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State of AFC North: Players are people; Flacco calls for change; debating the No. 1 overall pick

It may be time for a reminder that athletes are people, too. Joe Flacco has an idea on how to get the Ravens’ offense going. Who should Cleveland take with the first overall pick?

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Pittsburgh Steelers Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

It is Week 15 and the AFC North race looks like it could come down to the last game of the year. The Steelers, who currently sit in first place in the division, are looking to stay there by avoiding an upset to the Bengals. The Ravens can’t afford to lose to the Eagles if they hope to have any chance of making the postseason, though Bengals fans should be rooting for just that (as long as Cincinnati beats Pittsburgh). Meanwhile, the offseason is already a major topic for the 0-13 Browns.

The Pittsburgh Steelers (8-5) at the Cincinnati Bengals (5-7-1): Sunday, 1:00 p.m. EST

Steelers healthy heading into Sunday’s rematch

The first time these teams met this season, each was without key players. Le’Veon Bell and Vontaze Burfict were both serving a suspension and Tyler Eifert was injured. But again, the Bengals could be without a major contributor on offense.

In Week 11 A.J. Green suffered a partially torn hamstring against the Bills and has missed the three games since. This week, the receiver has practiced, even though it has just been limited, for the first time since the injury. It is still up in the air whether Green will be able to give it a go, but his addition would be nothing but positive to an offense that has started to find its footing without him. Andy Dalton has started to spread the ball around again like last season when he had Marvin Jones Jr. and Mohamed Sanu.

The Steelers injury report is filled with a few limited participants. Darrius Heyward-Bey and Shamarko Thomas were both limited. DeAngelo Williams also re-resurfaced on the injury report after being a full participant on Wednesday.

NFL doesn’t care about the Steelers’ Deflategate

The Giants reportedly complained that the Steelers deflated footballs in their loss in Pittsburgh during Week 13. They did not however make a formal complaint to the league office.

The league was very harsh on the New England Patriots and Tom Brady for such accusations. The Team lost a first round pick and Brady eventually served a four game suspension. This was all done with little to no actual proof to support the Patriots did anything wrong.

Whether it is because the NFL doesn’t want to deal with another long drawn out Deflategate scandal, or they know they have no ground to stand on to actually punish the Steelers, the league doesn’t care.

“We went back to look to make sure the protocols were followed properly. They were,” Roger Goodell told Pro Football Talk. “The Giants had asked us about it during the game. We went back, we checked that. They were properly followed. All of the league protocols being properly followed, there’s no further follow up on that. The teams didn’t follow up, we didn’t follow up any further because we were comfortable that the protocols were followed.”

Either way you look at this the Patriots probably have a serious complaint about this. Also it just shows yet another time the league has been inconsistent with its punishments with their make-it-up-as-we-go style.

Subtle reminder that players are people

This week a writer, who will remain nameless in an effort not to gain him any sort of publicity from this stunt, wrote that Steelers players should intentionally hurt Burfict before he hurts anyone on the Steelers.

Any sensible person can see what is wrong with this, but here is a little reminder to folks who don’t: Players are people.

It is that simple. You can’t go around treating these athletes like they are some sort of commodity without a soul. This goes for fans of any team in any sport. A player getting injured isn’t something to celebrate or look forward to. That is sick.

The Steelers and Bengals have had a well documented recent history that has been beaten to death. Each side is to blame for this really, but the moment you start saying things like players should intentionally hurt other players, you cross a line. And if players intentionally hurt/attack other players, they have crossed a line.

I mean, imagine if you were playing a pickup game, and you heard guys on the other side say they were going to injure you. Even if it was just a guy on the sideline saying it, you would still be concerned.

Last thing, I find it funny that a fan base that continually calls Burfict a thug would say a team should go out of their way to injure him. That seems very... oh what is the word I’m looking for..

The Baltimore Ravens (7-6) vs the Philadelphia Eagles (5-8): Sunday, 1:00 p.m. EST

Flacco has an idea on how to get offense going

Outside of the Ravens onslaught of the Dolphins, their offense has been lackluster for most of the season. Joe Flacco has an idea on how to change that. Run the ball.

"There's no doubt we're going to have to run the ball, especially if teams are going to go out and play two high [safeties] against us like the Patriots did," Flacco told ESPN. "We're going to have to be able to hand the ball off and get yardarge out of it. Then, it's going to get our play-action game going a little bit more and make it that much better."

