Speaking of which…

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    Been awhile since I’ve written one of these, but in a week featuring a tense presidential inauguration, there wasn’t much football to write directly about.  Sure, it’s the playoffs and all, but without an AFC North representative, what’s there to pay attention to?

    It’s Conference Championship Week, and despite three playoff entrants, the AFC North isn’t involved.  The reasons why aren’t complicated – all three losses exposed marked areas of weakness for the teams involved and provided roadmaps of sorts for each team’s pending offseason maneuvers.  As for the division’s lone non-playoff team, the Bengals are presumably undergoing some serious roster deliberations of their own.  Speaking of which…

    Longtime Bengals DT Geno Atkins, once one of the most feared and underrated interior defensive linemen in the NFL, appears to be a lock to be released.  The Bengals would enjoy $9.6 million in savings and would rid the roster of a 33 year-old declining shadow of his former self, which makes this a no-brainer.  Shoulder issues notwithstanding, Atkins will probably find rotational work somewhere this year, but certainly not in line with his current salary.  Speaking of which…

    Free agent WR JuJu Smith-Schuster, formerly of the Steelers and renowned for his recent dancing prowess, is available for interested teams.  Smith-Schuster had been operating as the Steelers’ primary WR the last couple of years, but roster additions at WR and a noticeable reduction in catches have rendered him a bit more ordinary than the 90-catch seasonal lock he appeared to be.  Free agency tends to result in overpayment, but Smith-Schuster’s numbers don’t translate into a primary receiver-level salary.  The Steelers, still stocked at the position, appear content to let him walk, and it’s doubtful he’ll be missed.  Speaking of which…

    The Ravens remain woefully short on experienced pass rushers, with their acquisition of OLB Yannick Ngakoue a decided disappointment and holdover OLB Matthew Judon not playing to expectations.  Both are free agents, and the market is sure to pay each much more than they’re probably worth.  It’s assumed the Ravens will not apply the franchise tag to Judon again; his production doesn’t warrant it, and his play still appears replaceable with cheaper options.  Nkagoue may be worth keeping, depending on his price tag, but the loss of the third round pick it took to acquire him will be felt at draft time, and it still doesn’t do much to provide depth at arguably the defense’s weakest position.  Speaking of which…

    The Browns are concerned about their defense, and rightfully so.  Plans to shore up trouble areas are in the works, with GM Andrew Berry expected to use his draft resources this year primarily to address defensive needs after concentrating on offensive additions last season.  Look for the Browns to possibly use early picks on linebackers of any stripe, depending on who’s available.  Added edge rushers wouldn’t hurt either, as the Browns are considering moving on from inconsistent DE Olivier Vernon and are hoping for better production from holdover DE Myles Garrett.

    Next week, we’ll have a better idea of how coaching staffs and front offices are shaping up.  Stay tuned.

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