'Madden curse' perfect against AFC North

Peyton Hillis does not believe in the Madden curse and says he's looking forward to bucking the trend. ESPN.com Illustration

Whether you believe in the infamous "Madden curse" or not, it's worth noting the popular video game series is undefeated when it comes to injuring players in the AFC North.

Cleveland Browns running back Peyton Hillis received a great honor Wednesday by becoming the third AFC North player on the "Madden" cover. He capped an amazing run through the tournament by beating Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick in the finals. But history suggests Hillis should beware, because once selected, players in this division have not been able to avoid injuries.

Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu was the most recent AFC North player on the "Madden" cover in 2009. Coming off a Super Bowl victory, things immediately went downhill the following season as Polamalu injured his knee in Week 1 and missed 11 games. The Steelers imploded without their star safety by failing to defend their title and missing the playoffs.

In 2004 Baltimore Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis was on the cover. He broke his wrist but only missed one game. He tried to play through the injury but it wasn't enough, as the Ravens missed the postseason. The following season Lewis injured his thigh and missed 10 additional games.

Will Hillis do what Lewis and Polamalu could not by avoiding injuries in 2011? Hillis believes he can.

"For people to believe in this so-called curse, I can't wait to prove people wrong," Hillis told ESPN.com Wednesday. "From what I believe and where I am in my spiritual life, it would be good to prove them wrong in that sense.”

The Browns cannot afford to lose Hillis, who rushed for 1,177 yards last season. They do not have many weapons on offense and relied heavily on Hillis in both the running and passing game. Cleveland's 2010 season tanked towards the end when Hillis injured his ribs.

Cleveland is hoping second-year tailback Montario Hardesty can come back strong from a torn ACL. The team also will explore getting another running back in this week's NFL draft.

Based on the lengthy history of the "Madden curse," adding insurance behind Hillis is probably a good idea.