Walker's weekend mailbag

Let's see what's on the minds of AFC North readers.

Dan Finnegan from Bremerton, Wash., wants to know if the Pittsburgh Steelers "got tired" down the stretch after a long run in 2008.

James Walker: I believe the Steelers are more mentally fatigued than anything, Dan. The pressure of defending a Super Bowl title is immense. There are expectations internally and externally, and every team is giving its best effort against you every week. That's why very few teams win back-to-back titles. Physically, injuries to safety Troy Polamalu and defensive end Aaron Smith definitely hurt. But in terms of sheer numbers, Pittsburgh had more players banged up last year.

Lee from Philadelphia writes: Fellow Marylander/Temple Owl here. After the Ravens' passing game totally collapsed at Green Bay and the running game exploded vs. Detroit, do you think the Ravens are headed back to a run-first offense for their playoff push? Go Owls in the EagleBank Bowl!

Walker: Always nice to hear from a fellow Owl, Lee. Temple basketball got back on the map with a big win over Villanova last weekend. I expect the Ravens to continue to get closer to last year's formula that worked so well, which is pound the football, play defense and make big passing plays when needed. The Ravens got a little pass-happy at times when they realized quarterback Joe Flacco was making good strides in his second year. Suddenly Baltimore was throwing 30 and sometimes 40 times a game until Flacco experienced growing pains. I think Flacco's three-interception performance against the Packers woke up the coaching staff to some degree.

RuiBoAn from Beijing, China, wants to know if Ray Rice continues his current production and the Ravens make the playoffs, should he get MVP?

Walker: It’s also good to hear from the AFC North blog's international readers. Barring injury, Rice will probably get 2,000 total yards from scrimmage. So I'm all for sending Rice to the Pro Bowl. But I wouldn't go as far as to give him the MVP award. There are a lot of good candidates on teams with much better records.

Zach from Chillicothe, Ohio, writes: JW, in [last] weekend's mailbag you said there weren't any comments by Cincinnati Bengals fans this past offseason, but I challenge you to go back and look at the articles you've written.

Walker: I was just joking for the most part, Zach. There were Bengals fans commenting on their team this offseason. But it is fair to point out that "Bengaldom" has appeared and disappeared on this blog more in the past two seasons than any other fan base.

Kovacs from Santa Monica wants to know what a strong finish by the Cleveland Browns (2-11) would mean down the stretch.

Walker: A strong finish would mean the most for Cleveland's quarterback and head coach, Kovacs. Brady Quinn and Eric Mangini have the most to prove in these final three games. Quinn needs to continue to show that he can be the quarterback of the future, while Mangini needs to prove to Browns owner Randy Lerner and the future head of football operations (Mike Holmgren?) that he deserves to be the coach in 2010. The win over the Steelers definitely helps in both cases. But it wouldn't mean as much if the team went backwards from there.