AFC North: 2013 NFL All-Division Team AFC

All-AFC North: Cincinnati Bengals

January, 2, 2014
Jan 2
10:00
AM ET
NFC Teams: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

A trio of defensive stars, two Pro Bowl offensive players and an injured specialist comprised the Cincinnati Bengals' six selections to the ESPN.com All-AFC North team that was released Thursday. The four reporters who cover the teams in the division made the picks.

Linebacker Vontaze Burfict, the NFL's leading regular-season tackler, was joined by defensive ends Carlos Dunlap and Michael Johnson on the defensive side of the all-division team. They were all part of a unit that finished the year ranked third in total defense, and one that was second in the league in limiting third-down conversions. Last Friday, Burfict was named to his first Pro Bowl as an inside linebacker. The second-year player, who was originally signed as an undrafted rookie, finished the regular season with 171 tackles, a forced fumble, two fumble recoveries and an interception. Dunlap recorded a career-high 58 tackles and had 7.5 sacks. Johnson, who could be heading toward free agency in the coming weeks, had a career-high 56 tackles and led the league with eight batted balls at the line of scrimmage.

Cincinnati's offensive selections were led by receiver A.J. Green. He was selected to the team after catching a career-high 98 passes for another career-high 1,426 yards. He finished just 15 yards shy of a franchise record. He was joined on the all-division team by offensive lineman Andrew Whitworth, who made it as a left tackle. Across the last five games, Whitworth shuffled between left tackle and left guard as injuries depleted the Bengals' offensive line. Particularly, it was left guard Clint Boling's ACL injury against the Chargers in Week 13 that caused the shifting to occur.

Another injured Bengal was included on the All-AFC North team. Punter Kevin Huber, who had an average net of 40.5 yards before a season-ending jaw injury in Week 15, made it as the division's top punter. He had punts of 75 and 70 yards this season ahead of the blindside hit against the Steelers that broke his jaw. The NFL later said a flag should have been thrown for the hit, but since one wasn't, Huber and his coverage team allowed their only punt return touchdown of the season.

Despite winning the AFC North, the Bengals were outpaced on the all-division team by the Browns and Ravens. Both teams had seven players selected. Like the Bengals, the Steelers also had six. One of Pittsburgh's selections, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, made it when the Bengals' Andy Dalton didn't. Dalton had more wins, yards, touchdowns and a higher QBR than any other quarterback in the division. He also finished the season setting a pair of Bengals records. In addition to Dalton, a case for inclusion could have been made for rookie running back Giovani Bernard, receiver Marvin Jones, defensive tackle Domata Peko and cornerback Adam Jones.

All-AFC North: Cleveland Browns

January, 2, 2014
Jan 2
10:00
AM ET
NFC Teams: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

The new coach of the Cleveland Browns will have three of the five best offensive linemen in the AFC North.

This may come as a surprise to those who watched the Browns all season, but three linemen were elected to the ESPN.com All-AFC North team (the vote was taken by the four division writers): left tackle Joe Thomas, center Alex Mack and right tackle Mitchell Schwartz.

Thomas has been a perennial Pro Bowler, but Mack’s press has improved as the season has wound down. He was elected to the Pro Bowl, and now has been named the best center in the division.

Schwartz’s selection is a bit of a surprise given his slow start, but the other right tackles in the division are not dominant players.

The Browns put five players on the offense, two on the defense. Wide receiver Josh Gordon, Mack, tight end Jordan Cameron, defensive tackle Phil Taylor and cornerback Joe Haden were unanimous picks.

Interestingly, the Browns put five players in the Pro Bowl but only seven on the all-division team.

Which would seem to indicate the Browns have a few talented players, but hardly a plethora.

All-AFC North: Pittsburgh Steelers

January, 2, 2014
Jan 2
10:00
AM ET
NFC Teams: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

 
The Steelers placed six players on ESPN.com’s All-AFC North team, including unanimous selections in wide receiver Antonio Brown and outside linebacker Jason Worilds. First, some background on how the team was selected. All four ESPN NFL Nation reporters who cover the respective teams in the AFC North on a daily basis voted on the squad, and we voted based on players’ specific positions in the case of the offensive line. That is why David DeCastro and Marshal Yanda are not the guards on the team. Both play right guard, and DeCastro got the nod over Yanda even though the latter has been voted to the Pro Bowl.

Wide receiver and inside linebacker were clearly the strength of the division. Brown, A.J. Green and Josh Gordon were all unanimous picks at wide receiver. All three are headed to the Pro Bowl and deservedly so. Lawrence Timmons had a Pro Bowl-caliber season, but he didn’t make the All-AFC North team because of the depth at inside linebacker. I voted for Timmons but can’t quibble with the selections of Daryl Smith and Vontaze Burfict. Each had outstanding seasons. Steelers kicker Shaun Suisham makes the team in most other divisions but had no chance against Justin Tucker. Cameron Heyward stated his case at defensive end with a breakout season. But he didn’t become a starter until the fifth game of the season, and Bengals defensive ends Michael Johnson and Carlos Dunlap were the picks at the position.

Rookie Le’Veon Bell justified his pick at running back with a strong finish that included 214 of his 860 rushing yards in the Steelers’ final two games. He is one of the main reasons why the Steelers are so excited about their offense heading into the offseason. Ben Roethlisberger was the obvious choice at quarterback. The 10-year veteran played every snap and had one of the best statistical seasons of his career. Roethlisberger is almost a lock to be added to the Pro Bowl squad, assuming a couple of the quarterbacks voted to the team bow out because their team has made the Super Bowl or are nursing an injury.

NFC Teams: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South


There can be no complaints from the Baltimore Ravens after placing seven players on the All-AFC North team. This tied the Cleveland Browns for the most representation on the team. Not bad for the defending Super Bowl champions who failed to make the playoffs and finished a disappointing third in the division.

Not surprisingly, five of the Ravens players on the All-AFC North team are on defense. A big reason why the Ravens ranked in the top 10 in defense for most of the year was the contribution from two new veteran starters. Inside linebacker Daryl Smith, who replaced Ray Lewis, filled up the stat sheet with 123 tackles, 5 sacks, 19 passes defensed, 3 interceptions and 2 forced fumbles. Safety James Ihedigbo, a special-teams player for most of his career, stepped up in a starting role to finish second in tackles (101) and interceptions (three).

The Ravens' defense also got a boost from two former draft picks who elevated their games. Art Jones emerged as the Ravens' best defensive lineman, leading that group in tackles (53) and sacks (four). Jimmy Smith made a case for not only being the Ravens' top cornerback but the second best in the division. He held his own this year in matching up with four of the top five receivers in the NFL: Cleveland’s Josh Gordon (first), Pittsburgh's Antonio Brown (second), Detroit's Calvin Johnson (third) and Cincinnati's A.J. Green (fifth). Besides Smith, the only Ravens selection on defense who wasn't a unanimous pick was linebacker Terrell Suggs, who led the division with 10 sacks.

The Ravens' other two players on the All-AFC North team were on special teams. A first-time Pro Bowl player, kicker Justin Tucker made 33 straight field goals this season, the longest streak of the year, and hit three game-winning field goals this season, including a 61-yarder in Detroit. Jacoby Jones was the most dangerous returner in the division, averaging 28.8 yards on kickoffs (fourth in NFL) and 12.5 yards on punts (fifth in the NFL).

The Ravens didn't have any players on the all-division offense, and rightfully so. Baltimore ranked 29th in total yards (307.4), and the rest of the division's offenses finished in the top 20.

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