AFC North: Take Your Pick

The 2011 NFL draft is in the books, and we have another interesting poll question for our community. This week the AFC North blog wants to know who will be the better NFL quarterback: Christian Ponder or Andy Dalton?

Both were projected to go late in the first round or early in the second round. But the Minnesota Vikings pulled off the shocker of the draft, selecting Ponder No. 12 overall Thursday night. Dalton was picked the next day by the Cincinnati Bengals in the second round, No. 35 overall.

Minnesota received a lot of heat for picking Ponder so high, while the Bengals have been commended for waiting and getting solid value in the second round.

But is Ponder the better NFL quarterback? He suffered some injuries in college and had an up-and-down career at Florida State. Ponder will join a veteran team in Minnesota and could start early if the team does not acquire a veteran this offseason such as Donovan McNabb.

Or will Dalton perform better than Ponder? Dalton was a favorite of a lot of talent evaluators for his accuracy and winning ways at TCU. Dalton is going to a rebuilding team in Cincinnati but is expected to be the Week 1 starter with Carson Palmer threatening retirement.

Using our SportsNation poll, vote for which player will be the better NFL quarterback and share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Take your pick recap: Top draft class

February, 15, 2011
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We had a very tough "Take your pick" this week in the AFC North blog. The question: Which division team had the best 2010 draft class?

Here are some responses from our AFC North community:

Tom J. from Cleveland writes: I would have to argue my Browns had the best draft. T.J. Ward seems like he will be a solid safety for a long time while Joe Haden looks as though he might become one of the top cornerbacks in the NFL. In addition, Colt McCoy showed promise and if he ends up being our franchise QB then it is definitely the Browns who had the best draft.

Rick from Olympic Valley, Calif., writes: The Steelers have a clear advantage in respect to their rookie class. Not only was Maurkice Pouncey a rookie Pro Bowler, which should be enough, but Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders made the plays that got us to the Super Bowl.

JoeGoodberry via Twitter writes: Bengals got two starters (Jermaine Gresham and Carlos Dunlap), two major contributors (Jordan Shipley and Geno Atkins) and two good special teamers that could contribute later.

Vince C from Alliance, Ohio, writes: The best rookie class has to be the Browns. While not many wins the three guys you mentioned, McCoy, Ward and Haden all made major impacts and have laid down a solid foundation to build off of. They will be a great group for years to come.

Michael from Berkeley, Calif., writes: There's no doubt the Steelers had the best rookie class in the AFCN. Pouncey, Brown and Sanders all had an immediate impact on a championship-caliber team. Brown and Sanders even had to come into the season behind vets like Hines Ward, Mike Wallace and Antwaan Randle El. The Bengals' and Browns' rookie classes are solid, but they generally didn't have to compete for spots on good teams.

StephanSharp via Twitter writes: Cincinnati. Gresham, Dunlap, Shipley will be studs for the next 5-10 years. Atkins is good, too.

Tyler from Geneva, Ohio, writes: The Browns by far had the best draft class this season. Colt McCoy is looking out to be a solid starter in this league. I haven't seen as hard of a hitting safety as T.J. Ward, ala Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu. Also, Haden had six interceptions this year. That is a solid veteran-like year out of a rookie.

Eddie Kilroy from Brunswick, Ohio, writes: As much as it kills me to say it as a Browns fan, the Steelers have the better rookie class. It's not by much, though. But their drafting ensures that their offensive line and their receivers are in the process establishing the Steelers as one of the best offenses in football. Another good draft this year and we'll be seeing the Pittsburgh offense leading the team to another Super Bowl.

Brad from Atlanta writes: The Browns win by default because they found a quarterback. Add a six-interception CB and a long-term starting safety and you should realize that this isn't a debate.

Fleetwood22 via Twitter writes: Definitely the Bengals. Dunlap had 9.5 sacks in 11 games. Shipley and Gresham were both very good, and Atkins got a lot of pressure on QBs.

Brian from Salt Lake City, Utah, writes: It has to be the Steelers. A lot of people had issues with the Steelers keeping eight rookies on their roster at the beginning of the season. Look how it paid off. Just ask the Ravens and Jets how big Antonio Brown was, and he wasn't our best. Pouncey, Sanders, Brown and Sylvester all had a major role in their respective areas that propelled the Steelers to the Super Bowl.

AFC North final say

James Walker: This is a very close race, but I tend to give the nod to Pittsburgh for two reasons. First, Pouncey was the only AFC North rookie to make the Pro Bowl, so that helps separate Pittsburgh. Second, Pouncey, Sanders and Brown never hit the rookie wall, and played big all the way to the Super Bowl, which is something the other two classes didn't do. I really like Cleveland's rookie production this year as well as Cincinnati's. And these players will only get better a year or two from now, when we might have to revisit this debate. But for now, the AFC champion Steelers get the slight edge after their rookies contributed heavily to their Super Bowl run.

