Chat with James Walker
Welcome to SportsNation! On Tuesday, ESPN.com AFC North blogger James Walker will stop by to chat about the NFL and what to expect from your team.
Walker joined ESPN.com in 2008 after three seasons covering the Cleveland Browns for the Columbus Dispatch.
Send your questions now and join James Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET!
James Walker (4:00 PM)
Good afternoon, everyone. I just left the Steelers' locker room and am chatting from the team's training facility. So let's answer some questions.
Do expect the Steelers offensive line to continue the improved play we saw from week 15 through 17?
James Walker (4:01 PM)
Maybe not in this game, Evan. Pittsburgh's O-line has played as well as I've seen in a few years in the past 4-6 games. But Baltimore's front seven usually has its way with the Steelers. This will be a defensive game no matter how you cut it on both sides, pretty low scoring.
Terry C. (Richeyville)
In your opinion, how would you rank the four remaining AFC playoff teams in terms of best chance at going to the Super Bowl?
James Walker (4:03 PM)
Patriots deserve to be the favorites and have home-field advantage. The Steelers and Ravens are a toss-up for No. 2, and the Jets fourth. I think it would be extremely tough for them to beat NE and Pitt or Baltimore on the road. If New York can do that, the Jets are deserving to go to the Super Bowl.
Neil (Taipei, Taiwan)
Hey James......IF we assume that the Pats beat New York, which other team presents the biggest challenge for New England in the championship game and why?
James Walker (4:05 PM)
I've said for a while now that Baltimore is New England's stiffest foe in the playoffs. It's not a slight to the Steelers, Jets, or anyone else. But the Ravens matchup well against New England. The other teams do not.
There is a great deal of talk that the winner of the Pittsburgh-Baltimore game will be too beat up after the win to compete with New England in the AFC championship. Since the game is on Saturday, and the AFC championship isn't until the following Sunday, how big of a factor will the 1 extra day of rest be?
James Walker (4:06 PM)
An extra day is always a good thing. Unfortunately for Baltimore, the Ravens have a short week to prepare for this game.
Vinnie B (Monterey)
Do you think Cam Cameron will continue with the crossing routes that were so effective against KC? If so, do you think Heap can have similar production?
James Walker (4:08 PM)
That was a nice part of the gameplan, Vinnie. Baltimore would be smart to keep that in the playbook. I talked to some Steelers today and they weren't surprised by Todd Heap's production like KC was. Pittsburgh knows Heap better and will pay more attention to him.
Lisa (Allentown, PA)
So James, How did everything work out with the ticket?
James Walker (4:09 PM)
Not good. But thanks for checking. I owe the city of North Royalton, Ohio, some money now. So I will pay up.
Michael (San Antonio, TX)
With Cleveland in the middle of their coaching changes, how probable is it that they will retain some of the current coaching staff? i.e. Rob Ryan or Brad Seely. Or do you feel it would be better to see a complete turn-around in the coaching staff?
James Walker (4:11 PM)
All of the Browns' assistants are under contract for another year. But I don't think many of them will return next year. Cleveland's new head coach will hire mostly his own staff.
Hey James! I know it's tough to tell at this point, but I just wanted to get your insider opinion. Is there a better chance Ed Reed plays or doesn't play on Saturday?
James Walker (4:12 PM)
The only person who knows for sure is Reed, and it's his call. But I anticipate him playing.
Do you think we will see any Aaron Smith this weekend?
James Walker (4:13 PM)
I talked to Aaron Smith a short while ago, and he says he's putting his trust in the doctors. He doesn't know at this point. The Steelers will decide later in the week.
Hey JW, if you had to pick a player on the Ravens besides Joe Flacco who you think has to have a good game for the Ravens to win, who would it be?
James Walker (4:15 PM)
James (Columbus, OH)
Besides Troy Polamalu and Ed Reed, who do you think will be the biggest game changer this Saturday??? HERE WE GO STEELERS!!!
