AFC North Pro Bowl analysis

Perfect sense: The AFC North is a defense-first division, so it made perfect sense that five defensive starters are going to Hawaii. Safety Troy Polamalu and linebacker James Harrison of the Pittsburgh Steelers are Defensive Player of the Year candidates. Pittsburgh's defensive starters will join Baltimore stalwarts Haloti Ngata, Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, who we will get to later. I also liked the fact Ravens kicker Billy Cundiff got in. There were several accurate kickers with similar numbers, but Cundiff's 38 touchbacks on kickoffs made the difference.

Made it on rep: Even when not at his best, Joe Thomas of the Cleveland Browns is still better than 85 percent of left tackles in the NFL. But this season Thomas struggled with an elbow injury and started the season slowly. Credit Thomas for never complaining about his ailment and playing through the pain. But Thomas wasn't himself until about midway through the season. Reed (35 tackles, six interceptions) also has been terrific. But he started the season on the physically unable to perform list following hip surgery and missed six games. Reed remains an elite safety, but name recognition helped him overcome missing much of the season.

Got robbed: As strange as this sounds, I think the biggest miss in the AFC North this year is a punter. Sam Koch of Baltimore was stellar with a 43.2 yard average and 37 punts inside the 20. But Oakland Raiders punter Shane Lechler got the nod. Although it wasn't a huge surprise, the Cincinnati Bengals didn't have a Pro Bowl player for the second straight year. A 4-11 record this time had a lot to do with it. Bengals left tackle Andrew Whitworth did well in the fan voting, but he still couldn't end the drought. Browns tailback Peyton Hillis (1,164 yards, 13 touchdowns) had a great, breakout season. But the competition at running back is always stiff and Hillis plays for a 5-10 team.

Rookie surprise: Kudos to Steelers rookie center Maurkice Pouncey, who made his first Pro Bowl. Pittsburgh's inconsistent offensive line has been crippled by injuries. But Pouncey has been the one reliable force in the middle. It's clear with this Pro Bowl nod that Pouncey has already earned the respect of opposing players and coaches.

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