Print and Go Back ESPN.com: NFL Nation [Print without images]

Tuesday, October 25, 2011
AFC North Stock Watch

By Jamison Hensley

NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

FALLING

1. Browns' special teams: Yes, this group was on the list last week. But Cleveland's special teams dipped farther down after two field goals were blocked and punter Brad Maynard booted a 9-yard kick Sunday. The Browns would've allowed another return for a touchdown this week if not for a very questionable block in the back penalty. This unit is having a major meltdown this year.

2. Ravens' wide receivers: Other than Torrey Smith running a go route, no other receiver is getting open for Joe Flacco on a consistent basis. Lee Evans was supposed to provide speed to this group, but he's missed the past four games with an ankle injury. Anquan Boldin's physical style works in the red zone, but not elsewhere. The Jaguars used physical man-to-man defense to remove Baltimore's receivers from the game.

Mike Wallace
Mike Wallace continues to be a downfield threat for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
3. Anyone covering Mike Wallace. Cornerbacks are starting to have nightmares after watching the highlights of the Steelers wide receiver blowing past defenders. Wallace has caught a pass of 40 yards or longer in six straight games, which is the longest streak since 2001. His 95-yard touchdown reception at Arizona is the second-longest play from scrimmage in Steelers history. So, all those playing safety against Pittsburgh, take a few steps back before the ball is snapped.

RISING

1. Browns' drafting of defensive players. Two starters on the defensive line -- defensive tackle Phil Taylor and defensive end Jabaal Sheard -- were drafted in the first two rounds this year. Half of the starting secondary -- cornerback Joe Haden and safety T.J. Ward -- was selected in the first two rounds in 2010. This explains the resurgence of the Browns' defense, which has gone from 31st in 2009 (before these four starters were drafted) to No. 4 this week.

2. Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown. He stepped up when Hines Ward went down with an injury, delivering season highs in catches (seven) and yards (102). He also averaged 23 yards on two punt returns. Brown is such a dangerous playmaker because he always seems to make the most of his opportunities.

3. Record against NFC West. The AFC North is reaping the benefits of playing the NFC West with wins over Seattle and Arizona on Sunday, which improves the AFC North to 4-1 over that division this year. How weak is the NFC West? Take away the 49ers and the rest of that division (Seahawks, Cardinals and Rams) are a combined 3-15 (.166). It wasn't too long ago when the NFC West sent teams to the Super Bowl.