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AFC North stock watch

12/16/2008

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

Let's see who's hot and who's not in the AFC North:

Who's hot?

1. Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Pittsburgh Steelers

A player who performs well for one quarter rarely makes it to the top of our "Who's hot" list, but Roethlisberger has earned a rare exception this week. His fourth quarter drive against the Baltimore Ravens with the division title and a No. 2 seed on the line was as clutch as it gets for a regular season game. He completed 7 of 11 for 89 yards and a touchdown pass to receiver Santonio Holmes on the game-winning drive. Although the last play will be disputed, Roethlisberger's ability to march the Steelers downfield in a hostile environment cannot be argued.

2. Ed Reed, S, Baltimore Ravens

Roethlisberger said it best after Sunday's game, calling Reed an "animal." Reed was all over the field, recording eight tackles, a sack and a fumble recovery against Pittsburgh. If not for a clutch tackle by Pittsburgh tackle Max Starks, Reed also may have reached the end zone for the fourth time this season and changed the course of Sunday's game.

3. Hines Ward, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers

Also lost in Roethlisberger's final drive was Ward's heroics Sunday. Ward had seven catches for 107 yards against Baltimore, and three of those catches came on the final drive. As much as the Ravens dislike Ward's playing style, they have to respect him. He's had some of his best games against one of the NFL's toughest defenses, and his most recent outing helped seal the division title.
Who's not?

1. Joe Flacco, QB, Baltimore Ravens

In a game with a ton at stake, Flacco came up short with 115 passing yards, two interceptions and a 22.2 passer rating. The rookie looked uncomfortable all game against the Steelers' defense. Although some blame could go on the coaching staff for conservative play calling, Flacco still played like a first-year quarterback in one of his first big games. The next step for Flacco would be to use Sunday's game as a learning experience.
2. Cleveland Browns

Another loss Monday to the Philadelphia Eagles solidified Cleveland's seventh double-digit losing season since the team returned to the NFL in 1999. Despite providing hope in 2007, there is a sense of dreadfulness in Northeast Ohio once again that the Browns are a long way from contending in the division. A case could be made otherwise, but regardless, Cleveland cannot hide from its 4-10 record.

3. Willis McGahee, RB, Baltimore Ravens

McGahee's play has tailed off this season. He is officially in a slump and on Sunday was reduced to just six carries for 18 yards. He also had two receptions but doesn't look sharp catching passes or hitting the hole. The Ravens are planning to stick with the "three-headed monster" but right now La'Ron McClain is running harder and seeing more playing time.