Playbook: AFC Pro Bowl picks

With the strength of the AFC residing in the North this season, it’s no surprise our Pro Bowl picks come predominantly from that division.

And three of our more surprising selections come from a Cincinnati Bengals team that is only one game behind 8-3 Pittsburgh and Baltimore for the division lead.

After watching the coaching tape, here’s who we believe have played at a Pro Bowl level through Week 12:

Andy Dalton, Bengals – Dalton has led the 7-4 Bengals’ offense with the poise and anticipation of a veteran. He has not been perfect but has been extremely effective for any QB, let alone a rookie. He still has room to improve, but everything we’ve seen so far suggests that he is well on his way.

A.J. Green, Bengals – His rookie season has been impressive, and he has made Dalton’s transition to the NFL a smooth one. His big-play ability, with six TDs coming at an average of 28.8 yards per reception, is one of the big reasons Cincy is in the playoff hunt.

Geno Atkins, Bengals – In a division with some of the game’s most dominant defensive tackles, Atkins is quietly becoming one of the best. Despite his stature (6-foot-1, 290 pounds), Atkins has been an absolute beast in the trenches, racking up 6.5 sacks, a league-high among NFL DTs.

Duane Brown, Texans – There is a reason that Brown is one of two Texans offensive linemen on this list. Houston’s line, with guards Mike Brisiel and Wade Smith, is one of the most athletic, tough and cohesive units in football. They execute the stretch running game as well as anyone, which showed when Ben Tate produced numbers akin to No. 1 back Arian Foster when he missed the first two games of the season. The Texans currently rank third in the NFL with 151.7 rushing yards per game (behind the Eagles and Broncos, who have running QBs to inflate their totals).

Brett Keisel, Steelers – Keisel is one of the key cogs that makes the Steelers defense work. He can line up at a variety of different spots; with his hand in the ground or as a stand-up end. He is relentless in his pursuit of the QB, and while he may not put up big numbers, his versatility, perseverance, and toughness create opportunities for the vaunted Pittsburgh linebackers to make big plays.

D’Qwell Jackson, Browns – Jackson is finally healthy, and it shows. Defense has not been the problem in Cleveland thus far. Jackson has amassed 100 tackles, 2.5 sacks, and a forced fumble, anchoring an underrated Browns’ defense.

OFFENSE
Quarterbacks
Tom Brady, Patriots
Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers
Andy Dalton, BengalsRunning backs
Arian Foster, Texans
Ray Rice, Ravens
Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars

Fullback
Marcel Reece, Raiders

Wide receivers
Wes Welker, Patriots
A.J. Green, Bengals
Mike Wallace, Steelers

Tight ends
Rob Gronkowski, Patriots
Aaron Hernandez, Patriots

Tackles
Duane Brown, Texans
Michael Oher, Ravens
D’Brickashaw Ferguson, Jets

Guards
Mike Brisiel, Texans
Chris Kuper, Broncos
Andy Levitre, Bills

Center
Maurkice Pouncey, Steelers

Kicker
Sebastian Janikowski, Raiders

DEFENSE
Defensive ends
J.J. Watt, Texans
Brett Keisel, Steelers
Antonio Smith, TexansDefensive tackles
Haloti Ngata, Ravens
Richard Seymour, Raiders
Geno Atkins, Bengals

Inside linebackers
D’Qwell Jackson, Browns
Brian Cushing, Texans

Outside linebackers
Terrell Suggs, Ravens
Tamba Hali, Chiefs
Von Miller, Broncos

Cornerbacks
Darrelle Revis, Jets
Cortland Finnegan, Titans
Johnathan Joseph, Texans

Strong safety
Troy Polamalu, Steelers

Free safety
Ed Reed, Ravens

Punter
Shane Lechler, Raiders

Kick returner
Marc Mariani, Titans

“Playbook” — the ultimate football Xs and Os show — airs Friday at 8 p.m. ET (AFC) and 9 p.m. ET (NFC) on NFL Network. Check the NFL Network broadcast schedule for further details. Follow “Playbook” on Twitter @NFLN_Playbook.

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