If, when asked, you had to name two Cincinnati Bengals players who more than deserved to make the Pro Bowl this year, the instant reaction should have been wide receiver A.J. Green and defensive tackle Geno Atkins. And thankfully, both were selected to the NFL's annual All-Star game on Wednesday night.
Without question, Green and Atkins represent the best of the best of the playoff-bound team's roster. Green is heading to his second Pro Bowl in as many years—the first Bengals player to do so since receiver Cris Collinsworth—thanks to his 11 receiving touchdowns and his top-five receiving yardage.
Atkins, the league's best defensive tackle by far, has 50 combined tackles, a wildly impressive 12.5 sacks (.5 was taken away from last week's game and credited to both he and Wallace Gilberry; Pro Football Focus attributes 16 sacks to Atkins) and four forced fumbles to his name, gets his first starting Pro Bowl nod of his career.
He was a first alternate last season but played in the game after starter Vince Wilfork joined his New England Patriots in the Super Bowl. No defensive tackle has more sacks this season than Atkins (the second best is Ndamukong Suh) or more total quarterback pressures. Though the rest of Cincinnati's defensive line has been strong this season, it is Atkins who has made them the best pass-rushing group in the league.
Though Pro Bowl voting is often thought of as a popularity contest, especially where the fan vote is concerned, with name recognition trumping on-field performance, there are certainly no two more deserving players to get the nod in the AFC. But they aren't the only Bengals recognized by the voting populace.
Quarterback Andy Dalton is in as a third alternate, as is cornerback Leon Hall and offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth. Tight end Jermaine Gresham is a first alternate and will likely be bumped up to starter should he choose to play in the game, with first-teamer Heath Miller of the Pittsburgh Steelers having suffered a torn ACL and MCL in his team's Week 16 loss to Gresham's Bengals.