Take your pick: Best AFCN rookie class

February, 14, 2011
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As usual, we have another tough "Take your pick" in the AFC North blog. This week we ask our community which division team had the best 2010 draft class?

Three of the four teams in the AFC North had very productive rookie classes. But which team had the best group of first-year players this past season?

Was it the Cleveland Browns? Rookie quarterback Colt McCoy and defensive backs T.J. Ward and Joe Haden all appear to be longtime starters in Cleveland.

What about the Cincinnati Bengals? Rookies Jermaine Gresham, Carlos Dunlap and Jordan Shipley are dynamic talents, and they were among the Bengals' most productive players in the second half of the season.

Or could it be the Pittsburgh Steelers? Center Maurkice Pouncey made the Pro Bowl in his first year, and rookie receivers Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown made big play after big play to help propel the Steelers to Super Bowl XLV. If you want to make a case for the Baltimore Ravens, as well, feel free.

So take your pick on the AFC North's best rookie class and share your thoughts below. You can also send comments to our division inbox and AFC North Twitter page, and we will run the best responses throughout the week.
ARLINGTON, Texas -- As the AFC North blog wraps up its week-long trip in the Lone Star State, we want to leave one last question Monday for our community.

Which Super Bowl XLV turnover hurt the Pittsburgh Steelers most: Ben Roethlisberger's pick-six in the first half or Rashard Mendenhall's fourth-quarter fumble? Take your pick.

Both plays were huge and led to Green Bay Packers touchdowns in the six-point victory.

Roethlisberger was pressured in the first quarter and threw a lame duck right into the hands of Packers safety Nick Collins, who returned it 37 yards for a score, giving the Packers a 14-0 lead. The Steelers were never able to overcome that early deficit. So was Roethlisberger's interception more costly?

Or was the timing of Mendenhall's fumble more important? The Steelers were only down 21-17 and driving when Packers linebacker Clay Matthews popped the ball out of Mendenhall's hands. Green Bay scored a touchdown eight plays later to take a 28-17 lead in the fourth quarter and never looked back.

So take your pick between these two costly turnovers by Pittsburgh, and share your comments below. You can also send your thoughts to our division inbox and AFC North Twitter page, and we will run the best responses throughout the week.
In our final "Take your pick" of the football season, we ask who will win Super Bowl XLV between the Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers?

Here were some responses from our division inbox and AFC North Twitter page:

Merrick from Charlottesville, Va., writes: Got to go with the team with the experience! James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley hit Aaron Rodgers hard and often early. Troy Polamalu makes a big play or two. But Ben Roethlisberger comes up big with a late fourth-quarter drive. Steelers, 24-21, and Ben wins the MVP.

Robert from Denver writes: Steelers 27, Packers 13. MVP will be Big Ben. I believe Rodgers will come out throwing and even score a TD in the first or second drive of the game. Then the Steelers defense will bring the pressure and hit Rodgers a lot and that will make Rogers throw two INTs.

Nathan from Newark, N.J., writes: I am a huge Steelers fan, but I have to pick the Packers. Their nose tackle is too good for Doug Legursky. Given that, we won't be able to put up enough points to keep up with Rodgers and his top receivers.

Ty B. from Morgantown, WV, writes: Green Bay takes the nod here, 24-17. It just all seems to come together so well for the Green Bay Packers. It's a matchup the Steelers certainly aren't comfortable with. The Green Bay receiving corp will eat up a porous Pittsburgh secondary. Aaron Rodgers has escape ability and will evade/handle the Pittsburgh pass rush.

InThisInsanity via Twitter writes: Steelers 30, Packers 27. MVP would be between Big Ben, Mike Wallace, or Rashard Mendenhall.

Agt337 via Twitter writes: Speaking for all Browns, Bengals and Ravens fans, we are pulling for the North…the NFC North. Let's go Packers!

RavensOsNBohs via Twitter writes: Packers. They dismantled the Falcons indoors and they will do the same to big Ben and the Squeelers.

Matt from San Diego writes: Pittsburgh wins, 27-17. Mike Wallace will win MVP and Big Ben will again be overshadowed. This should keep him hungry to come back and win No. 8 and that elusive MVP award.

South Florida Steeler from Boynton Beach, Fla., writes: The Steelers will win in a shootout. Big Ben will find a way to win the game at the end and will be the MVP. Both defenses will score touchdowns. The difference will be the running game. Pittsburgh will gain enough on the ground to control the clock and be able to play action pass. The final score will be 34-31 Steelers.

