Thursday, November 10, 2011
By Jamison Hensley/ ESPN.com
We're at the halfway point of the season, so here's the Midseason All-Division team for the AFC North. Of course, tell me who I left off, who should have been on and any other opinions in the comments section below.
Quarterback: Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers. He's on pace for 4,679 yards passing and 27 touchdowns. Roethlisberger isn't just the best quarterback of the division. He's the best quarterback in the AFC right now.
Running back: Ray Rice, Ravens. He's been held under 100 total yards the past three games, but he's the best playmaker at this position in the division. Rice still ranks sixth in the NFL in total yards per game (118.5).
Fullback: Vonta Leach, Ravens. His big hits as Rice's lead blocker has justified the investment and has led to more scoring. Rice has scored six rushing touchdowns, which has already surpassed last year's total.
Wide receiver: Mike Wallace, Steelers. He's the most dangerous wide receiver in the division. It's not even close. Wallace ranks fourth in the NFL in receiving yards (96.4) and first in receptions over 40 yards (six).
Wide receiver: A.J. Green, Bengals. This was a tough decision because Anquan Boldin has one more catch and 28 more receiving yards. But Green has been more explosive, scoring five touchdowns and producing the third-most catches over 40 yards (four) in the league.
Tight end: Jermaine Gresham, Bengals. This was a close call over the Steelers' Heath Miller. Gresham had the key catch in the winning drive against Buffalo and led the team with three touchdowns after five games. A hamstring injury has limited his production recently.
Left tackle: Joe Thomas, Browns. The Bengals' Andrew Whitworth is really, really good but Thomas is the most complete tackle in the game.
Left guard: Ben Grubbs, Ravens. Yes, he's only played two games. But it just happens to be the best two games that the Ravens offensive line has played this season, and it's not a coincidence. Who else deserves it? The Browns' Eric Steinbach is out for the season, and the Steelers' Chris Kemoeatu has been hurt, too.
Center: Alex Mack, Browns. He gets this on toughness alone. Mack played with appendicitis and started the next game after having surgery during the bye week. The Steelers' Maurkice Pouncey is a little overrated after making the Pro Bowl as a rookie.
Right guard: Marshal Yanda, Ravens. The team's best lineman moved back to his natural guard position and has become one of the NFL's best.
Right tackle: Andre Smith, Bengals. He's no longer a first-round bust, showing astonishing power at times this season.
Defensie tackle: Haloti Ngata, Ravens. He's living up to his new contract as one of the most dominant interior linemen in the game. Ngata has three sacks, two forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries (scoring a touchdown off of one).
Nose tackle: Domata Peko, Bengals. The most underrated player in the division, Peko is the reason why teams are averaging a league-low 3.3 yards per carry against the Bengals. When Peko isn't penetrating, he's clogging up the middle of the line.
Defensive end: Brett Keisel, Steelers. He's more than just a beard. Keisel shows up at critical times, whether it's stripping the ball from Tom Brady at the end of games or knocking down a pass at the line of scrimmage.
Outside linebacker: LaMarr Woodley, Steelers. Only a hamstring injury has slowed him from getting to the quarterback lately. He leads the AFC with nine sacks and didn't even play last week.
Inside linebacker: Ray Lewis, Ravens. The leading tackler for the NFL's second-ranked defense, Lewis has always been a dominate run stopper. But he's had one of his best seasons against the pass, breaking up six throws this season.
Inside linebacker: D'Qwell Jackson, Browns. He's making a strong case to become the NFL's comeback player of the year. After missing the previous 26 games prior to 2011 due to injury, Jackson has been a force once again, ranking sixth in the NFL in tackles with 74.
Outside linebacker: Terrell Suggs, Ravens. He's on track to make the Pro Bowl in back-to-back seasons for the first time in his career. Suggs leads the Ravens with six sacks and has two interceptions as well as two forced fumbles.
Cornerback: Ike Taylor, Steelers. He usually draws the assignment of shutting down the other team's top receiver. The result: less than a third of the attempts in his direction are completed.
Cornerback: Joe Haden, Browns. He's the top defensive back on the NFL's top pass defense. He broke up five passes in the season opener and has since quieted the likes of Reggie Wayne and Brandon Marshall.
Strong safety: Troy Polamalu, Steelers. The second-leading tackler on the NFL's third-ranked defense, Polamalu remains a difference maker with his ability to be around the ball. Teams are always aware of where the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year lines up.
Free safety: Ed Reed, Ravens. His interceptions are down (two) but numbers don't always reflect Reed's impact. Quarterbacks just don't throw deep when Reed is on the field. He affects game plans like no other defensive back.
Kicker: Phil Dawson, Browns. Arguably the MVP for the Browns this season, he's made six field goals of 50 yards or more this season, which is tied for third all-time in a single season. Dawson has an entire second half of the season to surpass the NFL record of eight.
Punter: Sam Koch, Ravens. To be honest, no punter in the division has really distinguished himself. Koch isn't having his best season, but he leads the AFC North with a 46.7-yard average and has placed 11 punts inside the 20-yard line.
Returner: Antonio Brown, Steelers. This might have been the toughest call yet. The Browns' Josh Cribbs might be more feared, but Brown has better averages on punt and kickoff returns.