Please forgive me for this temporary diversion. We interrupt our regularly-scheduled program now that I've had my hands on the Madden 09 video game for a couple days now, which is enough time to provide a scouting report.
For all of my fellow gamers out there, here are my early impressions of the AFC North teams:
I've found the Browns to be far and away the toughest AFC North team in this game.
(Don't worry Pittsburgh Steelers, Baltimore Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals fans. It's just a video game and things eventually will be settled on the field.)
Defensive tackle Shaun Rogers is an absolute monster. He holds his ground at the point of attack, and it's hard to consistently get rushing yards up the middle. I had a friend at my house yesterday who uses Cleveland and although I came out victorious, we had some hard-fought battles. Basically I beat him by using big receivers to post and run by his little corners. If you want to know my Madden team this year, I'm not telling. But I will give you a clue: I have one team in the AFC and one in the NFC. So if you want some, come get some!
Offensively the Browns are as versatile as you would expect. Quarterback Derek Anderson has a 95 throwing power (fair enough) and a 90 throwing accuracy (what???), therefore he is an elite signal caller in this game. If you keep receiver Braylon Edwards on one side of the field and tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. on the other, it makes it very difficult to pick and choose where you want to roll coverage. Running back Jamal Lewis runs through a lot of tackles and also has an extra burst that he didn't have in last year's game. Overall, they're a solid team to use in Madden, probably for the first time in the game's history.
For some reason, I've never had much success using Pittsburgh's offense in Madden. I think part of it was the smallish receivers, which I don't like, and another part of it was quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, whom I've never figured out how to use properly (any suggestions?). I do like Heath Miller and Matt Spaeth in double tight-end sets. Their height gives them the ability to body up almost any defender and keeps the chains moving. But my inability to get the ball to Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes consistently makes it tough.
If you're good at using the safety, this is the defense for you. Troy Polamalu is crazy fast, and even if you bite on play-action passes, he is fast enough to make up for the mistake. A lot of people have trouble running 3-4 defenses in Madden but Pittsburgh makes it easy. Its front seven is stout and tough to run on. Age on the defensive line isn't an issue in the game, of course. The Steelers' passing defense is not superb, but I wouldn't consider it weakness.