Wake-up: Hillis believes in 'Madden curse'

Every morning, grab a cup of coffee and get your AFC North wake-up call here:

Peyton Hillis acknowledged that he finally believes in the Madden curse after saying he didn't for nearly the entire season.

Hillis, who is on the cover of the "Madden NFL 12" video game, has struggled through a season that has included strep throat (which caused his agent to tell him to sit out a game), multiple injuries, trouble over the lack of a new contract and a reported intervention from his teammates.

So, does Hillis believe the Madden jinx now?

“Yeah, I heard about it,” Hillis said, via The Akron Beacon Journal. “I really didn’t think it would affect me. But I can tell you it’s nagged at me a little bit this year. I can’t argue that.”

Hillis added, “Things haven’t worked in my favor this year. There’s a few things that happened this year that make me believe in curses.”

Even though Hillis has run for 211 yards the past two games, Browns coach Pat Shurmur declined to say whether the team intended to re-sign the running back, who will be a free agent at the end of the season. "I think, as we look at our roster and we look at building our team ... we've got to consider everything," he said.

Hensley's slant: Hopefully for Hillis, he believes in fresh starts. Some might think Hillis has returned to form with his strong finish. But the Browns can't forget all the drama in the first 14 weeks of the season and invest another contract into Hillis. The Browns need a fresh start at running back, too.

BENGALS: The Bengals announced they are lowering ticket prices for more than 14,500 seats next season, which is about 27 percent of the capacity of Paul Brown Stadium. There won't be a price increase for the remaining seats, according to The Cincinnati Enquirer. This comes days after the Bengals sold out the regular-season finale with a special promotion of buy one ticket and get one free. Season tickets for 2012 can be purchased for as low as $40 per game. Before this week's sellout, 10 of the past 12 Bengals home games had been blacked out. Hensley's slant: The "buy one, get one free" decision was a nice gesture. The price decrease is a sign that the organization is committed to getting the fan base to show up again. It's hard not to be impressed by the Bengals' choices on and off the field over the past eight months. Mike Brown is the owner of the year in the AFC North this season.

RAVENS: An unnamed opposing coach told The Baltimore Sun that linebacker Ray Lewis hasn't recovered from a toe injury, which has led to his lackluster play. "The toe is not ready," the coach said. "If you look back over Ray Lewis' career, one of his biggest assets was being able to get off blocks and run. Now, he can't get off blocks because he can't push off. He doesn't have the same juice in his legs. He can still go side to side, but if you run straight at him, he can't hold ground." Hensley's slant: This is why the Ravens should have rested Lewis for the final two weeks of the regular season and why Baltimore needs that first-round bye in the playoffs. The Ravens will need an effective Lewis if they face Denver or Houston in the playoffs. An ineffective one will lead to another 100-yard rushing game like the one Hillis had against Baltimore last Saturday.

STEELERS: Despite nursing a high ankle sprain, Ben Roethlisberger remains on track to start against the Browns after his second full practice of the week. "I'd like to get to 75 (percent)," Roethlisberger said, via The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "I'd be really happy with that." Roethlisberger, who is also suffering from a head cold, is expected to wear a protective brace for the rest of the season, including the playoffs. Hensley's slant: If Roethlisberger does play, the Steelers had better call 75 percent run plays. Head coach Mike Tomlin and the Steelers would never live down this decision if the quarterback hurts his ankle further by playing in the regular-season finale. No matter what the Steelers players say, Roethlisberger is the team MVP.