Brian from Salt Lake City, Utah, writes: The Pack deserve a lot a credit for an excellent season, but... the Steelers experience and defense will carry the team to its seventh Lombardi. Mike Wallace continues the trend of Steelers wide receivers winning the MVP in a 23-17 victory.

AFC North final say

James Walker: One of the most baffling things I noticed about Super Bowl week is how much people doubt the Steelers' defense. I don't think it's safe to assume the Packers' offense will march up and down the field for four quarters. I think the Steelers' defense frustrates Green Bay early, which is enough to get a lead and stave off a second-half rally by the Packers. Steelers, 27-24.

Take your pick: Steelers or Packers?

February, 3, 2011
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Everyone knew this was coming. We have the final "Take your pick" of the season in the AFC North blog, and it involves the last two teams standing.

Who will win Sunday's Super Bowl XLV matchup between the Pittsburgh Steelers (14-4) and Green Bay Packers (13-6)? Take your pick.

Can the Steelers win an NFL-best seventh Super Bowl title? Pittsburgh has tons of championship experience, which includes quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who is 10-2 in the playoffs and undefeated in two Super Bowls. Will experience prevail for the Steelers?

Or will the Packers continue their hot streak through the playoffs? Green Bay has won on the road against three division champions and is favored to beat Pittsburgh, which captured the AFC North. Is this the year for the Packers and quarterback Aaron Rodgers?

So predict Super Bowl XLV and provide a score and MVP while you're at it. You can share your thoughts below or to our division inbox and AFC North Twitter page. We will run the best responses throughout the week.
We had another tough "Take your pick" this week in the AFC North blog. We asked which quarterback would you rather have in Super Bowl XLV: Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers or Pittsburgh Steelers counterpart Ben Roethlisberger.

Here are some responses from our AFC North inbox:

Roethlisberger is clutch!

Big Snack from Indy writes: It's Big Ben hands down. You will get plenty of people picking Rodgers because they are enamored with stats, just like the fools who love Philip Rivers for the same reason. Ben will never get the full respect or accolades he deserves and people will always try to point to stats and numbers. But I'll take the guy who makes the plays when it matters most and wins championships. Nobody but Tom Brady has a say in that conversation with Ben.

Dustan Horst from Camden, Del., writes: While these two guys are both top five QBs in the league, I will take Big Ben, for now. Here is why: Ben not only has two rings and he is probably the most clutch QB in the NFL today. I don't know if I can call him the Michael Jordan of the NFL. But I know that, as an athlete, Roethlisberger has a ridiculous track record for winning close games.

HP Bradish from Meadville, Pa., writes: I'd take Ben over Aaron. Bigger, stronger, just as mobile, players really do believe in him and play like it. And there's the extra unknown factor, which I think matters. That said the difference-maker in my opinion will be those Pittsburgh linebackers -- the very best group ever assembled. No team has ever had four of that caliber on the field at the same time.

Carl M from East Brunswick, N.J., writes: In a one-game-take-all scenario like the Super Bowl, it HAS to be Big Ben. The history speaks for itself. He's 10-2 in the postseason, 2-0 in super bowls and just an attitude of "I won't let my team lose." In basketball you talk about great game "closers," Ben is the ultimate game closer in my opinion.

Sam M from Pittsburgh writes: With all do respect to Rodgers, who has clearly become on of the finest quarterbacks in the league, I am taking Roethlisberger. This is the time of the year where passing yards and touchdowns don't mean anything. Instead, it's all about winning. Since Ben has proven time and time again that he is capable of making the big play at the big moment, he has got to be the choice.

Matthew from Columbus, Ohio, writes: How many Super Bowl titles does Ben have? How many does Aaron have? Oh, ok. I'll take Ben.

Rodgers rocks!

Milan from Canton, Ohio, writes: I take Rodgers only because, at the moment, he does more for his team. Both make big throws, are very accurate, look safeties off well, impossible to sack and are a substantial threat when rushing for first downs and TDs. But Rodgers seems on a mission, incognito rushing game throughout the season and he brings his team to this game.

Dave from Orlando, Fla., writes: This is a really tough one as Ben is as clutch an athlete as any, but I would have to go with Rodgers on the simple premise that his all-around game is more universally effective. In the Steelers' offense Big Ben is absolutely perfect but I can't see him stepping into a West Coast system and being a top-flight QB. Rodgers has the total package -- arm strength, patience, accuracy and underrated feet -- and the fastest release since Dan Marino.

John from Cincinnati writes: The pick here is Rodgers, even though it may seem counterintuitive. Yes, Ben is 10-2 in the playoffs and generally clutch in the fourth quarter of the regular season when needed. However, look at his stats as a QB in the Super Bowl. Both of the rings he has, he has because of the defenses in those games and not because he lifted the team up on shoulders and carried them. That is why I would pick Rodgers in this game. He has proven that he can put up huge numbers against the stoutest defenses and I think he does it again in the championship game.

