Every morning, grab a cup of coffee and get your AFC North wake-up call here:
That has prompted Baltimore Sun columnist Mike Preston to broach the sensitive topic of sitting Lewis and Reed during portions of the game. He described them as liabilities as every-down players.
"You can't hide them any longer," Preston wrote. "They're still playing well enough for the Ravens to win most of their games, but are playing poorly enough where they might cost them deep into the postseason."
Preston said the problems with Lewis are physical while it's mental with Reed. "The guess here is that Harbaugh won't do anything," Preston wrote. "He'll continue to play as usual because he doesn't believe the changes would be so significant that it's worth risking team chemistry."
Hensley's slant: As Preston pointed out, this criticism will likely fuel Lewis and Reed to bounce back with a strong playoff run. It also helps these 30-something stars that they're getting a first-round bye in the playoffs. There will be a point where the Ravens will have to address this issue with their aging players. But doing so in the playoffs is not the appropriate time.
BENGALS: The team enjoyed its best home atmosphere of the season when it played before a sellout crowd of 63,439 at Paul Brown Stadium on Sunday. It marked the Bengals' second sellout of the season, but the first one featured thousands of Steelers fans in the seats. This time, it was a dominant home crowd. “We were talking on the sidelines how we felt like we were in one of the loudest stadiums in the NFL,” defensive tackle Domata Peko told the team's website. “They were jumping today and we really appreciate them.” Hensley's slant: It was such a loud crowd that the Ravens had to use a silent count on offense. But the fans left in droves midway through the fourth quarter, when the Bengals were driving down the field to possibly tie the game. I guess this represents baby steps.
BROWNS: Veteran cornerback Sheldon Brown believes Pat Shurmur is the right coach to turn around the Browns despite his 4-12 record this season, saying Shurmur did a "tremendous job" in dealing with being a head coach for the first time. "He dealt with the situations to the best of my knowledge the best he could, and he kept this football team fighting," Brown said, via the Akron Beacon Journal. "And for me, that's how I judge a head coach. If a football team goes out there and competes their tail off week in and week out through thick and thin, which it was very thick this year, but we didn’t quit. So that tells me the leader is in place, and the guys believe in him, and they will fight for him." Hensley's slant: Outside of getting Cleveland to score more points, Shurmur's biggest challenge is to get the Browns to become more disciplined. There were too many costly -- and sloppy errors -- like not being ready for the snap in the season opener to not spiking the ball in the final seconds of the first half in Week 16. But it was a good sign that the Browns were fighting and being competitive in the final three games, which were each lost by six points or less.
STEELERS: Anthony Madison, a 30-year-old cornerback, will re-sign with Pittsburgh today, according to his web site (via The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette). Injuries to Keenan Lewis (hamstring) and rookie Cortez Allen (shoulder) have left the Steelers with three healthy cornerbacks: Ike Taylor, William Gay and Bryant McFadden. There will be even more of a need for a defensive back if safety Ryan Clark sits out the game because of the risk of playing with sickle cell in high altitudes. Hensley's slant: If there is a week when you don't need defensive backs, it would be this one. When you play Tim Tebow and the Broncos, it's more important to have healthy linebackers than cornerbacks. It's tough to get scared when the opposing quarterback completed six passes in his previous game.