James Walker (4:17 PM)
There are a lot of big players in this game. But I would identify Terrell Suggs for Baltimore and Ben Roethlisberger for Pittsburgh are two who can make huge impacts.
Hey James. How come you never give Andrew Whitworth any love? He's one of the best LT's in football.
James Walker (4:18 PM)
Andrew Whitworth was on Walker's 2010 All-AFC North team, Brandon. Check it out when you get the chance.
Aaron (Wilmington, DE)
What is the atmosphere like in the locker room? Do the Steelers feel good about thier chances on Saturday?
James Walker (4:19 PM)
The Steelers are a confident group, like always. They know what they're gearing up for. I sense the players are rested and eager to play again after the layoff.
Can the Ravens O Line handle any of the real playoff teams (not counting KC...)?
James Walker (4:21 PM)
I don't know, Josh. The Ravens' O-line had trouble with KC (Tamba Hali) as well. Baltimore's group just hasn't played all that well lately and need to keep improving this week.
The Ravens make too much noise whenever these two teams play. The Steelers act much more professionally. The games are always close, but Steelers have the edge. Could they be in the Ravens heads a little bit?
James Walker (4:23 PM)
I don't think either team is in the other's heads. That's just the culture of the two locker rooms. The Ravens are a very loose bunch. They say anything and everything. The Steelers stay away from some of the trash-talking unless they're really provoked. Both teams show up on the field, so either method works.
Josh W. (Baltimore, MD)
If the Jets happen to pull the upset in NE do you believe the winner of this game deserves to be called the new Super Bowl favorite?
James Walker (4:24 PM)
Yes, Josh. Home-field advantage would shift to the AFC North and that will make the Ravens or Steelers the favorite in the AFC.
Do you think Baltimore's improved offense last week was legit, or was the result of a weak KC defense?
James Walker (4:25 PM)
I liked a lot of the things I saw, Sarah. Don't expect the Ravens to suddenly do the same to Pittsburgh. But if they can have some of that success, with the way Baltimore plays defense, it could go a long way.
Tony (Pt Jeff, NY)
Brady, Big Ben, Flacco, Sanchez- which personal performance is most crucially tied to their teams success that could personally swing the game?
James Walker (4:27 PM)
Tom Brady, by far Tony. He is the NFL's MVP for a reason. The defenses of the other three QBs help carry the team.
Who will represent the NFC in the Super Bowl?
James Walker (4:28 PM)
Atlanta is the best NFC team I've seen this year. But the Falcons have a tough game this week against Green Bay. I think the winner of that game goes to the Super Bowl.
Do you think Suggs will wreak havoc on the Steeler o-line like he did in Baltimore?
James Walker (4:30 PM)
I think there's a good chance Terrell Suggs has a big playoff game, unless the Steelers make it a point to double-team him the entire game. If that's the case, it will open things up for others.
Speaking of Cleveland new head coach, Who is it going to be?
James Walker (4:31 PM)
Too early to say, Jamie. The Browns have only interviewed three candidates. All I can say right now is there's a good chance it will be an offensive-minded coach.
Victor (Toms River, NJ)
Do you think Flacco should scramble more against Pittsburgh to neutralize the blitzes?
James Walker (4:33 PM)
If nothing is there, I think Joe should scramble more instead of forcing the ball. That was Flacco's issue his first two years of trying to make plays against Pittsburgh when everything was covered. Flacco is more athletic than you think. A couple of extra first downs with his feet could go a long way in this kind of game.
Love these chats but can never get a q answered! Ben is a better QB than Flacco (no matter how the NFL Network acts like Flacco is a superstar--don't see it yet)--but with Arians finally adding the hotread/quick slants to their offense, do you think the Steelers will attack the Ravens through the air? Wallace, Brown and Sanders can burn the Ravens on those short routes and Ward/Miller in the midfield. Thanks for answering!
James Walker (4:36 PM)
How is it going, Erin. I think you're going to see both teams try to spread of the defenses, because CBs is the weakest area of both teams. To some degree, the pass will help set up the run in this game.
