens fans, and I as a Steelers fan, that feel Cincinnati had a lot of fortunate things occur in their wins over Baltimore and Pittsburgh last year. That is why I have picked them to finish third in the division. I just don't see them getting lucky two years in a row. The Ravens and Steelers are just more talented. Pittsburgh put a whipping on the Bengals last year in both games, only to blow the lead late in the game. That's nothing special on Cincy's part.

Brad from Atlanta writes: JW, when did the Bengals start getting so much respect? They looked horrific in their season opener and now they are playing one of the Super Bowl favorites and still half of ESPN's experts picked them to win. I've been a Bengals fan for a long time and, typically, when the Bengals get stomped like they did last week, everyone starts referring to them as the Bungles of old.

Chris from Annapolis, Md., writes: Is Pittsburgh top 10? Maybe not right now, but defense does win championships. Pittsburgh just needs to win one of the next three to be in solid shape for Ben Roethlisberger's return.

Butch from San Antonio writes: What makes you think Dallas and Washington are better teams than Pittsburgh? I am assuming defense, because neither team has much of an offense. The Steelers won with a third-stringer that alone should speak volumes as to the will of this team to overcome the Big Ben controversy. What is the excuse for the ineptitude of Dallas and Washington on offense?

Champ from District Heights, Md. writes: Real simple: I know it's not your division but how about them REDSKINS?

Shaneeka from High Point, N.C., writes: James, I know you like to look at history and records to make your picks, as evidence of your constant reminder of Carson Palmer's record vs. the Ravens and the Ravens' recent record vs. the Steelers. So, I thought I'd point out this nugget for you, the last time the Ravens won the season opener and missed the playoffs was 1996, their first NFL season.

Josiah from Baltimore writes: I can't wait until the Pats put the Jets down this Sunday so I can stop hearing about Jets this, Rex Ryan that. Really, JW, can you like tell some of your colleagues to cool it on the Jets. It's getting old. It was OK before the season started when we needed some storylines during training camp, but now it's time for REAL football, and there is a lot more going on in the league then the Jets and Rex Ryan's mouth. I think all the AFC North bloggers and fans can agree with me when I say NOBODY CARES OUTSIDE NEW YORK.

Kovacs from Santa Monica, Calif., writes: Brian Daboll is infuriating. I know the guys need to execute, but did it seem like Daboll's game plan was awful in the second half? The Browns had a lot of success attacking the edges with the run and getting some quick hitters in the passing game. Second half was a lot of runs up the middle and deep drops. He's got to adjust better.

Andy from Canada writes: Since when does Cleveland run a pass-first offense? The ratio of pass to run this weekend boggled my mind. This is not Mangini/BD's offense. There is more Mike Holmgren influence here than they let on, and it's not good. Tampa Bay was awful against the run last year and the Browns made them look great. Last year the QB never would have had a shot at throwing that late first-half pick, because they would have ran the ball into field goal range. For the Browns to have a shot at home against Kansas City two ratios have to increase: run to pass and Jerome Harrison to Peyton Hillis.

AFC North Homer of the Week

(Editor's note: I knew our community wouldn't fail me this week.)

1977BROWNS writes: How about this Walker: Take your Ravens and Bengals and stay on that bandwagon. I don't want to hear or see you…backing the Browns after they go 5-3 or better halfway through the season. We have a tough schedule but we will make the best of it. I believe in the Browns making the playoffs and I know you think that they will finish dead last in the AFC North this season. Take the past and all the stats which don't amount to a hill of beans. Holmgren and Jake will get this ship righted and look out. You and a lot more people may be eating their words in just a few weeks. Go Browns. As a writer I know you have to be the bad guy in this division, but the underdog will upset your predictions this year. The Browns and Steelers will finish first and second in the AFC North this season. If I am wrong then I will…take it like a real loyal fan. If I'm right, then I expect the same from you as a writer.

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