Every morning, grab a cup of coffee and get your AFC North wake-up call here:
The Steelers are expected to cut as many as four players from the NFL's top-ranked defense that opened the regular season as starters, according to The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
The top candidates to get released before March 13 are: nose tackle Casey Hampton ($4.89 million salary in 2012), inside linebacker Larry Foote ($3 million), inside linebacker James Farrior ($2.82 million), cornerback Bryant McFadden ($2.5 million) and defensive end Aaron Smith ($2.1 million). That would remove $15 million for the Steelers, who are a projected $25 million over the salary cap.
Hensley's slant: The biggest hit would be losing Farrior. He isn't the same player as he once was, finishing fourth on the Steelers in tackles. But Farrior's leadership has been a constant in the Steelers' dominating defenses. Pittsburgh can fill his void on the field with a younger player, although filling his role on the defense won't be as easy.
BENGALS: Defensive backs coach Kevin Coyle is under consideration for the Dolphins' defensive coordinator job on new coach Joe Philbin's staff, a source told NFL.com. Todd Bowles, Miami's interim head coach this season, was the frontrunner for that job but he is looking at other options now. Hensley's slant: The Bengals have to monitor this situation carefully because they don't want to end up without Coyle and defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer next season. Zimmer is in the running for the head coaching positions in Indianapolis and Tampa Bay (although Oregon's Chip Kelly is nearing a deal). The fallback option could be Jack Del Rio, but the Bengals would be better served with Zimmer or Coyle as their defensive coordinator next season.
BROWNS: The Browns' draft class received a lot experience this season. According to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, here are the percentage of total snaps taken by the rookies: wide receiver guard Jason Pinkston (100 percent), Greg Little (91 percent), defensive end Jabaal Sheard (89 percent), defensive tackle Phil Taylor (68 percent) and fullback Owen Marecic (27 percent). Hensley's slant: The Browns created a solid foundation with this draft class. But the only way Cleveland can compete with the other teams in the AFC North is to do this for two and three straight seasons. The Browns have a great opportunity to add more impact rookies with three picks in the first two rounds in April.
RAVENS: For coverage of the team's AFC championship loss, here's a column on the Ravens' devastating mistakes late in the game, a blog on coach John Harbaugh being surprised that there was no replay review on Lee Evans' fourth-quarter drop and a news story on linebacker Ray Lewis' decision to comeback next season.