Can the Cleveland Browns Hold on to Win the AFC North Division?

ESPN’s Sunday NFL Countdown Notes and Quotes: Week 11 – ESPN’s Sunday NFL Countdown host Chris Berman and analysts Cris Carter,Mike Ditka, Tom Jackson, Keyshawn Johnson and Ray Lewis previewed today’s NFL games with insiders Chris Mortensen and Adam Schefter. Some comments from today’s show:

On the impact of the Cardinals losing starting quarterback Carson Palmer …

Johnson: “You are turning to a guy in Drew Stanton and you say, ‘we’re not going to change plays. We are just going to run our offense. This is what we do.’ That sounds good. You can sell that to the public. But somebody that knows football understands that those two guys are not the same. This isn’t Tom Brady, in the second year, replacing Drew Bledsoe and going on and winning the Super Bowl. This is a veteran quarterback in his eighth year … There is a reason they decided to give Carson Palmer a $50 million deal, with $20 million guaranteed. There is a reason that they didn’t give it to Drew Stanton. In the end of the day, I think it is a huge loss for them.”

Jackson: “Playing well. That’s what I think when I think Carson Palmer. I thought that he was playing well. I didn’t think that he was playing great. I didn’t think that he was playing Tom Brady, Peyton Manning standards. I think Bruce Arians has said what he intends to do – ‘I’m not going to change a lot …’ Today is the best test he is going to get. If he can be successful today, then what is going to keep him from being as good or better than Carson Palmer is with this offense.”

Lewis: “We’ve seen this story, the backup, Drew Stanton, sitting out watching Carson Palmer. There’s no pressure with that. There’s no pressure watching the starter. When you become that guy, when you become the guy and you can’t look to no one else, you’ve got to take every snap, that’s different. The vision for the Arizona Cardinals is the Super Bowl. Now, Drew Stanton is coming in saying – I am the guy, all we have to do is to keep doing what we’ve been doing. No, you don’t.”

Carter: “You can’t replace leadership. That’s the one thing (Cardinals WR) Larry Fitzgerald expressed to me – ‘Carson Palmer is a better leader than people give him credit.’ Forget about arm talent, plays and all of that. Leadership on that locker room, you can’t put a number on it.”

Ditka: “This team is not where it is right now just because of a quarterback. It is because of an offense, a running game and the defense.”

Jackson: “15-3 in their last 18 games. What’s the biggest win that they had in those 15 wins? At Seattle! Carson Palmer threw four interceptions in that game and they won. I think they are pretty confident.”

On whether there is pressure on new Cardinals quarterback Drew Stanton …

Johnson: When you are with a guy like this in the locker room, the veteran guys have to put their arms around him and say, ‘allow us to win these games for you. Don’t try to do it all by yourself’ … Get the football to guys like (WRs) Larry Fitzgerald and John Brown. Let my defense get some turnovers for me. If he can do that, then he’d have the opportunity and not even worry about the pressure.”

Jackson: “Smart, not scared. Go out, do your job as the quarterback, the rest of the team will play well around you. The challenge for him is 1, 2, 3 – Detroit, No. 1 offensively; No. 2 against the run; No. 3 against the pass. They do it with four people … That is the challenge for Drew Stanton. You are up against a really outstanding defense that is going to put a lot of pressure on you. If you play well today, you are going to play well for the rest of the year.”

Ditka: “I don’t agree that this is about Drew Stanton. This is about the Arizona Cardinals. This is the football team and an organization that has proven that they belong. That coach has done an outstanding job … This is not about one guy, he knows he has the weapons. Protect him. Let him do his job, the rest of you guys do your job and let’s see how it ends up.”

