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AFC North mailbag

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

Let's dig into the AFC North mailbag.

Tyson from East Greenbush, N.Y., writes: Hey there James, do you see any AFC North rookies winning Rookie of the Year on either offense or defense?

James Walker: Not this year, Tyson. Too many linemen were taken in the first round. Cleveland Browns center Alex Mack and right tackles Andre Smith of the Cincinnati Bengals and Michael Oher of the Baltimore Ravens would really have to play at a Pro Bowl level to be considered over a skill player offensively, and Evander Hood will not be a starter for the Pittsburgh Steelers this season. I also don't see anyone in the later rounds with a legitimate chance to win either award.


Ryan Lunka from Columbus, Ohio, wants to know why the 3-4 defense is a growing trend in the NFL if some teams struggle to run it successfully.

James Walker: The primary reason more teams are doing it is because it's been very successful. The Steelers and New England Patriots have won five titles in this decade running 3-4 defenses. But the scheme can be hit or miss if you don't have the right players, which is what some teams are learning the hard way. The top two defenses in the NFL last year (Pittsburgh and Baltimore) ran a 3-4 scheme. Yet one of the worst defenses (Cleveland) also ran a 3-4. Players matter.


Baer from Baltimore asks: What's the reason T-Sizzle got his massive pay?

James Walker: There are several reasons, Baer, but the biggest was Terrell Suggs has rare talent for the NFL. He can dominate both from the defensive end and outside linebacker positions, and that versatility made Suggs the highest-paid linebacker in NFL history. The hybrid is the most difficult position to fill in a 3-4 defense and is a major part of what makes the scheme work. The Browns, for instance, struggle with their 3-4 defense in part because their hybrid (Kamerion Wimbley) hasn't developed. In many ways, Suggs is the new prototype for 3-4 hybrids, which is a major reason the Ravens made the investment.


Jesse from Shreveport, La., writes: Do you think that the Browns will win a game against the Steelers this year?

James Walker: Ideally, I would like to wait until the start of the regular season to answer these type of questions, because anything can happen (major injuries) in the next two months. But since AFC North readers keep asking for predictions, I predict the Steelers will sweep Cleveland in both games during the regular season. In fact, I've covered the Browns for either the Columbus Dispatch or ESPN.com since 2005 and never witnessed a Cleveland victory in this rivalry. So until the Browns prove they can get over the hump at least once, Pittsburgh is the pick.