Joe from Lexington, Va., writes: I'd pick Rodgers. For me, the most important skill for a quarterback is his decision-making. While Rodgers generally makes good reads and throws to open receivers, Roethlisberger has a habit of throwing into tight windows and relying on his accuracy and his receivers' ability to make tight catches. Despite his playoff record, the further you go into the playoffs, the more likely that is to come back and bite you.

Dave from State College, Pa., writes: Going by what I've seen this season, I would have to go with Rodgers as my gut reaction. But after thinking about it for a minute, I have a feeling, after all the offseason controversy, Roethlisberger is going to want this Super Bowl more and will the Steelers to victory.

Tom from Frisco, Texas, writes: If I need a clutch performance, it's Roethlisberger without a doubt. If I need finesse, accurate passing, give me Rodgers. How's that for officially being on the fence?

AFC North final say

James Walker: Personally, I don't think you can go wrong either way as Roethlisberger and Rodgers are both top five quarterbacks. But I'm giving the edge in this case to Roethlisberger, who continues to win big games time after time. It rarely looks pretty, but a 10-2 record in the postseason and two championships speak for themselves. Rodgers is more conventional but never won a playoff game until this year. In the playoffs, and particularly the Super Bowl, the only stat that matters is winning. And Roethlisberger has done that in the big games a lot more than Rodgers.
"Take your pick" in the AFC North blog is never easy, and we have another tough choice this week for our community.

Which Super Bowl quarterback would you rather have: Ben Roethlisberger of the Pittsburgh Steelers or Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers? Take your pick.

Both quarterbacks are on the cusp of joining the NFL's very elite, a group that includes future Hall of Famers Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. A Super Bowl XLV dual in Arlington, Texas, will be a great showcase for Roethlisberger and Rodgers to show their skills on the biggest stage.

Does Roethlisberger have the advantage? Although unconventional, he's as clutch as there is in the NFL with a 10-2 postseason record, and Roethlisberger also has a chance to tie Brady with three Super Bowl titles. Quarterbacks are judged by their ability to win big games and no one over the past few years has done it better than Roethlisberger.

Or does Rodgers have the advantage? Rodgers virtually willed the Packers to the Super Bowl, despite very little help with the running game and various season-ending injuries. Rodgers' numbers this year are tremendous, as he steps out of the shadow of Brett Favre in Green Bay and has a chance to win his first Super Bowl.

So take your pick between these two great quarterbacks and share your thoughts below. Or you can send comments to our division inbox or AFCN Twitter page, and we will run the best responses throughout the week.

Take your pick recap: Jets at Steelers

January, 19, 2011
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This week's "Take your pick" on the AFC North blog involved Sunday's conference title game between the New York Jets and Pittsburgh Steelers. This is a rematch of New York's 22-17 victory in Week 15.

Who will advance to Super Bowl XLV? Here are predictions from our division inbox and AFC North Twitter page:

Steve from D.C. writes: Rarely do the Steelers lose to a team twice in the same year. Also, as you pointed out the Steelers were without Troy, Heath, and the Jets returned the opening kickoff for a TD and got a rare Safety. Steelers will learn from their mistakes, play way more physical then the Colts and Pats and if the teams two D's are even it comes down to which QB will step up. And you have to go with the proven QB, Big Ben.

James Affinito from New York, N.Y., writes: Mark Sanchez has looked uncomfortable throwing the ball against the Colts' 20th-ranked defense. While he played a respectable game against the Patriots, they were the league's 25th-ranked defense. The Steelers were able to hold the Ravens to only 126 total yards and Ray Rice to only 32 yards rushing. With Polamalu back, Dick LeBeau will do plenty to confuse Sanchez, and I expect a better performance from the run defense this time around. The Steelers will win this game.

Greg from Cleveland writes: As much as it hurts to say this as a Browns fan, I'll be rooting for the Steelers on Sunday. I can't stand the Jets, and I really don't want to see Braylon Edwards anywhere near the Lombardi Trophy. I'd rather see a real team win again (Pittsburgh) then the misfit Jets. Steelers 23, Jets 13.

SheedIsWayDope via Twitter writes: Jets, 24-17. Santonio Holmes shows why the Steelers should have kept him and Rex Ryan avenges his former Ravens.

Deane Belden from Pittsburgh writes: The Jets will win unless the refs give the Steelers another playoff phantom touchdown. (See vs. Seattle in SB)

The_blueprint via Twitter writes: NYJ. They're peaking at the right time, are healthier, and I don't hate them.

NickFox2 via Twitter writes: I don't like the Jets, but I hate the Steelers. Go Sanchise!

