- Jamison Hensley, ESPN Staff Writer
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Don't worry, I'm not going to quote a former NFL defensive lineman and say the Ravens and Steelers are "old, slow and it's over." But the Ravens and Steelers are old. This isn't a matter of opinion. There's statistical evidence that backs it up.
In a recent post by NFC West blogger Mike Sando, Baltimore and Pittsburgh rank in the top five in terms of oldest starters in 2012. The Ravens are third and the Steelers are fifth, but the breakdown of the numbers might surprise you.
Most assume the Ravens are old on defense because of linebacker Ray Lewis and safety Ed Reed. That's not the case, however. Baltimore is actually in the middle of the pack with the 15th-oldest defensive starters.
Where the Ravens have aged is on offense. In fact, they have the oldest starters on offense in the NFL. The average age is 28.7 years old. Baltimore starts five players on offense who are 30 years or older: fullback Vonta Leach (30), left tackle Bryant McKinnie (32), center Matt Birk (36), left guard Bobbie Williams (35) and wide receiver Anquan Boldin (31).
It will come as no shock that the Steelers rank first in regards to oldest starters on defense. Their average age is 30.1 years. Pittsburgh has seven projected starters over 30 years old: defensive end Brett Keisel (33), nose tackle Casey Hampton (34), linebackers James Harrison (34) and Larry Foote (32), cornerback Ike Taylor (32) and safeties Ryan Clark (32) and Troy Polamalu (31). The age would go down if Steve McLendon (26) starts for Hampton this season.
The number that matters more than age (but less than wins) is the ranking at the end of the season, which shows how these old players perform on the field. The Steelers are trying to repeat as the NFL's top-ranked defense, and the Ravens are looking to crack the top 10 in offense for the first time since 1997.
While the Ravens and Steelers are among the oldest, the Bengals and Browns are among the youngest. Cleveland ranks 29th in oldest starters in the NFL and Cincinnati is 30th. The Bengals have the youngest offensive starters in the league, and the Browns have the second-youngest.
There's no middle ground when it comes to age in the AFC North.
2hEric D. Williams