Every morning, grab a cup of coffee and get your AFC North wake-up call here:
Browns cornerback Joe Haden believes the team will make a significant turnaround next season.
"I'm not going to make any guarantees," Haden told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. "I'm not going to be that guy. I won't go there. ... But I will say this: I expect us to be much better in 2012. I expect us to have a strong year, and I know my teammates do, as well."
Remaining optimistic is tough for the Browns these days after their season ended with a six-game skid and they lost 11 or more games for the fourth straight season. Haden doesn't want to put the "rebuilding" label on the Browns.
"As players, we can't think like that," he said. "We can't be hearing about three, five, seven years down the road because we might not be here. We want to win as soon as possible."
Hensley's slant: The Browns' defense certainly played better than a 4-12 record would indicate. Cleveland held teams to 20 points or less 10 times. If the Browns want a turnaround, the pressure is on the offense to carry its weight.
BENGALS: Former Cincinnati quarterback Boomer Esiason thinks the Bengals can challenge the Ravens and Steelers for the division crown in 2012. “Absolutely, because of two things,” Esiason told the team's website. “Baltimore is old on defense and Pittsburgh isn’t blowing up their whole team but they’re going to lose a lot of players. I think the Bengals have a chance now. If they do it right. They’ve got to get some good players in there and with a couple of good draft picks this could be a team that is a formidable foe for both Pittsburgh and Baltimore.” Hensley's slant: Whether the Bengals can win the AFC North in 2012 depends on if quarterback Andy Dalton plays better against the top-notch defenses from Pittsburgh and Baltimore. Cincinnati can help him by strengthening his supporting cast. But Dalton has to cut down on the mistakes against them (five of his 13 interceptions came in those four meetings).
RAVENS: The Ravens are interested in signing cornerback Lardarius Webb to a long-term deal. Webb is a restricted free agent after coming off his best season. “I think it would be best for this organization," general manager Ozzie Newsome said, via the team's website. "The sooner you strike, the better deal you can get for yourself.” Hensley's slant: The Ravens would free up over $8 million in cap room at that position if they cut Domonique Foxworth ($5.6 million salary next year) and Chris Carr ($2.5 million). There is a chance that Foxworth's playing career is over. The Ravens have quickly developed a talented young cornerback group in Webb, Jimmy Smith and Cary Williams, and it will be interesting to see how long they can keep them all together.
STEELERS: If the Patriots beat the Giants, it would mark Bill Belichick's fourth Super Bowl title, which would allow him to join the Steelers' Chuck Noll as the only NFL coaches to win that many. "I have a tremendous amount of respect for Chuck and the job he did with his team and the organization," Belichick said, via USA Today. "So it is very flattering to be mentioned in the same sentence with Chuck Noll." Hensley's slant: Some would say it was easier to win in Noll's era because there wasn't any free agency. But, even if Belichick wins, there will still be one difference between the coaches. Noll never lost a Super Bowl.