Idle chatter - on team changes and slumps
1. The Browns ownership change officially happened this week. In the short term, is it a distraction or a boost?
Pat McManamon: Absolute, unbridled, unchangeable distraction, from day one until the day some sort of final determination is made on who runs the team and front office. This is nobody's fault. Jimmy Haslam has done his best to handle this properly, but the timing just gets in the way of everything. The Browns have done a good job of putting things aside the first six games, but as the season goes on the burden of uncertainty gets heavier on the coaches and front office. It is, as 'they' say, a tough situation.
Zac Jackson: Only the Browns would have news of the sale break on the first day of training camp and have the coach talking about his future a month into the season. Maybe Haslam's presence and vision will end this "only the Browns" stuff eventually, but it certainly is a distraction. Folks in the building -- players, coaches, everyone -- don't know what's going to happen when January comes, and that's absolutelty a distraction. It can be a boost, too, especially to the players, but we won't know until we see it. Put it this way: The Colts losing their coach to his fight for his health is a huge distraction. An ownership change on the other sideline? Yes, but not as much.
2. The Bengals have lost two in a row that they could have won. Does that make this a great time or a terrible time to be playing the Steelers?
McManamon: It's always a terrible time to be playing the Steelers, but for the Bengals this might be the least terrible time. Because the Steelers have more issues than the Bengals. Their two top runners are out, as is their best defensive player and their center. If Cincinnati wants to prove it belongs with the big boys, this is a game the Bengals must win.
Jackson: Terrible time because the Bengals are in a slump and the Steelers, historically, don't lose these games. The two Ravens games and the two Steelers games are the Bengals measuring stick games, and they come in with zero momentum. There will be some energy in the stadium with the national, prime-time stage, but the Bengals would probably rather be playing just about anybody else.
3. The Browns have had turmoil, might have more coming but have some young players playing very well. The Colts have had major turmoil. are banged up right now but have Andrew Luck. Which organization would you buy right now in the big picture?
McManamon: Colts. For several reasons. First: Andrew Luck. He may lose on Sunday, but his future is Manning-esque and he's like 19 years younger than Brandon Weeden. Second: Organization. The front office has stability, and will continue to build a team its way. That gives them a one-year jump on the Browns, whose stability may not arrive until Joe Banner decides what person is in what job. Third: Veterans. The Colts recognize the importance of key veterans on a young team, so it brought back guys like Reggie Wayne and Dwight Freeney. Those guys help a young core learn, and grow. The Browns do not have them.
Jackson: Though the answer is the Colts and the primary reason is Luck, the Browns young players have played the last month like there are going to be a bunch of brighter months ahead. Both rosters still have some pretty glaring holes, but the Browns probably have more good, young players in more positions right now. The instability/uncertainty in the Browns organization is the other reason the Colts are the pick here.
4. The Ravens are reeling and desperately need next week's bye week. Before that, though, they have to play the Texans -- and after they'll be a target. Can John Harbaugh and Company hold things together?
McManamon: Sure. Especially in this division, where the Ravens clearly are the best. Much is being made of losing Ray Lewis, and any injury is a shame. But he really seemed like half the player he once was. Plus, pregame introductions will be shorter without him around to do his dance. Losing Lardarius Webb, a talented corner, is a much more serious loss. But even with that, the Ravens can afford a loss to Houston and still win the division.
Jackson: TV cameras actually spend more time zooming on Ray Lewis when he's not playing, as you may remember. Anyway, the Ravens are still going through an identity change and grooming new leaders and getting guys hurt and, well, they're 5-1. They don't ask how, just how many in this league. They do need the bye week badly and will have to play better the rest of the way, but the answer is that they're still the clear favorite in the AFC North and a major player in the AFC as a whole.
5. Prediction time: Browns-Colts and Bengals-Steelers. Go.
McManamon: After going all-in with the Bengals last week, it's time to re-assess after Cincinnati turned into the Bungles against Cleveland. That was not a performance by a team that believes it is playoff worthy. Pittsburgh, though, enters with numerous injuries and a roster that is getting older every day. Cincinnati is due to beat the Steelers at some time, and this is the time. As for the Browns, it would be typical of the team's performance to fall flat after a good win. This doesn't seem like the same old Browns team, but the Colts are coming off a bad performance against the Jets. Luck is uber-talented, and the Colts are at home. It'll be close, but Colts win.
Jackson: Browns win a close one and build some actual momentum. Believe! Steelers win a close one and the Bengals limp into their bye week. It's just hard to see the Bengals suddenly putting together four solid quarters at this point, and that's what it will take to win Sunday night.