Zach from West Des Moines, Iowa, writes: I respect the Jets and what they have done in the playoffs, but I think their journey ends on Sunday. It's almost good that the Steelers lost in Week 15, which ensures they prepare even more for this game. Plus, the Steelers statistically won that game. You also can't overlook the return of Miller and Polamalu.

Mark from Allentown, Pa., writes: As a Browns fan, I'm rooting like crazy for the Jets to knock off the Steelers. But I don't think the Jets have what it takes to make that happen.

Michael from San Antonio, Texas, writes: As much as it pains me to pick them, I would have to go with the Steelers. I'm picking them for one reason, and one reason alone. The Browns have now beaten the Super Bowl champs for the past three years. The only way for that streak to continue is for the Steelers to win another one.

James Walker: To no surprise, the majority of AFC North readers picked the Steelers to win this matchup. No game at this stage will be easy, but Pittsburgh did catch a break by getting a home game and avoiding the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game. I think the Jets are a better matchup for the Steelers in this game. We will have much more analysis and predictions on the Jets and Steelers later on the AFC North blog.

Walker's weekend mailbag

January, 8, 2011
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With the playoffs set to begin Saturday, let's dig into the weekend mailbag.

Mike from Baltimore writes: Are the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens are capable of beating the New England Patriots in the postseason?

Walker: No playoff team is unbeatable, Mike, but the Patriots deserve to be the favorites. They were the best team in the regular season. I think the Ravens would have a better chance of beating New England than Pittsburgh, because of the matchups. But anything can happen in a one-game scenario.


Mike from Ewa Beach, Hawaii, writes: Is it me or has Ben Roethlisberger really improved as a pocket passer?

Walker: Roethlisberger has made strides in that area, Mike. That is a good observation. It's never going to be the biggest part of Roethlisberger's game. But I think his foot injury forced him to focus more on throwing from the pocket instead of running around the line of scrimmage to create big plays. It's also helped with pass protection. The offensive line has a better feel for where Roethlisberger will be, and the group has played better in the past month.


Charles Catalano via Facebook writes: Nobody thinks the Kansas City Chiefs can win, and that's how we like it. No pressure at Arrowhead Stadium.

Walker: Charles, we did a "Take your pick" on this game, and a majority picked the Ravens to win. I agree the Ravens should be the favorites. They had the better season and have more overall talent. But no road playoff game is easy. It should be a good game either way.


Jack from Baltimore writes: Do you think it will be hard for the Ravens to re-sign Haloti Ngata?

Walker: Both sides are very committed to getting a deal done, Jack. So I don't see it being an issue. The lack of a CBA might push things back. But all indications are Baltimore will make Ngata one of the highest-paid defensive linemen in the NFL, if not the highest-paid at his position.


Tim B. from Columbus, Ohio, writes: What is the biggest draft need for the Cincinnati Bengals?

Walker: Cincinnati is about to make some changes to its roster, Tim. So it remains to be seen by the time April rolls around. But right now, in January, I would identify another pass-rushing defensive end as the Bengals' most immediate need.


Will from Nashville, Tenn., writes: Should the Bengals or any AFC North team sign quarterback Vince Young?

Walker: Nope. There are questions about Young's leadership, and the quarterback situations are pretty settled throughout the division, Will. But someone will pick Young up.


Jonathan from Cincinnati writes: I was wondering why Bengals cornerback Leon Hall didn't make the All-AFC North Team?

Walker: Hall is a good player, Jonathan. But I didn't think he had as good a season as last year. He was beat for too many touchdowns, and I think the injuries to teammate Johnathan Joseph hurt Hall's production. So I gave the nod to Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor and Cleveland Browns cornerback Joe Haden. Both players had better seasons.


Jim D. from Sarasota, Fla., writes: Why won't the Browns hire a quarterbacks coach as head coach to help Colt McCoy?

Walker: There is really no rhyme or reason to hiring first-time head coaches, Jim. There are good and bad examples from all assistant positions. John Harbaugh, for example, was a longtime special teams coach and briefly coached defensive backs. He worked out very well for Baltimore. Yet, plenty of offensive and defensive coordinators have failed. But Browns president Mike Holmgren, of all people, should know what a good head coach looks like. He just needs to find the person with the right qualities.


Doug_Berger via Twitter writes: Did Jim Harbaugh's lack of interest in the Browns have much to do with facing the Ravens and John Harbaugh twice a year?

Walker: While the Harbaughs are happy to be in separate conferences, Doug, that wasn't a big factor. Jim Harbaugh was simply too hot a name and had interest from better organizations in Miami and San Francisco, where Jim signed a five-year deal. The reality is Cleveland's opening is not all that attractive for highly sought-after coaches. It's a tough sell considering the location, lack of talent, history of instability, quarterback questions and having to beat Baltimore and Pittsburgh four times a year. Holmgren helps bring credibility. But it's pretty easy to see in league circles that Cleveland's turnaround will not happen overnight.