Lewis: “He is chasing history from both ways. He can be that guy who comes in, like (QB) Trent Dilfer was in 2000 (Ravens) for us, and go on and win a Super Bowl. Or he can be that guy who steps in and things don’t go well. He has a live arm. He has a bunch of athletes around him. It is not about Drew Stanton. It is about what Arizona has. They have one of the best defenses in football. They have a great running game. They have some of the best receivers in the game. The bottom line is, if he does what he has already been doing, the Arizona Cardinals have a great chance to keep going.”

Carter: “All of us who have played in the NFL, we realize that sometimes it is about talent. But it is really about an opportunity. A real opportunity, and this is the first time in his career that Drew Stanton is going to have the chance to have the team. Carson (Palmer) is not coming back. They are not drafting someone else. He’s got a good football team. For me, I always like to respond to an opportunity, compared to the pressure.”

On whether the Chiefs can contain Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch …

Jackson: “I don’t think you can shut him down. You can try to control him and not let him take the game over which he is capable of. It is an intangible skill. It has tangible results. When you watch him run, he is the best in the National Football League at finishing.”

Johnson: “The only way he is going to get slowed down today is if Seattle does that by not getting him the football … Once he gets going downhill and that steam gets really going, he’s one of the best backs in the league. This team goes as far as he goes in terms of the running game.”

Lewis: “This guy plays the running back position like a linebacker plays. He looks for contact. There are not too many running backs looking for contact … Marshawn Lynch – he doesn’t get ready in a game until he actually makes contact with somebody. He doesn’t like games where he’s just running free. He likes to lean into somebody. His mentality is – if I punish you in the first quarter, you’ll not want to hit me in fourth quarter.”

On what coach Mike Ditka sees with Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers …

“I use the term called an ‘ACE’ – You have great attitude. You have great character. He has a lot of enthusiasm for the game. You hear people say the quarterback makes receivers better. This guy makes that football team so much better. He makes the defense better because they know, confidently, he’s going to go out there and put points on the board. They always have a chance to win no matter what the situation is.”

On whether the Cleveland Browns can hold on to win the AFC North Division …

Lewis: “Since week 5, they are 5-1. Only other team that has a better record than them is the New England Patriots. If they win this game this week, they go to 7-3. Next week, they get (WR) Josh Gordon back. The Cleveland Browns … have something different going on right now.”

Jackson: “They have such a dynamic formula for success even without Josh Gordon. Terrence West, Isaiah Crowell and Ben Tate – that’s a three-headed running back monster. They’ve scored 12 rushing touchdowns. Last week against Cincinnati, they ran the ball 52 times. No, they haven’t run it 52 times every game. That’s their highest total of run plays in almost 30 years. They are running the ball and running it with commitment. What does that mean? With passes over 15 yards or more downfield, (QB) Brian Hoyer is the best in the league at it in terms of completion percentage. If they can continue to do that, they are going to be successful.”

Carter: “… I look at the Browns continuing to build on it. Also, what this young coaching staff has done, they have gotten past the fact of losing football games. They are figuring out ways to win games. I believe in November-December, that will carry over.”

Inside Slant: Andy Dalton and Jay Cutler, elite money, poor play – when highly-paid quarterbacks underperform …

Johnson: “At the time (of his contract) with jay Cutler and the Chicago Bears, they couldn’t have gone and gotten a better quarterback, so they elected to pay Jay Cutler. At the time he was playing better. You figured, okay, he’d turned the corner. Since then, he has regressed. If I’m a player and I’m inside that locker room and I’m his teammate, I am going to let him know. We are paying you a lot of money to get us over the top, because I am going to hold up my end of the bargain.”

Jackson: “The difference is, they touch the football every down. They have control of the football team. You are talking about availability – who is available? … A lot of times, you get the guy who gets the money and that guy becomes one of the great players of all time. There is also an opposite way the players can go, and you cannot know that as an organization until you pay them?

Lewis: “They may touch it every play, but the linebacker position finds it every play … It is really embarrassing that a lot of guys that work hard in this league and never see pay days like that. You take these guys who haven’t done anything in this game, and you give these guys a $100-plus million.”