Division-by-division All-Pro teams

Lemme get this straight, Edd Barker of Manchester, England: You’d like me to spend time during this week’s celebration of the USA contemplating who’d win a fictional playoff in which divisional rivals team up like “The Avengers”?

Great!

I gotta think me answering a pro football-related Twitter question sent from the UK is precisely what George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and their white-wigged pals had in mind two-and-a-half centuries ago. (Right?)

Thanks for your tacit agreement.

And with that, we’re off like a musket shot on Bunker Hill. First, with some discussion of the subject with Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano, and NFL.com’s Adam Rank and “Handsome” Hank Hodgson on the latest Dave Dameshek Football Program.

Now let’s get down to business. The NFL Network’s twin beacons of research/general pigskin knowledge, JJ Territo and Bill Smith, and I have formed a hastily assembled blue-ribbon panel to cobble together the starting 11 players on offense and defense for each division. No doubt some fans won’t like the omission of certain names. (I can already hear Seahawks wonks raging at the selection of Colin Kaepernick over Russell Wilson.) My suggestion: Get over it.

A few other quick notes: We’ve eschewed the fullback position in favor of adding a third wide receiver to each offensive lineup. (Sorry, old schoolers: If you haven’t heard, it’s a passing league … and besides, it’s more fun this way.) You’ll also see we’ve put the defenses into either 4-3 or 3-4 formations based on what we feel best suits the available talent. Additionally, please note we’ve skipped the special teams. Yeah, yeah, all three phases of the game are important. Then again, there’s a grilled wiener and several beers waiting for me — you can do it if you’re sufficiently upset by the grievous oversight.

And now, behold the teams, assembled in ascending order of strength:

070313-Brady-Williams

8. AFC EAST

Coach: Bill Belichick

OFFENSEQuarterback: Tom Brady
Running back: C.J. Spiller
Wide receivers: Stevie Johnson, Mike Wallace, Santonio Holmes
Tight end: Rob Gronkowski
Offensive tackles: D’Brickashaw Ferguson, Nate Solder
Guards: Logan Mankins, Richie Incognito
Center: Nick Mangold
DEFENSE (4-3)Defensive ends: Mario Williams, Cameron Wake
Defensive tackles: Vince Wilfork, Kyle Williams
Outside linebackers: Jerod Mayo, David Harris
Inside linebacker: Dannell Ellerbe
Cornerback: Antonio Cromartie, Stephon Gilmore
Safeties: Devin McCourty, Jairus Byrd

Number of players by team …
Bills: 6
Dolphins: 4
Jets: 5
Patriots: 7

Analysis: Brady notwithstanding, the offense is pretty crummy. And the defense might be even worse.

070313-Luck-Watt

7. AFC SOUTH

Coach: Gary Kubiak

OFFENSEQuarterback: Andrew Luck
Running back: Arian Foster
Wide receivers: Andre Johnson, Reggie Wayne, Kenny Britt
Tight end: Owen Daniels
Offensive tackles: Duane Brown, Eugene Monroe
Guards: Wade Smith, Andy Levitre
Center: Chris Myers
DEFENSE (4-3)Defensive ends: Robert Mathis, Antonio Smith
Defensive tackles: J.J. Watt, Cory Redding
Outside linebackers: Brian Cushing, Pat Angerer
Inside linebacker: Paul Posluzny
Cornerback: Johnathan Joseph, Vontae Davis
Safeties: Ed Reed, Michael Griffin

Number of players by team …
Colts: 6
Jaguars: 2
Texans: 11
Titans: 3

Analysis: One man — even one as good as J.J. Watt — does not a defense make. Likewise, one team’s roster does not make for a great divisional squad, and the AFC South is too dependent on the Texans’ best players.

070313-Manning-Flowers

6. AFC WEST

Coach: Andy Reid

OFFENSEQuarterback: Peyton Manning
Running back: Jamaal Charles
Wide receivers: Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker, Dwayne Bowe
Tight end: Antonio Gates
Offensive tackles: Ryan Clady, Brandon Albert
Guards: Louis Vasquez, Geoff Schwartz
Center: Nick Hardwick
DEFENSE (4-3)Defensive ends: Dwight Freeney, Tamba Hali
Defensive tackles: Tyson Jackson, Corey Liuget
Outside linebackers: Von Miller, Justin Houston
Inside linebacker: Derrick Johnson
Cornerback: Brandon Flowers, Champ Bailey
Safeties: Eric Berry, Eric Weddle

Number of players by team …
Broncos: 6
Chargers: 6
Chiefs: 10
Raiders: 0

Analysis: Neither unit lacks for big-time playmakers, but the collective team likely gets pushed around by more physical divisions.