Joel from Bowling Green, Ohio, writes: Will the Browns switch to a 4-3 defense next year?

Walker: Good question, Joel. But it's too early to answer. Holmgren has always coached a 4-3 defense. But since he wants to stay in the front office, I don't think Holmgren is against hiring a staff that still believes in the 3-4. Either scheme can work if run properly. The Browns are built with 3-4 personnel. So there would be an adjustment period if Cleveland makes the switch. We will know more once a head coach is hired and that person establishes their philosophy.


Comment and complaint department

George A. Brownfield from Houston writes: James, I disagree with you on the All-AFC North QBs. As a Steeler fan I know I wouldn't trade Ben Roethlisberger for Joe Flacco. So that tells me you chose wrong.

Walker: We received tons of complaints about our All-AFC North pick of Flacco over Roethlisberger this year. I think people misconstrued it as saying Flacco is the better quarterback. That's not the case. My reasoning is Roethlisberger missed a quarter of the season because of a four-game suspension, while Flacco played the full year at a pretty high level. Flacco has better numbers in terms of touchdowns, yards and completion percentage. Had Roethlisberger played the full season, his numbers would have been better and he would have been the pick.


Noah from Baltimore writes: First of all, T.O. over Anquan Boldin? Peyton Hillis over Ray Rice? Ray Rice is the most complete back in the NFL, while Peyton Hillis is just a surprise. He will fall off just like surprise Cedric Benson did. Ike Taylor over Josh Wilson? LaMarr Woodley over Paul Kruger? Haha. But, really, can you tell I'm a Ravens fan?

Walker: Noah, you were almost our AFC North "Homer of the Week" with that last comment. But it turns out you were just joking.


Ben from Pensacola, Fla, writes: As a Steelers fan, I have two holiday wishes: the Patriots getting miraculously knocked out of the playoffs very quickly, and getting the honor of sending Joe Flacco and the Ravens home with a whipping. I'd "settle" for the Patriots getting knocked out. Not being able to trash the Ravens would be disappointing, but getting annihilated in the AFC Championship Game would be brutal to watch.

Walker: Let's see how the playoffs turn out this weekend. Saturday night's game between the New York Jets and Indianapolis Colts will help determine Pittsburgh's next opponent. If New York wins, we could have a third bloodbath between the Steelers and Ravens, if they advance. If the Colts win, New England would await the winner of the Ravens-Chiefs game.


Paul Taylor from Fairfield, Ohio, writes: I've been a Browns fan for a long time and I'd love to see Cleveland get a good coach instead of having to settle for unproven coaches. They need someone who will be good enough to stay 5-10 years.

Walker: Paul, I wrote this week that this could be the most important decision that Holmgren makes in his tenure with Cleveland. It was clear the Holmgren-Eric Mangini marriage was no longer going to work. But at the same time, the Browns cannot continue changing head coaches every 2-3 years. Cleveland needs to start developing continuity to compete with Baltimore and Pittsburgh, which is why Holmgren has to get this hire right.


Mike from Stow, Ohio, writes: I want to understand the logic of running the Wildcat and Cyclone so much in a 41-9 loss against the Steelers. At that point it was unnecessary. The point was to try and see how Colt McCoy would do. But they continually took him out and threw away any chance of him getting in rhythm.

Walker: Mike, I stopped trying to figure out the rhyme or reason behind Cleveland's offense about a month ago. Few things the Browns did on offense this year made sense. Holmgren could easily see that, which is why major changes are coming in Cleveland.


Brandon Crawford from Sykesville, Md., writes: Hey James, any chance you could stop talking about the boring Bengals and Browns, and start talking about the EXCITING playoffs. Thanks.

Jason from Cocoa, Fla., writes: I'm glad the Steelers got the BYE. Why? Because I wouldn't have to sift through the coaching sagas in Cleveland and Cincinnati in order to find something worthy of print. In the end, whoever coaches the Browns and Bengals doesn't matter. They're both bottom feeder teams who have to get through Pittsburgh and Baltimore on a yearly basis.

Walker: Brandon and Jason, I knew coming in that last week was going to be chaotic in the AFC North blog. Half of the division was in the playoffs, the other half had coaching issues, and there was no perfect way to balance everything. I know Steelers and Ravens fans rarely experience it, but coach firings and signings are major, national stories. They impact the entire direction of an organization. I tried to focus on that early in the week with Cleveland and Cincinnati, then shift to the Ravens and Steelers later in the week. But it was one of those situations where I couldn't please everyone.


