Chat with James Walker
Welcome to SportsNation! On Tuesday, ESPN.com AFC North blogger James Walker will stop by to chat about the NFL and what to expect from your team.
Walker joined ESPN.com in 2008 after three seasons covering the Cleveland Browns for the Columbus Dispatch.
Send your questions now and join James Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET!
James Walker (4:00 PM)
Hello, everyone. It's going to be an interesting Week 17 for the AFC North. So let's talk about it.
Mike (Lubbock, Tx / Steeler Nation)
If the Steelers get in they could potentially play the Bengals then Colts! It is very similar to 2005, what are the chances the Steelers pull it off again?
James Walker (4:01 PM)
Mike, stranger things have happened. But I think the chances aren't very good for Pittsburgh. The Steelers, for the most part, are relying on two teams which may or may not play its backups. Even if only the Bengals or only the Patriots decide to rest starters, Pittsburgh season is likely done.
Todd (Genoa, Ohio)
Why would the NFL move the Bengals/Jets game to 8:20 when there's a chance that Cincy could pull their starters depending on what happens in Houston.
James Walker (4:04 PM)
Good question, Todd. This is my theory: NBC probably wanted to flex a game Sunday that had win-and-you're-in implications. The only two were Baltimore at Oakland and Cincy at NYJ. NBC chose the best matchup. Having any other game besides these two could have made for a meaningless night game.
Ben from Cinci (Fairfield, OH)
If you are the Bengals, who would you rather play right now (Ravens or Steelers) if another AFC North team makes the playoffs?
James Walker (4:06 PM)
I would say the Ravens. The game will be in Cincinnati and the Steelers have had a ton of success in Paul Brown Stadium in the past. Bengals QB Carson Palmer also plays his best football against the Ravens.
Josh B (Raleigh,NC)
Hey James, love the blog. Do you think if the Ravens can get penalties under control they are Super Bowl caliber team?
James Walker (4:07 PM)
This isn't just a one-game issue, John. It's part of Baltimore's identity in 2009. I think the Ravens can cut down on penalties this week and potentially in the playoffs. But it's part of who they are this year.
shouldn't the steelers get into the playoffs on merit alone? It's obvious they're a more entertaining/better team than the jets or broncos
James Walker (4:08 PM)
C'mon now. Merit? The playoffs have to be earned by everyone, even the defending Super Bowl champs.
luis (cupertino, CA)
What is your take on the winning streak by the Browns? Are the players responding to Eric Mangini or are they simply playing for roster spots in 2010?
James Walker (4:10 PM)
I think both factors are in play and it's working out well for the team. The players there are getting use to Mangini's style in his first year. And a lot of players realize a new boss is coming in and looking to make wholesale changes. I expect Mike Holmgren to make a pretty significant overhaul on the roster to bring in his own players. Mangini did the same this past offseason.
Simon (Manchester, UK)
What are the long term prospects for the Bengals after reaching the playoffs? Can they be a frequent playoff contender or will this season be a flash in the pan season? I dont want to look to much beyond the wild-card round but shouldn't the Browns take the successful season we have had and turn it into future prosperity for the franchise?
James Walker (4:13 PM)
I like the way the Bengals are built, Simon. They have a good quarterback who is healthy now and a mix of young players and vets. But I think the AFC North is one of the hardest divisions to dominate long-term. Every team except Cleveland has stability at quarterback, and the front offices of the Ravens and Steelers are tremendous. That's part of what makes this division great.
Am I looking at this wrong, or is there the possibility that 3 AFC North teams still make it into the playoffs? If Jax beats Cle, Den beats KC, NE beats Hou, and Cin, Bal, and Pit all win....wouldn't that put them at 4,5,6? As much as I want to see Pit and Bal both lose and miss the playoffs, I think it would be cool to see 3 AFC North teams this year.
James Walker (4:15 PM)
There is a scenario where three AFC North teams can still make the playoffs. But the chances are slim. I've said all season that would be extremely tough.
Darrell M. (Charlotte)
There are reports of Troy Smith wanting to be traded, What do you think his trade value is?
James Walker (4:18 PM)
Early estimate is a mid-round pick, maybe a third or fourth rounder. But it depends on the quarterback market in the offseason. If it's thin it could be a notch higher, if it's deep it could be lower. I haven't looked that far ahead to see all the QBs who will become free agents in 2010.
James, do you feel it's right for the league to move the cincy-jets game? It basically takes any decision at all from the bengals where they could've played a half - eyed the ne-houston game and then decide to rest or not. Or they could've said ahh 4th seed is good enough, lets sit everyone. It would still be their decision. With the league moving the game, they made the decision for the bengals. It doesn't seem right especially since there are playoff implications. And the indy thing, hey they earned it and the team made the decision which should be kept in the team's hands. The league took all decision making and control from cincy. Just not right.. Thanks
James Walker (4:22 PM)
Flex scheduling is something that was in place before the season. So it's unfair to all of a sudden deem it wrong to move games because it may impact a person's favorite team. This is why coaches talk all the time about taking care of business on the field. If the Steelers beat the Browns, Chiefs or Raiders, they would have controlled their own destiny and not left it in the hands of the Bengals and Patriots.