070313-Griffin-Ware

5. NFC EAST

Coach: Tom Coughlin

OFFENSEQuarterback: Robert Griffin III
Running back: “Shady” McCoy
Wide receivers: Dez Bryant, Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz
Tight end: Jason Witten
Offensive tackles: Jason Peters, Trent Williams
Guards: Evan Mathis, Todd Herremans
Center: Phil Costa
DEFENSE (4-3)Defensive ends: DeMarcus Ware, Jason Pierre-Paul
Defensive tackles: Jay Ratliff, Fletcher Cox
Outside linebackers: Ryan Kerrigan, Anthony Spencer
Inside linebacker: Sean Lee
Cornerback: Brandon Carr, Morris Claiborne
Safeties: Antrel Rolle, Kenny Phillips

Number of players by team …
Cowboys: 9
Eagles: 5
Giants: 5
Redskins: 3

Analysis: A fascinating cupboard of offensive talent, yes … but the worst secondary of the eight divisions is the team’s undoing.

070313-Brees-Kuechly

4. NFC SOUTH

Coach: Sean Payton

OFFENSEQuarterback: Drew Brees
Running back: Doug Martin
Wide receivers: Julio Jones, Roddy White, Vincent Jackson
Tight end: Jimmy Graham
Offensive tackles: Donald Penn, Jordan Gross
Guards: Carl Nicks, Jhari Evans
Center: Ryan Kalil
DEFENSE (4-3)Defensive ends: Charles Johnson, Osi Umenyiora
Defensive tackles: Gerald McCoy, Jonathan Babineaux
Outside linebackers: Sean Weatherspoon, Lavonte David
Inside linebacker: Luke Kuechly
Cornerback: Darrelle Revis, Asante Samuel
Safeties: Dashon Goldson, Thomas DeCoud

Number of players by team …
Buccaneers: 7
Falcons: 7
Panthers: 4
Saints: 4

Analysis: Even the galaxy of stars on offense won’t put up enough points to offset the relatively mediocre defense.

070313-Rice-Haden

3. AFC NORTH

Coach: Mike Tomlin

OFFENSEQuarterback: Ben Roethlisberger
Running back: Ray Rice
Wide receivers: A.J. Green, Torrey Smith, Antonio Brown
Tight end: Heath Miller
Offensive tackles: Joe Thomas, Andrew Whitworth
Guards: Marshal Yanda, Kevin Zeitler
Center: Maurkice Pouncey
DEFENSE (3-4)Defensive ends: Michael Johnson, Geno Atkins
Defensive tackles: Haloti Ngata
Outside linebackers: LaMarr Woodley, Terrell Suggs
Inside linebacker: Lawrence Timmons, Vontaze Burfict
Cornerback: Joe Haden, Ike Taylor
Safeties: Troy Polamalu, Ryan Clark

Number of players by team …
Bengals: 6
Browns: 2
Ravens: 5
Steelers: 9

Analysis: Running against this defense figures to be a near-impossible challenge for any team, and Roethlisberger relishes the rare opportunity of playing behind a terrific o-line.

070313-Peterson-Matthews

2. NFC NORTH

Coach: Mike McCarthy

OFFENSEQuarterback: Aaron Rodgers
Running back: Adrian Peterson
Wide receivers: Calvin Johnson, Brandon Marshall, Greg Jennings
Tight end: Kyle Rudolph
Offensive tackles: Jermon Bushrod, Matt Kalil
Guards: Brandon Fusco, T.J. Lang
Center: John Sullivan
DEFENSE (4-3)Defensive ends: Jared Allen, Julius Peppers
Defensive tackles: Ndamukong Suh, Henry Melton
Outside linebackers: Clay Matthews, Chad Greenway
Inside linebacker: Stephen Tulloch
Cornerback: “Peanut” Tillman, Sam Shields
Safeties: Harrison Smith, Glover Quin

Number of players by team …
Bears: 5
Lions: 4
Packers: 4
Vikings: 9

Analysis: The NFL’s best players at three offensive skill positions (QB; RB; WR) and a fearsome pass rush (Allen and Peppers and Matthews? Eek!) are undermined ever so slightly by the shoddy o-line.

070313-Fitzgerald-Willis

1. NFC WEST

Coach: Jim Harbaugh

OFFENSEQuarterback: Colin Kaepernick
Running back: Marshawn Lynch
Wide receivers: Larry Fitzgerald, Percy Harvin, Michael Crabtree
Tight end: Vernon Davis
Offensive tackles: Joe Staley, Russell Okung
Guards: Mike Iupati, James Carpenter
Center: Max Unger
DEFENSE (3-4)Defensive ends: Chris Long, Darnell Dockett
Defensive tackles: Justin Smith
Outside linebackers: Aldon Smith, Daryl Washington
Inside linebacker: NaVorro Bowman, Patrick Willis
Cornerback: Patrick Peterson, Richard Sherman
Safeties: Earl Thomas, Donte Whitner

Number of players by team …
49ers: 10
Cardinals: 4
Rams: 1
Seahawks: 7

Analysis: The NFC West wins thanks a shutdown defense and a rugged offensive line that’ll brutalize all comers. Congratulations, coach Harbaugh — you’re No. 1! Let’s shake on it. Kudos to the NFC in general. Based on our conclusions, all conferences are not created equal. The debate on which division is most dynamic even drew enthusiasm from my friends at the Around the League blog, who kibitzed on the topic in a juicy email chain.

And thus completes our completely hypothetical project. In a little more than two months, we’ll have real football to occupy our minds and hearts. In the meantime, happy Fourth of July, everyone!

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