Your response to our initial All-NFC North team was overwhelming, quite literally. At one point, it was impossible to post comments on the original post. I can only assume the cause: Black and Blue readers jamming up the lines, old-school style.
Seriously, I got more than 1,200 offers for help on the 15 positions I left open. Most related to the Brett Favre-Aaron Rodgers choice at quarterback, and I took many of them into account in compiling the final list. I did so with a clear conscience, knowing (or at least, strongly assuming) that no NFC North player has a bonus written into his contract for making this team.
(There’s always next year, though!)
My final choices are in the chart to your right. Below, I’ve offered my reasoning for some of the more difficult decisions. We start with the toughest:
In the big picture, Favre and Rodgers’ passing statistics are a wash. Rodgers led the NFL in rushing for a quarterback, but he was also sacked an NFL-high 50 times. (And yes, Rodgers shares in the responsibility for that.) Ultimately, I gave Favre the nod because he was the quarterback of the team that went to overtime in the NFC Championship Game. Wins and losses aren’t the only thing quarterbacks should be judged by, but they can certainly break a tie.
Based on what I’ve written previously, you might be surprised to see Dominic Raiola as the NFC North’s top center. Here’s where I came from: Chicago’s Olin Kreutz had a tough year by everyone’s standards, and Thursday we learned it was because of a bone spur was causing irritation on one of his Achilles tendons. Green Bay used two centers this season, Jason Spitz and Scott Wells. Minnesota’s John Sullivan was in his first year as a starter and had the expected ups and downs. Start to finish, Raiola might have been the division’s steadiest, if not most talented, center. Here’s the way Lions offensive coordinator Scott Linehan put it: “He's always there and doesn't miss anything, and that's what you've got to have in your center.”
Tight end was by far the most difficult choice, even after using my TE/WR option to add a second. I went with Greg Olsen and Visanthe Shiancoe, and bypassed Jermichael Finley, for several reasons. Olsen had 60 receptions and eight touchdowns in an offense that struggled for a good part of the season -- while facing coverage commensurate with a No. 1 receiver. Shiancoe led the NFL with 11 touchdowns by a tight end. Finley’s final statistics were close to both players, but he missed three games and had the fewest touchdowns among the three. You couldn’t go wrong with any of this trio.
Some of you went bonkers when I left running back open to argument rather than immediately tap Adrian Peterson. I wanted to see if anyone could make a convincing argument for Ryan Grant. I didn’t see one.
Green Bay’s Cullen Jenkins had 4.5 sacks as a defensive end, not a bad total in a 3-4 scheme. More important, I thought Jenkins adapted well to his new role in the second half of the season and was a big part of the Packers’ No. 1-ranked run defense. He also forced three fumbles and is well-suited for this scheme.
The Packers’ Nick Barnett got the nod at “middle” linebacker because he was the steadiest throughout the season. The Vikings lost E.J. Henderson in early December. Chicago’s Brian Urlacher made only one start, and Detroit’s Larry Foote couldn’t finish the season.
Chicago’s Charles Tillman got the second cornerback spot because he led all NFL defensive backs with six forced fumbles. He’s the best at stripping the ball in the league.
At punter, Minnesota’s Chris Kluwe and Chicago’s Brad Maynard were close throughout the season. I gave the nod to Maynard because he had a bit more control over his kicks. He had two touchbacks versus Kluwe’s nine. He also kicked the ball out of bounds 17 times as opposed to Kluwe’s nine. Both statistics are good measures of field position gained.
I realize that Minnesota’s Heath Farwell was named to the Pro Bowl as the NFC’s coverage man. He is top-notch, but he’s actually had better seasons. Chicago’s Tim Shaw might have had the best cover season of anyone in the NFL. Among other things, he led the league in special teams tackles and, according to the Bears’ unofficial statistics, was involved in a team-record 30 stops in 15 games.