Pro Bowl rosters once again open the door for debate
The NFL unveiled its 2013 Pro Bowl rosters on Wednesday night, with this season's game set for Jan. 27, 2013, in Hawaii. The Pro Bowl voting is split three ways, with the fan vote, coaches vote and players vote each comprising 1/3 of the process.
A few thoughts on the selections:
• Continuing the quarterback debate
Your starting QBs: Peyton Manning in the AFC and Aaron Rodgers in the NFC. Manning beat out Tom Brady and Matt Schaub for the honor, while Rodgers earned the nod over Matt Ryan and Robert Griffin III. Manning over Brady will open more eyes, especially considering the fierce Offensive Player of the Year and MVP debates that are ongoing right now.
Schaub's inclusion, meanwhile, is an interesting one. The Texans' quarterback currently has fewer passing yards than Andrew Luck or Joe Flacco and fewer TD passes than Andy Dalton, Philip Rivers and even Ben Roethlisberger. Of course, if the Colts do not make it to the Super Bowl, Luck probably will head to Hawaii -- he's the AFC's first alternate at quarterback and, for starters, Manning might skip simply to ensure he stays healthy.
In the NFC, it's hard to argue with any of the three choices, though it may be worth pointing out that the league's three passing yardage leaders (Drew Brees, Matthew Stafford and Tony Romo) were all left off the roster. Brees also has an NFL-best 39 touchdowns.
• Did a possible PED suspension do in Richard Sherman?
The Seahawks' cornerback, who currently is appealing a four-game suspension for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing drugs, reportedly finished third in the fan vote at cornerback for the NFC -- putting him in great shape to claim a spot.
However, he was left off the roster in favor of Charles Tillman, Tim Jennings and Patrick Peterson. Tillman has been a game-changer for the Bears, but it's harder to make a non-PED-related argument for either Jennings or (even more so) Peterson over Sherman.
Also snubbed here: Minnesota's Antoine Winfield.
• So ... about that Jeff Saturday choice ...
The 14-year veteran, in his first season with the Packers after 13 in Indianapolis, pulled big numbers from the fan-vote portion of the Pro Bowl proceedings. The problem? Saturday has been pretty mediocre all year -- so much so that Green Bay benched him last week.
Saturday is the NFC's second center behind Seattle's Max Unger, but there may not be a less deserving member on the rosters.
• Why so many Chiefs?
The Kansas City Chiefs are 2-13 this season ... and still put five guys on the Pro Bowl roster, matching what Denver earned. Running back Jamaal Charles will represent K.C.'s offense, with OLB Tamba Hali, ILB Derrick Johnson, S Eric Berry and punter Dustin Colquitt rounding out the Chiefs representatives.
In case you're keeping track, that is three starters off a Chiefs defense that ranks 25th in the league in points allowed. Hali has not really even been the best outside linebacker on his own team -- Justin Houston probably topped him through the season's first 16 weeks. And while Berry has stepped up lately (not coincidentally, he's getting better with each passing week post-knee ACL surgery), San Diego's Eric Weddle and Buffalo's Jairus Byrd easily could have claimed spots here.
• A tough job picking receivers
The NFC's receivers: Calvin Johnson, Brandon Marshall, Julio Jones and Victor Cruz.
The AFC's: A.J. Green, Andre Johnson, Reggie Wayne and Wes Welker.
Expect people to have far less issue with the AFC roster (where Demaryius Thomas is really the only notable omission) than the NFC one. Jones has fewer catches and fewer yards than his own teammate, Roddy White, while Cruz is 12th in the league in receptions and has nearly 300 yards fewer than Dallas' Dez Bryant this season.
New Orleans' Marques Colston (78 catches, 1,102 yards, eight TDs) and Tampa Bay's Vincent Jackson (No. 4 in the league with 1,334 yards) had very legitimate arguments for roster spots. One more NFC player you could argue for here: Green Bay's Randall Cobb, who has more than 2,300 all-purpose yards this season.
• Eight teams shut out
The Titans, Raiders, Chargers, Bills, Rams, Eagles, Panthers and Jaguars are all without a Pro Bowl representative at the moment -- although as we know, lots of these roster spots can and will change due to injuries, Super Bowl appearances or other reasons between now and late January.
I already mentioned Byrd above but, for my money, the one guy off those eight rosters who should have heard his name called Wednesday was Buffalo running back C.J. Spiller. He was undone by the Bills' unwillingness to give him the No. 1 job all season; Spiller had to split that role with Fred Jackson.
• For Rob Gronkowski, 10 games are all it takes
Despite playing just 10 games this season, Gronkowski is penciled in as the AFC's starter at tight end. He still leads that position in touchdown catches (10) and is tied for sixth in the league in that stat. Still, could an argument be made that he has not played enough this season to earn the Pro Bowl nod?
The AFC's other tight end, Heath Miller, tore up his knee last week, so he won't play in the game. Which leads us to ...
• Keep an eye on alternates
Players who make it to the Super Bowl automatically are replaced on the Pro Bowl roster. That caveat plus injuries knocked 25 of the initial Pro Bowl participants out of the 2012 game.
Players who suffered major injuries in recent years, like Manning, Adrian Peterson and Eric Berry, may play the injury card to bail on the January showcase. Miller's absence at tight end in the AFC should pave the way for Houston's Owen Daniels -- though the Texans could make the Super Bowl and Daniels himself has dealt with injuries all year.
• Not much love for the rookies
Only two members of the NFL's 2012 class (RGIII and Minnesota kicker Blair Walsh) are on the initial Pro Bowl roster. Luck did not miss out by much, but first-year guys like Washington RB Alfred Morris, Tampa Bay RB Doug Martin, several defensive players like Tampa Bay LB Lavonte David and (to a lesser extent, due to a loaded position group) Walsh's teammate, OT Matt Kalil, had legitimate cases.
• Ndaumkong Suh's reputation may have ruined him
Because he quickly has turned into one of the NFL's most hated players (and because Detroit is 4-11 with a defense that folded late in close games), Suh has been overlooked this season. But he and Nick Fairley formed one of the NFL's best defensive tackle duos, with Suh recording eight sacks and leading the league in quarterback hits (insert joke here) at 19, according to Pro Football Focus.
That said, which of the NFC's three interior linemen would you boot to make room for Suh? Tampa Bay's Gerald McCoy had a sensational season, as did Chicago's Henry Melton. And San Francisco's Justin Smith is one of the more important defensive players in the league, with relation to the impact he has on his team's defense.