Brett Kostoff from Cincinnati writes: James, I thought you might be interested in this story. I am selling my Bengals allegiance to the highest bidder on Ebay. I can't take it anymore!

Walker: Wow, Brett. I'm not sure what to say about that, other than I always encourage fans to stick by their teams. Check back next week to let me know how much money you made off your Bengals fandom and who you will root for next season.

Reality has set in -- good or bad -- for fans of all four teams. So we do not have a "Homer of the Week." Good job, everyone.

If you have any addition questions, comments or complaints, please send them to our division inbox or AFC North Twitter page.
Our latest "Take your pick" in the AFC North blog involved this weekend's wild-card game between the Baltimore Ravens (12-4) and Kansas City Chiefs (10-6).

Who will win this big matchup? Here are some predictions from our division inbox and AFC North Twitter:

Ravens advance!

Tom Cheek from Baltimore writes: Baltimore is going to win this one despite being on the road at K.C., which is a tough place to play. However, look at what Baltimore did to New England last year, which is a tough place to play. Even though Kansas City leads the league in rushing, the Ravens are fifth in rush defense, which should be able to hold Jamaal Charles under 100 yards on the day.

Jason from Pasadena, MD, writes: The Ravens defense will come up big with multiple turnovers and the offense will make the Chiefs pay. I smell a nice game from Ray Rice and Willis McGahee, 31-17, Ravens.

TheNFLChick via Twitter writes: Charlie Weis hiring is a distraction. Ravens know how to win playoffs on the road...I'm taking my boys! Tell Pitt we're gunning for them!

BlacknGoldGlen via Twitter writes: Ravens will beat the Chiefs. Then it's a trip to Pittsburgh before going home to watch the Big Game on TV.

Tyson from Newark, OH, writes: I think the Ravens will win this game with ease. Not taking away from the great season the Chiefs have had. But the Ravens are a veteran team who has been down this path before; much like when the played in Miami in 2008.

Chiefs protect home!

Bryce from Tucson, AZ, writes: I am actually going to take Kansas City at home over the Ravens. The New Arrowhead has been rocking like the Arrowhead of old, which makes life extremely difficult for opponents. While I think Baltimore can handle it, Kansas City is going to be extremely excited about playing in their first playoff game (for most of them) and will just feed off the crowd's energy.

Meyers2305 via Twitter writes: Chiefs are a great team. They need to play Charles the majority of the game. Thomas Jones doesn't have it anymore! Chiefs, 27-21.

BrockDulco via Twitter writes: I'm taking the Chiefs, 14-10. Chiefs' defense is good and Arrowhead can never be discounted.

BigPaych via Twitter writes: I like the Chiefs. Dual-threat running game could wear on the older Ravens' D and win in the fourth quarter.

Ben from Pensacola, FL, writes: I'll take the Chiefs over the Ravens in a close game. The Ravens have been good on the road, but the Chiefs are just as good at home, and you have to think Arrowhead will be even louder than usual given how long it's been since K.C. has hosted a playoff game. I'll take a blazing hot hand in Matt Cassel over Joe Flacco, too.

AFC North final say

After finishing the regular season 32-20, the AFC North blog is no longer predicting games now that the playoffs are underway. So we check in with Scouts Inc.'s Matt Williamson to get his take.

Williamson: I predict a close one, 21-20 in favor of Baltimore. I just think the Ravens are so much further along as an organization. With Kansas City, no matter what happens, if the team loses 51-0 this weekend the season has been a success. I don't think the Chiefs have true Super Bowl aspirations. They're content that they had a great year, all is well, and K.C. fans are going to be talking about the Chiefs all offseason. I don't think Baltimore is a really good matchup for K.C., either. The big key to me is if you can stop the Chiefs' running game, they don't know what to do with themselves. Matt Cassel can't put the team on his shoulders and air it out all day, and think the Ravens will stop their running game.

Take your pick: Ravens at Chiefs

January, 5, 2011
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We have an obvious "Take your pick" this week in the AFC North blog.

There is only one division game in the playoffs this weekend. Therefore, take your pick between the Baltimore Ravens (12-4) and Kansas City Chiefs (10-6).

The Ravens enter the postseason on a four-game winning streak and are one of just four teams to finish with 12 wins. Is Baltimore too strong for the inexperienced Chiefs?

Meanwhile, Kansas City is very tough at home, where the team posted a 7-1 mark this season. Will home-field advantage be the difference?

Take your pick in Sunday's wild-card matchup and share your thoughts below. Or you can send them to our division inbox and AFC North Twitter. We will run the best responses throughout the week.

Take your pick: Jets vs. Steelers

December, 14, 2010
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We have one of the biggest games of Week 15 for our latest "Take your pick" in the AFC North. Who will win Sunday's game between the Pittsburgh Steelers (10-3) and New York Jets (9-4)?

