With Baltimore’s defeat to the LA Chargers in Wildcard Weekend two weeks ago, the season for the teams in the AFC North came to an abrupt end.
In many ways it was a season of disappointment for the division.
Cincinnati lost their starting quarterback to injury, lost their long serving head coach and just plain lost.
For the Pittsburgh Steelers, although they managed a winning record, they lost their command of the division, they lost Le’veon Bell and in many ways lost the plot.
At the start of the season it seemed like the “same old brand new” in Cleveland. Losing (and tying) games that they should win, missed kicks, and bad decisions blighted the early running for a franchise accustomed to failure. However, behind rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield they ended the season with a new hope, and a new head coach.
Baltimore’s early season failings proved fatal for Flacco. The Ravens rallied behind Lamar Jackson and the run game, and the league’s best defence, to make the playoffs.
With the Pro Bowl around the corner, rather than reflect on the season as a series of games, I have composed an AFC Team of the Season. Reputations and past glory have no place in this team, it has been picked purely on player performance in the 2018 season. For sure there were some hard decisions and tight calls and I will attempt to clarify (not justify) my choices.
2018 AFC North Team of the Season…
So, without any more ramblings, here is your 2018 AFC Team of the Season:
- QB Baker Mayfield (Cleveland Browns)
- RB James Connor (Pittsburgh Steelers)
- RB Joe Mixon (Cincinnati Bengals)
- WR JuJu Smith-Schuster (Pittsburgh Steelers)
- WR Tyler Boyd (Cincinnati Bengals)
- LT Alejandro Villanueva (Pittsburgh Steelers)
- LG David DeCastro (Pittsburgh Steelers)
- C Maurkice Pouncey (Pittsburgh Steelers)
- RG Marshal Yanda (Baltimore Ravens)
- RT Chris Hubbard (Cleveland Browns)
- TE Vance McDonald (Pittsburgh Steelers)
I can already hear the clamour from Steelers fans about Big Ben’s omission from the quarterback position. I do hear you too. Choosing between the two was one of the harder decisions in compiling this team. There can be no doubting his season has been quietly understated in the league. All statistically categories point to Roethlisberger but statistics do not put in to words the sheer magnitude of what Mayfield has done for the franchise down in Cleveland. For that alone he was the choice for me.
I hear you too, Steelers fans, about Antonio Brown. His fifteen touchdowns and 1297 yards scream out for inclusion. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some Antonio Brown, just ask my fantasy football league but the end to his season, and maybe his time in Pittsburgh, has been far from ideal.
All the noise is a stark contrast to the quietly brilliant season Tyler Boyd has had for the Bengals. Working with two very different quarterbacks, Boyd has put together a 1000 yard season almost unnoticed.
The Steel Line…
It was extremely tempting to just put the entire Pittsburgh Steelers offensive line in. Year in, year out, they are an extremely well disciplined unit allowing Roethlisberger to go to work and creating holes in the running game. Having said that, Joel Bitonio’s performance at left guard for the Browns this season nearly got him ahead of DeCastro. I like what former Steeler Chris Hubbard has contributed to the Cleveland line this year so he makes the team at right tackle. Marshal Yanda has had a Pro Bowl season for Baltimore and makes the cut at right guard.
Finishing off the offensive starters is tight end Vance McDonald. It was a tough call between him and David Njoku but I really like what McDonald brings to the Steelers and he never seems to receive the credit he deserves.
- LDE Miles Garrett (Cleveland Browns)
- DT Geno Atkins (Cincinnati Bengals)
- RDE Brandon Williams (Baltimore Ravens)
- LOLB TJ Watt (Pittsburgh Steelers)
- LILB CJ Mosley (Baltimore Ravens)
- RILB Joe Schobert (Cleveland Browns)
- ROLB Matthew Judon (Baltimore Ravens)
- SS Terrell Edmunds (Pittsburgh Steelers)
- FS Eric Weddle (Baltimore Ravens)
- CB Denzel Ward (Cleveland Browns)
- CB Joe Haden (Pittsburgh Steelers)
Some of these selections just easily picked themselves with obviously outstanding seasons. Miles Garrett (13.5 sacks, 3 forced fumbles) is finally showing why the Browns made him the first overall pick in the draft last season. The man is a monster!
TJ Watt (13 sacks, 17 tackles for loss) has been an absolute game wrecker for the Steelers defence this year, likewise CJ Mosley for the Ravens. Joining them at linebacker are Joe Schobert (103 total tackles) and Matthew Judon (7 sacks, 10 TFL), two players I think have had quietly brilliant seasons.
In the secondary, Eric Weddle has again had a brilliant season and wasn’t a difficult choice at strong safety. However, the decision at free safety wasn’t such an easy one to make. I had three players really close in terms of their performance, Tony Jefferson, Jabrill Peppers and the player I eventually went with, Terrell Edmunds. He hasn’t perhaps had the flashy rookie campaign of Denzel Ward, LA’s Derwin James or even his brother Tremaine at Buffalo but I think he has been underrated since gaining the starting job in Pittsburgh ahead of Morgan Burnett.
Kickers Are People Too…
Finally, as we all know, kickers are people too. Despite some high profile, out of character, missed kicks this year, Justin Tucker (Baltimore Ravens) remains the best in the league. Punter Britton Colquitt (Cleveland Browns) is one of the best and these two make up my kicking squad in the team of the season.
As always, fans of each team will have strong opinions on the players within their team and I’m more than happy to hear them. You can find me on twitter at @ojhodgkinson
Feature Image Credit: outkickthecoverage.com