AFC North - What You Need To Know

AFC North - What You Need To Know

Baltimore Ravens (12-4, 378 Points For, lost in AFC Championship Game): Forget everything you thought you knew about the Ravens, the flow is changing. The aging defense is no longer a dominant unit, and sack-master Terrell Suggs could be down for the season. As a result, the games will be more open this year, on both sides. QB Joe Flacco seems ready for more responsibility on offense, and receiver Torrey Smith was an uncoverable monster all summer. You'll land Smith as your third or fourth wideout in most drafts, but he's capable of a Top 15 year at the position. Anquan Boldin can still grab 65-75 passes, but he's not a deep threat and his touchdown upside is limited. Ray Rice is a known commodity, a Top 3 back on anyone's board. If you're in a deeper league and feel the need to handcuff, the backup is Bernard Pierce. That said, Ray Rice has been very durable as a pro.

Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4, 325 PF, lost in Wild Card Round): Todd Haley has his share of detractors, but his offensive methods are well-respected and he should do a fine job with the Steelers offense, in time. But for 2012, we worry about the offensive line and what it will allow Pittsburgh to accomplish. Isaac Redman (groin) is no sure thing in the backfield and Rashard Mendenhall is coming off a major knee injury; with that in mind, earmark summer sleeper Jonathan Dwyer for the late rounds. Ben Roethlisberger is still a Top 12 fantasy quarterback, when he's allowed to stand and fire. Mind you, Big Ben runs into a few sacks himself by holding the ball too long. Antonio Brown could ascend to the No. 1 receiver spot, and he's a good bet for 7-9 scores this year after being touchdown-unlucky last year. Mike Wallace is a dynamite deep threat, though he's unhappy about his contract and blew off most of the summer. Brown's progress (and lucrative contract extension) might wind up bothering Wallace, too. Buyer beware.

Cincinnati Bengals (9-7, 344 PF, lost in Wild Card Round): A bunch of things fell right for the surprise Bengals last year, and they were happy to take advantage of a soft schedule. Cincinnati never beat a team with a winning record in 2011, so be careful when you judge this roster. QB Andy Dalton was a quick study and should be a decade-long starter, though he's not a special talent by any means. But so long as he keeps pitching the ball to electric WR A.J. Green (now there's an elite player, a Top 5 pass-catcher), everyone in the Queen City will be happy. There's no solid No. 2 wideout here, which means tight end Jermaine Gresham will be targeted liberally. BenJarvus Green-Ellis is a straight-line runner with no lateral agility, but he never fumbles and he's reliable around the goal line. Look for a boring 1,100 yards and 7-9 touchdowns, the type of year Cedric Benson used to give us. Try to secure Green-Ellis as your third back.

Cleveland Browns (4-12, 218 PF): Most NFL clubs viewed Brandon Weeden as a so-so prospect, someone to consider in the third or fourth round of April's draft. Part of the bearish nature was tied to Weeden's age - he's already 28, having spent several years as a baseball prospect. The Browns wrote their own memo on Weeden and pounced in the first round, 22nd overall pick. Obviously they'll give him a chance to play right away, for better or for worse. Weeden's college stats were floated by a wide-open spread offense, but the Browns don't have the personnel to run that here. At least there's second-year receiver Greg Little on the outside, a budding star. Running back Trent Richardson was a respected pick at the No. 5 slot, but he needed a knee scope in early August. If he can heal up quickly, he'll run behind an underrated offensive line; while the Browns don't have an answer at right tackle yet, they do have two blocking stars in LT Joe Thomas and C Alex Mack. Montario Hardesty has settled in as the backup tailback, and could be an interesting sleeper if Richardson is slow off the mark. Cleveland's underrated defense should keep things surprisingly competitive, but this will be another losing year by the lake.

NBA Trade Deadline: Bulls deal Taj Gibson, Doug McDermott to Thunder

NBA Trade Deadline: Bulls deal Taj Gibson, Doug McDermott to Thunder

The Bulls turned into sellers ahead of the NBA's trade deadline.

According to CSNChicago.com Bulls Insider Vincent Goodwill, the Bulls have traded Taj Gibson, Doug McDermott and a second-round pick to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Cameron Payne, Anthony Morrow and Joffrey Lauvergne. The Vertical first reported the trade.

Both Gibson and McDermott had been on the trading block, as Goodwill reported last week.

Payne, 22, was drafted by the Thunder in the first round (14th overall) in the 2015 NBA Draft. In 20 games this season, Payne is averaging 5.3 points, 2.0 assists and 1.6 rebounds per game.