There will be heavy playoff implications for both AFC teams. The Steelers have won four in a row and their defense has been terrific. Opponents are averaging just nine points per game over the past month. Will Pittsburgh be able to beat the Jets and improve to 5-2 at Heinz Field?

Meanwhile, New York has lost two in a row and enters this contest the more desperate team. The Jets have plenty of talent. But can they get it together in time for this big game?

Share your "Take your pick" thoughts below or send them to our division inbox or AFC North Twitter page. We will run the best responses throughout the week.
This week's "Take your pick" focused on the biggest game of the year in the AFC North.

Who will win Sunday night's battle between the Baltimore Ravens (8-3) and Pittsburgh Steelers (8-3)?

Here are the responses from our division inbox and AFC North Twitter page:

Steelers get revenge!

R. Lewis from San Francisco writes: It will be UGLY, and brutal. But my Steelers pull out the win in the last quarter. This is going to be one of the best games of the year, for sure. Steelers 20, Ravens 17.

B_rob99 via Twitter writes: Steelers. If your D can't stop Peyton Hillis or Mike Goodson, it definitely can't stop Rashard Mendenhall.”

Alfy_06 via Twitter writes: How could anyone in a quarterback league think that Ed Reed means more than Ben Roethlisberger? Steelers, 31-20.

Ryan from Marion, Iowa, writes: I'm picking the Steelers 20, Ravens 17. These two teams beat each other up and always play close games. Both defenses have some weakness when it comes to the passing game. I give this edge to the Steelers offense over Baltimore's. Neither team will run very well and field goals may be the main scoring here.

Mike from Ewa Beach, HI, writes: Somehow, some way the Steelers will beat the Ravens if/when (I hope!) Ben plays. He'll make some clutch plays, hopefully the kicker Shuan Suisham will come through and we have the better defense. Troy Polamalu is whacko Flacko's kryptonite! Mike Wallace will torch the secondary a few times and Miller/Hines will come through in the run game and short/intermediate routes. Woodley might be going up against a second or third string RT and should have a field day! Steelers win, 24-16!

IanRussian via Twitter writes: Steelers, 27-17. Steelers almost won with a third-string Charlie Batch in Week 4. Two-time SB champ Roethlisberger wins it.

Ravens protect their house!

Fred Goldstein from Scottsdale, AZ, writes: Looking back at the whole season as well as strengths and weaknesses I believe the Ravens have the advantage. The home field advantage plays in, but most important, the Ravens’ offense is more versatile with more weapons and the Ravens’ defense can handle a mediocre Pittsburgh offense. This is the Ravens year for the AFC North.

Ryan from Baltimore writes: Tired of hearing the Steelers lost because Ben wasn't playing. Does Ben play Defense? Because that's who the Ravens beat on the final drive of the game. Oh, by the way Ed Reed was out of that game as well. Don't hear anyone talking about that. Ravens, 17-9.

JROX10 via Twitter writes: The Ravens will take this one. They will hold Rashard Mendenhall under 90, and without Holmes the WR corps is nothing special.

Flyskimmy via Twitter writes: Ravens are 17-4 and eight in a row at home under Harbaugh/Flacco.

Craverman from Northern Ohio writes: I'm a huge Steelers fan, but I gotta pick the Ravens to win Sunday night. The Steelers are just too inconsistent right now, plus the referees seem to have it out for them. Hope I'm wrong though!

Brandon Crawford from Sykesville, Md. writes: This game all depends on which Steeler team shows up. Will it be the team that showed up against Tampa Bay and Oakland? Or will it be the team that showed up against New England and Buffalo? Either way the Ravens are at home, which should be enough of a deciding factor to sneak a win out in the end.

AFC North Anti-Homer of the Week

Ben from Pensacola, FL, writes: I remember the first game in Pittsburgh very well. The Steelers got absolutely no pressure on Joe Flacco at all and he had a pretty solid game. Unless that changes, the Steelers don't stand much of a chance, because their offense is pathetic. I love them to death, but there is NO excuse for putting up a pitiful 19 points against arguably the worst defense in football. How do they expect to score on the Ravens playing like that? I'll take the Ravens in a 34-3 blowout.

(Wow.)

AFC North Final Say

James Walker: Well, the cat is already out of the bag on this one. I made an early prediction Wednesday that the Ravens will win this game, 20-17. It appears Baltimore has found its groove and is peaking at the right time, while Pittsburgh is still trying to find its way, particularly on offense. The Steelers also have been very sloppy lately with penalties, and I'm not sure everything can be cleaned in one week. Both teams will make the playoffs and have a say in who represents the AFC in the Super Bowl. But right now the Ravens are more in sync.

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