Wednesday, November 7, 2012
All-AFC North midseason team
By Jamison Hensley
Drum roll please ... Here's your AFC North all-division team at the midway point of the season.
In an unexpected twist, the division-leading Ravens have the fewest players on the team with five. The Steelers led all teams with eight total players. Here are some notes about the team:
NO-BRAINERS: Bengals receiver A.J. Green, Ravens guard Marshal Yanda and Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins are not only the class of their positions in the division, but they are the best in the league through nine weeks. It was also a very easy decision to go with Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback and Heath Miller at tight end. No one is even close to them in the division.
TOUGHEST CALLS: It's always a tough call at center. The Steelers' Maurkice Pouncey was battling injuries again, and the Browns' Alex Mack got the nod after receiving an endorsement from Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata. You also couldn't go wrong at the No. 2 receiver spot, where the Steelers' Mike Wallace (on pace for 78 catches) edged out the Ravens' Torrey Smith.
WEAKEST POSITION: Bengals left tackle Clint Boling got on the team by default. The Ravens haven't settled on a starting left guard, the Browns are without ailing Jason Pinkston and the Steelers have been hurt by Willie Colon's penalties. There were slim pickings at right defensive end, too. The Bengals' Carlos Dunlap, the Browns' Jabaal Sheard and the Ravens' Pernell McPhee have all been disappointments. After going with the Bengals' Michael Johnson (six sacks) at one end, I finally went with the Steelers' Brett Keisel, who doesn't have a sack but leads the top-ranked defense in quarterback pressures.
NOT EXPECTED: Rookie second-round pick Mike Adams didn't start the season, but he has played better than anyone at right tackle since taking over for the injured Marcus Gilbert. Like Adams, Bengals undrafted rookie Vontaze Burfict has made the most of his opportunities in taking over for the injured Thomas Howard and has become an impact player against the run. Ravens undrafted rookie kicker Justin Tucker is 15-of-16 (93.8 percent) with one game winner and four field goals beyond 50 yards. And how many would've thought before the season that neither Ed Reed nor Troy Polamalu would make the midseason team?
COULD CHANGE: Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor has rebounded from a dismal start and should bump out the Browns' Sheldon Brown. This spot is open after the season-ending knee injury to the Ravens' Lardarius Webb. And, even though I don't see this happening, Ravens running back Ray Rice could get challenged by Browns rookie Trent Richardson in the second half of the season. Richardson, who has played one more game than Rice, trails him by 47 rushing yards and one rushing touchdown.