OK I will just come out and confess it, I am still playing fantasy in a work league. Can you give me some advice? R.Rice or Forte at RB, and Big Ben or Cutler at QB? I think the Balt/Steelers game will be low scoring. Will the Bears put up some big O' numbers against the Seahawks?
James Walker (4:38 PM)
What kind of league is that? I would stay away from most offensive players in the Ravens-Steelers game. Play some other people.
Bryan (Butler, Pa)
Assuming Reed plays how much of an impact do you think he will have with the personal stuff he's going through and missing practice.
James Walker (4:40 PM)
I think Reed will do a good job of blocking things out. Players often see the game as a release from the real world. That's especially the case with a huge game like this.
Looking at the Bengals how they are structured now, although they will likely have a different look next season, how was it they matched up so well against the Ravens? When they play the Steelers they always get destroyed cause they matched up poorly with them.
James Walker (4:42 PM)
Kerry, it's really too early to say. I think Cincy's roster will be different. At least after the draft everyone will have a better feel.
Dan (Owings Mills, MD)
Will the Ravens' Cundiff and Koch make the difference?
James Walker (4:43 PM)
Both players will be big in this type of game.
Mike (Lubbock, Tx)
James, what kind of chance do you give the Steelers if they end up playing the Pats at Foxborough?
James Walker (4:45 PM)
Let's not get too far ahead here, Mike. A lot can happen for Pittsburgh and New England this weekend. But obviously the Patriots will be favored.
These teams are so close. Are there any individuall match ups you expect either team to exploit?
James Walker (4:47 PM)
Both front sevens on D vs. the O-line I think will be a mistmatch.
JB (N. Royalton (speed trap?))
Sorry to hear about the ticket. Browns need another 5-6 players and effective game day coaching to take the next step. I know it is early, but in Cleveland, coaching changes and drafts are our big events, not the playoffs. What position is of greatest need with the #6 pick, WR, DB, DL, LB? Lot's of need.
James Walker (4:49 PM)
I'm not answering any questions from people in North Royalton today. By the way, I wasn't speeding. I got a ticket for talking on my cell phone.
Does anyone in the AFC North have a legitimate chance at signing Nnamdi Asomugha this offseason?
James Walker (4:50 PM)
Nope. Too much money that neither of the four teams will be willing to pay.
If Lewis is staying in Cincy, and he's not getting his demands met, doesn't SOMETHING big have to change in Cincy, even just from a public relations standpoint? Bengal fans are not happy about the lack of consistency, and fingers are starting to be pointed at Mike Brown.
James Walker (4:53 PM)
Marvin Lewis wanted many changes. It's early, but it doesn't look like anything major is going to happen. Look for some tweaks on the coaching staff. But don't expect a new GM, scouts and a practice facility to be put up this year.
If you were Mike Holgren what would you do? Whats your take on why there has been no interview requests for Gruden and Fox? Also, can Colt McCoy be the quarterback of the future for the Browns?
James Walker (4:54 PM)
If I was Mike Holmgren, I would coach the Browns, considering Cleveland can't get anyone else more accomplished than Holmgren.
james, what does baltimore need to do to strengthen the o-line this offseason after the gaither loss?
James Walker (4:56 PM)
The right tackle spot is huge and needs an upgrade. Cousins, Moll, etc. can't fill the job well enough, and Marshal Yanda is much better at guard. So when Yanda moves over, now Baltimore has an average guard and tackle. I think things will fall in line pretty well if Baltimore drafts or signs a quality replacement at RT.
EIR (Section 8)
So many keys to the game. Which is the most important? Turnovers?
James Walker (4:59 PM)
Turnovers are always huge for these two teams. That's probably a very strong indicator of who wins.
James Walker (5:00 PM)
Everyone, thank you for your time. But I have to skate and get back to the blog. Remember to check out the AFCN blog and AFCN Twitter page for constant updates.