This has been a recurring topic for people who read this article weekly. The Ravens run the ball very well, but they refuse to run it consistently. Last week, the Ravens fell behind to the Patriots early, but with plenty of time left in the game, they still nearly abandoned the run game altogether. Baltimore gave their running backs 13 total carries.

They did get them involved in other ways though. Kenneth Dixon had eight catches including one for a touchdown.

If you go back to earlier weeks, the Ravens have run the ball for averages of over four yards per carry, but their backs get 15 carries between them. Meanwhile, Flacco is throwing the ball more than 50 times per game. That isn’t how this offense is meant to work.

Gary Kubiak had it right. This offense used to be run first, and then pass off of it. Flacco is a good quarterback, but you can’t expect him to be Brady and drop back all the time and move your offense like that. Flacco is his best with play action, and when he can bomb it down field to one of his receivers in one on one coverage. You don’t get one-on-one coverage though if you don’t run the ball.

Baltimore secondary confident even without Smith

It is looking like the Ravens will be without Jimmy Smith, their top corner, against the Eagles on Sunday. Smith hurt his ankle Monday night in New England. Eric Weddle isn’t worried about playing without Smith though.

"It's [the secondary’s confidence] as high as it's ever been," Weddle told ESPN. "We're not worried about who is going to play or who is not going to play. We'll play with the guys we have out there. We'll be ready. We're going to play outstanding and hopefully have a great game."

There is reason to be concerned though. The Ravens have struggled without Smith. When Smith has missed time, the Ravens weren’t able to stop the pass.

They could be in luck though this week. The Eagles have struggled throwing the ball recently with Carson Wentz regressing after coming out of the gates strong. Wentz has thrown four touchdowns vs seven interceptions in the last four weeks.

The Ravens can’t afford a loss going into their game against Pittsburgh, so stopping Wentz and the Eagles has to be accomplished with or without Smith.

The Cleveland Browns (0-13) at the Buffalo Bills (6-7): Sunday, 1:00 p.m. EST

Collins among players that should be franchise tagged

First impressions mean a lot, but the Browns are hoping they can change the one they’ve made on Jamie Collins. Cleveland traded for Collins this season by sending a third round compensatory pick to New England.

Collins went from one of the best franchises in football to the worst in a week. The Browns are hoping they will be able to turn that around next season, and convince Collins to stay with a team trying to turn into a competitor.

One way the Browns will be able to do this is by franchise tagging Collins, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent this offseason. Lets face it, Collins would probably be more inclined to leave Cleveland if he had his choice, but if Cleveland franchised tagged him he would have to return.

It would cost the Browns nearly $15 million to tag Collins, but for a team with almost $63 million in cap space next offseason, it shouldn’t be too much for a challenge.

Should the Browns select a quarterback with the first pick?

The Browns are still in a heated race for the first overall pick, but with the draft drawing closer, and the Browns quarterback carousel still spinning. Are the Browns set to pick a quarterback? Probably not.

There is no Andrew Luck in this draft. No quarterback is a can’t miss prospect. That isn’t the reason the Browns won’t take a quarterback with the first overall pick though.

The first reason they won’t is Myles Garrett, the Texas A&M defensive lineman. Cleveland reportedly has an ‘astronomical grade’ on the pass rusher. The Browns could decide that Garrett’s talents surpass their glaring need for a quarterback with the chance to get a franchise pass rusher. The Raiders did something similar when they selected Khalil Mack with the fifth overall selection instead of reaching for a quarterback they weren’t sure on. Oakland ended up selecting Derek Carr in the second round.

That brings us to the second reason why Cleveland won’t take a quarterback with the first overall pick. They will have a second top 10 pick. The Browns acquired this pick in their trade with the Eagles last offseason, which handed Philadelphia the 2016 No. 2 overall pick. What once looked to be a mid-round selection is getting more and more valuable as the Eagles have struggled. That Eagles are currently in line to pick ninth overall.

There are a few teams ahead of that ninth pick including Chicago, the New York Jets, San Francisco and maybe New Orleans, who could be in the market for a quarterback. But there isn’t a clear consensus on who the best quarterback is going to be That could lead to teams selecting far more talented players at other positions, allowing Cleveland to get a player like Garrett and a potential future franchise quarterback, all in one round.

Though, with Cleveland’s quarterback draft history, I wouldn’t count on a future franchise quarterback.