Hope everyone is enjoying their Memorial Day weekend. Let's make it even better by opening up some mail ...
John from New York writes: I like the analysis in the dream/nightmare scenerio thought experiment, and I'm wondering which five games you see the Bengals losing within that framework. I think at Philadelphia, at San Diego and at Baltimore are very likely losses. Are the others at Pittsburgh and against Baltimore? Thanks.
Jamison Hensley from AFC North headquarters responds: I try not to get into predicting every game before the season begins. So many variables can change from injuries to players stepping up (or declining). Who thought Andy Dalton was leading the Bengals to the playoffs last season? Well, anyone besides Bootsy Collins. But, if you're putting me on the spot, this is how I would break down the five losses in the "dream" season: at Pittsburgh, at Baltimore, home against Denver and New York Giants and at Philadelphia.
Corey from Norco, Calif., writes: Will we be seeing a 1,000-yard season from Isaac Redman in the Steel City this season? O-Line is looking tantalizingly (I don't know if that's a word) solid, if healthy of course. And Rashard Mendenhall will be returning midway through the season. What say you?
Hensley responds: Reaching 1,000 yards seems about right for Redman. I wouldn't say much more. The reason is the Steelers will be wary of wearing down Redman. He's had 162 carries in his career, and he's never had more than 19 carries in a game. It's reasonable to project Redman getting around 230 attempts this year (which would get him close to 1,000 yards if he averages 4.3 per carry). If the Steelers are going to throw more to their running backs in Todd Haley's offense, perhaps the better prediction is Redman's total yards.
Lucas from Harrisburg, Pa., writes: Is this the year the mighty Ravens defense begins to show age/weakness with the Terrell Suggs injury, and the age factor (Ray Lewis, Ed Reed) beginning to take its toll? Or will they remain dominant, like their rival Steelers' 2011 defense, who although older, yet still flourished last year?
Dave from Springfield, N.J., writes: In regards to your latest post about how the Ravens offense needs to step up to cover for the aging defense, why does every think the Ravens defense is aging? Ray Lewis is by far the oldest on the team at 37, the next oldest is Ed Reed at 33 along with the recently acquired defensive lineman Maake Kemoeatu. Everyone else on the defense is under 30. Tell me how that's aging please.
Hensley responds: The Ravens' defense hasn't ranked out of the top 10 since 2002, so it's hard to predict this group will drop significantly. But I don't see Baltimore's defense as top-five one like most years. The Ravens will feel the loss of Suggs, although I don't see it as catastrophic hit. The bigger concern is how the play of Lewis and Reed declined toward the end of the season. You have to wonder whether age is catching up to them. Lewis just turned 37, and Reed will be 34 by Week 2 of the regular season.
I wouldn't classify the Ravens' defense as old (some believe I suggested so in my blog about the increased pressure on Joe Flacco and the offense). Lewis and Reed are the only starters over 30. But, because Lewis and Reed have been the foundation for so long, the perception is the Ravens defense is aging with both nearing the ends of their careers. How Lewis and Reed play this year will go a long way in determining whether the Ravens defense remains dominant or not.
Greg from Cleveland writes: Come on Jamison. A rookie offensive lineman with no NFL experience makes your top five AFC North offensive linemen ahead of a Pro Bowl center in Alex Mack. Again, another opportunity for you to kick the Browns and give them no credit.
Hensley responds: The top five list is about projection, not on experience. As I noted in that blog, the Steelers' David DeCastro is being touted as the best guard prospect since Steve Hutchinson was drafted 11 years ago. That's pretty high praise. I gave him the nod over Mack on potential for this season. As for your comment that it was another opportunity to kick the Browns and give them no credit, I suggest you look at the No. 1 lineman on that list. It was the Browns' Joe Thomas.
Joel Mclurg from Westerville, Ohio, writes: You are surely drinking the Cleveland Kool-Aid on Brandon Weeden! Most young players have a grace period, but not Colt McCoy. He plays as a rookie for Eric Mangini, then gets a new coach, a lockout and no off season to learn; so, he's a second year quarterback with very little training, and a new coach. He had no blocking, no running game and receivers who couldn't hold on to the ball and you say this young, second-year quarterback didn't do well and we have to spend a first round pick on a 29-year old who will be instantly better....Duh! Weeden is going to be an average rookie QB...bad! Browns 3-13.
Hensley responds: I'm not drinking the Kool-Aid. In fact, I wrote a column saying the Browns should pass on drafting a quarterback this year. Even though I think Weeden can be a quality starter in this league, taking him in the first round made little sense for a team that is not a quarterback away from contending for a Super Bowl. The Browns have too many other needs on offense to reach for a failed minor-league pitcher. Although I would have gone in a different direction, Weeden is the better quarterback prospect than McCoy. He has the size and the arm strength that you want in starter. So, I'm not sold on Weeden, but he is the best option for the Browns at this point.