Street Talk AFC North mailbag

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If you have a question about the AFC North, send it to my mailbag. It’s Saturday morning, so let’s open up some mail  …

Mike from Ewa Beach, Hawaii, writes: Do you think Aaron Smith will get the Bryant McFadden treatment when he returns to gameday action? By that I mean, will he be a backup or spot player? Having Ziggy Hood and Brett Keisel as the starters with Cameron Heyward as the backup seems to be working. As coach Mike Tomlin said, “We’re not going to fix it if it’s not broken.” Do you think this will apply to the defensive line?

Jamison Hensley responds: Smith struggled in the first three games of the season. He was getting pushed back off the line before suffering the foot injury. It’s clear that Ziggy Hood is the future of that spot and the right decision is to keep him in the starting lineup once Smith is healthy. Smith, though, might be more productive as part of a rotation. So, let’s not write him completely off.

Perhaps Smith’s most valuable contribution was helping left tackle Max Starks return to the team. Smith reportedly restructured his contract to free up the necessary salary-cap room to sign Starks. Still, this is probably Smith’s last season with the Steelers unless he plays better once he comes back from the injury.

Adam from Eagan, Minn., writes: Is it just me or does it seem like the Texans traded for Mason just to learn about the Ravens offense? Mason looks like he’s done and the Texans could have picked up a much better replacemet for Johnson. And I don’t think he’ll be in Houston much after the Ravens game. Your thoughts?

Jamison Hensley responds: It’s a legitimate question because no one would know more about the Ravens’ offense and Joe Flacco than Mason. And it would have more validity if the Texans traded for Mason and they didn’t have issues with their wide receivers. But they do. Houston’s best receiver, Andre Johnson, might miss a couple more games after having surgery on his hamstring. The Texans’ No. 4 wide receiver, Bryant Johnson, is dealing with a hamstring injury. And Jacoby Jones showed last Sunday that he isn’t ready to replace Andre Johnson in the starting lineup.

So, the Texans needed a dependable veteran to stabilize this group. I would be shocked if Mason hasn’t moved into the No. 3 spot by next week. This isn’t a short-term move to gain information. Mason should stick around for a while — if he keeps quiet. Texans coach Gary Kubiak said the trade for Mason had nothing to do with his Ravens ties. “We had an opportunity to acquire a veteran who’s played very well in this league,” Kubiak said in a conference call with Baltimore reporters. “So, hopefully he’ll be able to come here and help us out.”

Alex from Lexington, Ky., writes: Is it impossible to think that a wild card berth is in my Bengals’ future this year? I know this is a loaded question having only played one divisional opponent — and it was the Browns.

Danny from Cincinnati writes: If the Bengals were to win their next three games will they get even a little bit of respect?

Jamison Hensley responds: Danny, the Bengals won’t gain much respect if they win the next two games, which are home against Indianapolis and at Seattle. It’s kind of a no-win situation for Cincinnati because the Bengals can’t gain respect by beating bottom-tier teams but they can certainly lose some if they fall to those teams. Where the Bengals can prove themselves again is that third game, a Nov. 6 trip at Tennessee. A victory over the Titans would establish themselves more than combined wins over the Colts and Seahawks.

Alex, it isn’t impossible to think the Bengals can go to the playoffs this year, but it certainly is improbable. Of course, the Bengals can prove me wrong. Cincinnati can pile up victories with winnable out-of-division games against the likes of the Colts, Seahawks, Rams and Cardinals. In order to put themselves in line for a playoff spot (and a winning record), Cincinnati can’t get swept by the Ravens and Steelers. The Bengals have four games remaining against those AFC North teams.

Brandon from Euclid, Ohio, writes: Should the Browns go after Brandon Lloyd? I think that would help our passing out tremendously. Also, since the injury to cornerback Joe Haden and Sheldon Brown not playing well, will we see the rookies have more playing time?

Jamison Hensley writes: You can’t rule out the Browns, but the Rams, Titans and Panthers are the teams that have been linked to the last year’s leading receiver in the NFL. And trading for Lloyd (the asking price is somewhere between a third-round pick and a fifth-rounder) is just the first step. Because he is an unrestricted free agent by the end of the year, a team would want to reach an extension with him so you’re just not renting him for three months.

The Browns seem like they’re sticking with Brown even though he is having a below-average season. With Haden likely out, Dimitri Patterson moves into the starting lineup and fifth-round rookie Buster Skrine becomes the No. 3 corner. Those are the cornerbacks that the Browns will rely on for most of the season.

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