AFC North: Steve Johnson

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

Steelers president Art Rooney II shot down speculation that he hired offensive coordinator Todd Haley, saying it was head coach Mike Tomlin's decision.

"I think the bottom line is, Mike was comfortable that's who he wanted to come in," Rooney told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "It may be fair to say that when he started the discussions and Todd's name was on his original list, I don't think he expected that Todd was the guy he was going to wind up hiring. But as he had more conversations with him, he became more comfortable that he was the right guy for the job."

According to Rooney, Tomlin had all of the initial talks with the offensive coordinator candidates on the phone before bringing in Haley and Jim Caldwell for interviews. Rooney said he spoke with Haley and Caldwell, describing it more as conversations than actual interviews.

"I wouldn't want my role in it to be overestimated because Mike has to decide who he wants on the staff," Rooney told the paper. "Even though there's always a discussion between me and Mike about who he's hiring and how much we're paying him and those kinds of things, it's normally a discussion of the business side of the arrangement than, 'Are we going to hire a guy who's going to run the ball so many times a game.' It was a fairly normal process as far as I'm concerned in terms of how we've done those kinds of hirings in the past."

Hensley's slant: No one is going to compare Rooney to Jerry Jones anytime soon. But I still have a question on who actually decided to part ways with former offensive coordinator Bruce Arians. The Steelers have never disputed a Post-Gazette report that Tomlin told Arians right after the season that he wanted him back and told staff members that Arians would be back. And no one has shot down a report that Rooney forced out Arians against Tomlin's wishes.

BENGALS: The free-agent wide receiver that best fits the Bengals is Buffalo's Steve Johnson, according to's Pete Prisco. "Jerome Simpson is a free agent and has some legal issues, and they need a weapon opposite A.J. Green," Prisco wrote. "Johnson would be the perfect complement to the taller Green." Hensley's slant: The Bengals need to add a veteran to take over the No. 2 wide receiver role, but I don't think Johnson's personality would mesh in the Cincinnati locker room. Johnson's antics are too reminiscent of Chad Ochocinco. The Bengals waited too long to get rid of one distraction just to add another too soon.

BROWNS: Aston Villa soccer manager Alex McLeish is visiting Browns coach Pat Shumur to pick up coaching tips amid fan protests, according to the Associated Press. Randy Lerner, who owns the Browns and the English professional soccer team, suggested that McLeish should go to Cleveland and spend two days shadowing Shurmur. Hensley's slant: Shurmur has only one year of head coaching experience, but he certainly can share some of the lessons learned from a tumultuous first season. If the Browns end up with another double-digit loss season, Lerner might want Shurmur to make a similar trip and go over to England. But this time, a return flight won't be included.

RAVENS: The Baltimore Sun's Mike Preston suggests that the Ravens should replace recently retired Ricky Williams with Le'Ron McClain, who played last season for the Kansas City Chiefs after spending four years in Baltimore. McClain went to the Chiefs last year after the Ravens signed fullback Vonta Leach. "He worked as hard as [Ray] Rice during the offseason in his last two years here, and he always had swagger," Preston wrote. "He intimidated people. He was -- and still deserves to be -- a Raven." Hensley's slant: The Ravens have previously gone with more experienced ball carriers as backups with Williams and Willis McGahee. But adding McClain would be a very sound move. McClain is the right player (he can back up at running back and fullback as well as play special teams) for the right price (he only made $1.5 million with the Chiefs last season). It would be a mistake if the Ravens went with Anthony Allen and Damien Berry as their backups because both young players need another year before stepping into that role.

AFC North Week 12 decisive moment

November, 30, 2010
NFC Decisive Moments: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Perhaps there is lucky symmetry when the Pittsburgh Steelers go on the road against AFC East teams this season.

Just when you thought Pittsburgh couldn't get more fortunate than the late Ben Roethlisberger fumble that wasn't on the road against the Miami Dolphins, the Steelers caught an even bigger break this past Sunday against the Buffalo Bills.

Receiver Steve Johnson, who torched the Cincinnati Bengals the week before, suddenly forgot how to catch the football in key moments against Pittsburgh. The biggest was Johnson's wide-open drop in the end zone that would have ended the game in overtime.

Instead, the Steelers were given an opening and closed out the game on kicker Shaun Suisham's 41-yard field goal to improve to 8-3. It was arguably Pittsburgh's ugliest win of the season.

Johnson says he will never be able to forget that play, but the Steelers already have. Pittsburgh is moving on to its biggest game of the year against the Baltimore Ravens (8-3), where the winner has the inside track on the AFC North title.

Morning take: Lucky Steelers?

November, 29, 2010
Here are the most interesting stories Monday in the AFC North: Morning take: Bills receiver Steve Johnson dropped a wide-open touchdown in overtime to allow the Steelers to pull it out. But a win is a win.
Morning take: The pass-interference call before halftime was questionable. But the Ravens have been on the short end of plenty of calls. Ask Roddy White.
Morning take: Expect a lot more questions at quarterback this week, as Delhomme's performance didn't silence many critics.
Morning take: The Bengals aren't very interesting now. But Cincinnati will be interesting in the offseason, when it likely makes major changes after a disappointing year.