AFC North mailbag

If you have a question about the AFC North, send it to my mailbag. It's Saturday morning, so let's open up some mail ...

Devin from Ontario, Canada, writes: Why haven't the Steelers been able to take the ball away this year?

Jamison Hensley from AFC North headquarters responds: There are two reasons. The first one is obvious: the Steelers need to catch the ball. There have been several interceptions that have been dropped. That would add to the total. The other factor is the pass rush. Of the top eight teams in takeaways, five (Green Bay, San Francisco, Baltimore, Detroit and Houston) rank in the top half of the league in sacks. When you get pressure on the quarterback, you force rushed throws that lead to interceptions and you can strip the ball from the quarterback. LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison have had good stretches in rushing the passer, but the Steelers need to do a more consistent job as a defense.


Gene from San Diego writes: How would you grade Baltimore's defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano at this point in the season? They are still producing, but been a bit lapse the past few games. I like his mentality and that he infuses the young players.

Hensley responds: Pagano gets an A, and it's tough to argue otherwise. He vowed to be aggressive when he took over for Greg Mattison and he's backed that up this season. The Ravens are among the best in sacks, takeaways and points allowed. This has been a high-impact defense.


Kurk from Budapest, Hungary, writes: I'm not ready to give up on the Bengals' chances of winning the division, but I'm enough of a realist to be hoping for a Wild Card spot. Which 5-5 team should worry Bengals' fans the most?

Hensley responds: The New York Jets. This might surprise you because the Jets wasted a prime opportunity when they lost at Denver. But New York should win its next three games: home against Buffalo, at Washington and home against Kansas City. Under that scenario, the Jets would get to 10 wins if they win two games in the final three weeks of the regular season: at Philadelphia, home against the Giants and at Miami. This is a team that knows what it takes to get to the postseason after advancing to the AFC championship game the past two years.


Jared from Cleveland writes: Do you think Colt McCoy has showed enough the last couple of games to get people off his case and give him a chance? He'll never be able to put up great numbers with our lack of receiving talent this season. Cleveland needs to focus on building a team around one guy instead of continuing to waste draft picks on quarterbacks that they are going to discard after a couple of seasons playing for a terrible team.

Hensley responds: McCoy's stock has increased by completing over 70 percent of his passes the past two weeks. But he needs to start increasing points on the scoreboard. The Browns have scored over 17 points just once this season; Cleveland has yet to score a touchdown in the first and third quarters. As I've said repeatedly, you can put all the blame on McCoy because of the supporting cast around him. But the quarterback has to take responsibility for an offense struggling this much, no matter what the circumstances.


David from La Verne, Calif., writes: I'm sure that using a Baltimore homer to report on the game wasn't your idea but it did seem there were two teams on the field which couldn't be discerned from the bulk of your story. Maybe if the Ravens had to cross the country on a short week the result might have be different.

Hensley responds: I cover the AFC North, so the blogs and columns will focus more on those teams. So I don't consider myself a "Baltimore homer." I'm just doing my job as the AFC North blogger. I also didn't have anything to do with making the 49ers go cross-country on four days rest. You can direct your anger at the NFL schedule makers for that one. I think Jim Harbaugh already has.


Jack from Cincinnati writes: Happy belated Thanksgiving Jamison, lovin what you have been doing with the blog. In the AFC North chat this week you talked about how you still see the bengals winning nine games this season. Does that change with the announcement of Schaub being out for the season? There are no given wins in the NFL, but with games against the Cardinals, Browns, and Rams remaining, that seems like three probable wins, and I would think that it would be probable for the Bengals to beat a Texans team lead by Leinart or either the Ravens/Steelers as they were so close to beating them. Only winning one of those last three games gives them 10 wins. Is that more probable than nine?

Hensley responds: Thanks for being a part of the chat (shameless plug: it happens every Wednesday at 2 p.m.). I still feel that the Bengals will finish with nine wins. Your reasoning is sound. I agree that Cincinnati should beat the Browns, Cardinals and Rams. I think the rematches with the Steelers and Ravens will result in losses again (although it will be close again). And even though the Texans lost Schaub, they still have Arian Foster, Andre Johnson and the NFL's top-ranked defense. At this point, I predict the Bengals will lose that one. Of course, I will say that forecasting games is a week to week proposition. So, these picks are far from locked in.


Dave from Westminster, Md., writes: Do you still think the Steelers are better than the Ravens now? Why the disrespect when you live near Baltimore?

Hensley responds: I'm a blogger and an analyst. My views shouldn't be shaped by where I live. It's funny how Ravens fans feel I "disrespect" the Ravens and other fans feel I'm a "Ravens homer." As far as your first question, the Ravens have better wins than the Steelers (including a sweep of Pittsburgh) but they have more embarrassing losses than the Steelers. There wouldn't be an argument if Baltimore had beaten Seattle and Jacksonville. The Ravens would the undisputed best team in the AFC. Those losses hurt the resume. Pittsburgh has been the more consistent team overall.