Lauvergne, 25, was acquired by the Thunder from the Denver Nuggets prior to the 2016-17 season. In three seasons, Lauvergne is averaging 6.3 points and 4.1 rebounds per game.

The 31-year-old Morrow is averaging 5.8 points in 40 games this season.

Bulls GM Gar Forman and VP of Basketball Operations John Paxson will meet the media following today's 2 p.m. deadline.

White Sox rebuild offers 'leeway' for Lucas Giolito after frustrating 2016 season

White Sox rebuild offers 'leeway' for Lucas Giolito after frustrating 2016 season

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Lucas Giolito knows if he had performed better in 2016 he wouldn’t have endured the season from travel hell. 

Instead, the top pitching prospect in baseball struggled with consistency in the big leagues and the Washington Nationals constantly shuffled him around. Giolito — one of three pitchers acquired in the Adam Eaton trade in December and MLB.com’s 11th-ranked prospect — was moved eight different times throughout the Nationals organization last season. 

More irritated by his inability to pitch well for a team in a pennant race, the tall right-hander understands why he spent much of last season on the go. But it’s also one of the main reasons why Giolito, who is likely to begin the 2017 season in the starting rotation at Triple-A Charlotte, is excited for a fresh start with the White Sox.

“It was frustrating because I knew if you get up there and pitch well I can stay, but I didn’t,” Giolito said. “I wanted to help the team win. That’s really all I wanted to do. And all my starts, aside from my debut, which got cut short by the rain, I did not give the team a chance to win. So rightfully so I got sent down. But yeah, it’s frustrating. 

“At the same time, with this club I know there might be a little more leeway. I know they might allow younger guys more time to settle in, at least from what I’ve seen.”

The White Sox have made no secret about their plans to rebuild. Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech are four of the seven prospects acquired in December whom the White Sox hope to build around. 

General manager Rick Hahn has made it increasingly clear that player development is the team’s top priority.

“At this point going forward we’re really not going to have anyone in Chicago until they’ve answered any questions we’ve had for them at the minor league level and we feel they’re ready to succeed,” Hahn said last month at SoxFest. 

And once those players arrive, they’ll be given ample opportunities to prove whether or not they belong. The routine will be normal with regular turns in the rotation rather than spot starts here and there. 

The team’s mindset is in stark contrast with Washington, which has been in win-now mode for the past few seasons. Whenever the Nationals called upon Giolito, who hadn’t pitched above Double-A Harrisburg before last June, they needed him to fill in for a rotation that only had three pitchers make more than 25 starts.

[MORE: Lighter Avisail Garcia wants to show White Sox his best]

Giolito pitched four scoreless innings in a rain-shortened MLB debut on June 28 and then didn’t pitch again until July 7. With Stephen Strasburg back in the rotation, the Nationals then sent Giolito to Single-A Hagerstown so he could get another turn before the All-Star break. Then it was on to Triple-A Syracuse for one start and back to Washington for another. 

After he struggled in that outing, Giolito spent a month at Syracuse, returned to the bigs to struggle again on Aug. 28 against Colorado, and went back to Triple-A for one more. Finally, Giolito returned to Washington on Sept. 7 and stayed the rest of the season, though he only pitched twice in a month. In six big league games (four starts), Giolito had a 6.75 ERA. 

The up-and-down nature of Giolito’s season prompted MLB.com’s Jim Callis to write: “I also don't think the Nationals handled him very well last season, calling him to Washington on five separate occasions but never letting him take consecutive turns in the rotation, as well as having him change teams nine times.”

Giolito remembers a couple of small planes back and forth from Washington to Syracuse. He also drove a few times because it was so close. 

“All sorts of ways of moving around,” he said.

It’s also treatment that’s normally reserved for a Four-A pitcher who has options to burn rather than a top prospect trying to find stability.

Giolito — who was drafted 16th overall in the 2012 draft out of high school — thought some of his struggles were related to poor mechanics and getting away from what had made him successful. The 6-foot-6 pitcher said he tried to simplify his mechanics this winter in order to allow the ball to leave his hand more freely and easily. 

Giolito is pleased with the results so far. His main goals early in camp have been commanding his fastball low and away to right-hander hitters and learning how to throw his curveball for a called strike.

“It’s coming out very good,” Giolito said. “Much better than last year. I made a lot of positive changes.

“The time in the big leagues was definitely fun. But going up and down a lot can be like a grind. Getting on the plane, doing this, you’re pitching the next day. You have to be able to try and stay level headed and focus on the next day or task at hand. But when you’re moving around a lot it can be difficult.”