Laugherman (Baltimore, MD)
At the beginning of the season, you mentioned how the Ravens would miss Bart Scott. How have the Ravens replaced Scott with the revolving door of Tavares Gooden and Dannell Ellerbe? Has either of their play made an impression on you?
James Walker (4:25 PM)
Both players have had their moments. But neither has been as good as Bart Scott at playing that enforcer role. Gooden and Ellerbe are young and should make strides next year, though.
Where was Lamar Woodley for the first two months of the season? The guy is unblockable the last 3 weeks.
James Walker (4:27 PM)
Woodley has a history of coming on late in the year. He was probably the team's best pass rusher in the playoffs last season. I didn't think he played poorly in the first half of the season. The sack numbers just weren't there. That's not the only way to judge a linebacker's performance.
Do you think the Steelers will win in Miami this sunday?
James Walker (4:31 PM)
I make picks on Friday, Brittany, because I want to have a feel for who's injured and who's not during the week. But if I was picking the game today, I would probably lean towards Pittsburgh.
someguy (out back)
Hey James, love the chat. So what's up with all the powerhouse teams in the NFL this year? It seems to me like the great starts of Indy and NO may end up falling flat at the wrong time in the season. Not to mention the poor play of Minnesota recently. Do you think any of those teams can match up with the surging Eagles/Chargers in the playoffs?
James Walker (4:34 PM)
I think late-season losses are overrated if you've been an elite team all season. This goes for the Colts, Saints and maybe the Vikings, although I haven't been that high on Minn. all year. Sometimes teams need a little adversity so players can start listening again before the postseason. I'm not worried about Indy and N.O. in particular. They will be tough outs in the postseason.
James, Can you tell us what has to happen, besides Pittsburgh winning, for the Steelers to make the play-offs?
James Walker (4:37 PM)
There are three different scenarios, John. But the easiest for Pittsburgh is for the Houston Texans and New York Jets to lose or tie Sunday.
Is Anderson going to be a starter next year at QB? He moves around the pocket like a robot with mechanical parts.
James Walker (4:38 PM)
Derek Anderson is entering the final year of his deal and his annual salary will skyrocket to the point where the Browns will likely release him or ask to restructure. So I don't expect him to be Cleveland's starter in 2010.
James... which teams do you think match up well with Indy and San Diego and could sneak up on them in the Playoffs?
James Walker (4:41 PM)
Bengals could be a tough matchup for San Diego. For Indy...maybe New England or Pittsburgh (if its lucky) would give the Colts problems.
Bryan (Fort Wayne, IN)
What percentage do you give the Steelers of making these 2009 Playoffs?
James Walker (4:43 PM)
It really depends on whether Cincy and NE will play its starter, and neither team is tipping its hand so far on a Tuesday. I think I have a pretty good idea of what the Bengals are going to do, though.
Anthony Powell (Boynton Beach, Florida)
James would the Bengals have any chance against the Patriots if that's who they play in the divisional round the Patriots own them?
James Walker (4:46 PM)
The way the seeding is set up, the Bengals wouldn't play the Pats unless both teams advanced to the AFC title game. But if they did play, New England would be a horrible matchup for Cincinnati. I think the Colts and Pats are the two teams the Bengals need to avoid. Elite quarterbacks, too many receivers and the Bengals don't have enough corners to cover them.
Matt (Baltimore, MD)
If Reed returns this week against the Ravens, do you think Harbaugh will keep Zbikowski on the field in place of laundry due to his recent play?
James Walker (4:49 PM)
Two different positions, Matt. The team would stick with Reed and Landry. Landry is actually tied for the team lead in interceptions. He's had a decent season.
Is Ray Rice a pro bowler this year? The competition in the AFC is tough, but I don't see how he can be excluded.
James Walker (4:51 PM)
I believe he should be. But I wouldn't be surprised if Rice doesn't make it. Check back for the AFC North blog tonight as we will have an analysis on who makes it and who doesn't.
Have there been any indications from Browns regarding what to do with the two headed monster at QB? I would guess Holmgren would want to address that topic first in offseason.
James Walker (4:54 PM)
I asked Mike Holmgren about this Monday and he seemed non-committal. As I mentioned earlier, Derek Anderson likely will be gone. I expect Holmgren to bring in someone via the draft or free agency. But beyond that, it's hard to get an early read.
Don (Harrisburg, PA)
Does Big Ben make the Pro Bowl this year?
James Walker (4:57 PM)
It's going to be really close, Don. There is a lot of tough competition at QB. It's going to be between Manning, Brady, Roethlisberger and Rivers for those three spots. All are deserving.
GUESS WHO? Harrison! Will the Browns continue to milk him the rest of the way?
James Walker (4:59 PM)
There's only one game left, but yes, McGonigal. Jerome Harrison may be the hottest player in the division right now. It will be interesting to see what the Browns' plans are for him next season.
James Walker (5:00 PM)
Thanks for the time, everyone, and enjoy Week 17. I just got word on some early Pro Bowl news while we were chatting. So check the AFC North blog soon to find out what I'm working on.