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Jennings, Raji among curious choices for Pro Bowl honors

I found myself having to get past the reality that several undeserving players were named to the AFC and NFC Pro Bowl rosters. As in, some of these players didn't deserve being anywhere near a Pro Bowl roster.

Of course there were others, like the Giants' Eli Manning, who had a strong case but still shouldn't have made it. Give me Tony Romo and Matthew Stafford -- neither of whom were selected -- over Manning this season. Also, it's fair to recognize rookie Cam Newton and his 14 rushing touchdowns.

Troy Polamalu's name made the list over in the AFC, as usual. There's no bigger fan of his work, but one has to wonder how much of the reason for his Pro Bowl selection was name recognition as well as the lack of other quality safeties around the league. Polamalu has just one pick, no forced fumbles, and hasn't generated as many game-changing plays as in the past.

That aside, let's delve into a group of players that were even worse choices than Manning and Polamalu, starting with an AFC defender who seemingly makes it every year.

Dwight Freeney

Close your eyes and peer at this stat line in your mind's eye: 7.5 sacks and 12 solo tackles. Now imagine a defensive end you associate with that production. Hmm. I'll go Roy Barker, Tony Tolbert, maybe Cullen Jenkins. Except all of those guys would have had more tackles.

Freeney hasn't been getting to the quarterback enough and leads a defense that's giving up more than 24 points per game. In fact, his sack total ranks 28th in the league. The veteran defensive end has been a non-factor against the run, as evidenced by his tackle totals.

At least he's made up for it by not batting a ball down all season. The Texans' J.J. Watt knocked down three by himself on Freeney's field last Thursday. Give me Watt over Freeney. Give me his teammate, Robert Mathis, who has more sacks (9.5), and solo tackles (27).

Antonio Gates

Gates has been to multiple Pro Bowls -- seven times in all. But how can Gates be a Pro Bowl pick when he's been injured, looked out of shape and hasn't even surpassed 700 yards receiving?

Granted, tight end has been a weak position in the AFC this season. Yet, Aaron Hernandez has been a bigger factor for his team as a second option than Gates has been for his. Hernandez has 13 more catches, 100 more yards, and if you count team success, more wins than Gates.

This is no disrespect to the future Hall of Fame tight end, who sees more bracket coverage than any tight end in the conference. But Hernandez has consistently beat safeties and corners on pass routes, which has greatly contributed to Rob Gronkowski's record-breaking campaign. This a year that even Gates might tell you that he doesn't deserve to be in the Pro Bowl.

Philip Rivers

Gates' quarterback hasn't exactly been lights out in 2011, either. Start with a league-leading 19 interceptions. But that's just been the half of it.

The biggest reason Rivers shouldn't be a Pro Bowl selection is that other quarterbacks have been decidedly more effective while pushing their teams toward the playoffs. Tom Brady has been unstoppable all season, tossing 36 touchdowns to 11 interceptions. Ben Roethlisberger got his club in the playoffs once again, while making his usual streetball brand of plays that only he makes (at least in the AFC.) Matt Schaub is injured and cannot play in Honolulu, but certainly deserves the honor over Rivers given his play in leading the Texans to a 7-3 start.

Let's keep going. Would you believe that Matt Moore of the Dolphins has been statistically more efficient than Rivers? Especially when you factor in his 15-7 touchdown to interception ratio. Even Tim Tebow was more integral to the Broncos' playoff push with clutch play that Rivers often hasn't been able to muster.

See the loss at Chicago, or in Kansas City, or at home versus those Tebows as evidence. The Pro Bowl isn't solely about wins and losses. But considering Rivers' interceptions and passer rating (86.6), he doesn't have the stats to compensate for the Chargers' struggles, either.

B.J. Raji

Speaking of compensating, the Packers offense has been doing just that for a defense that hasn't been able to stop anybody this season. Last season, Dom Capers' unit allowed only 15 points per game -- best in the conference -- with Raji serving as the point man in the middle.

The defense has regressed this season, allowing more than 21 points per contest. Raji has been pushed around instead of always getting a push. He hasn't been bad by any means, but Pro Bowl caliber? Sorry, my sense is that his much-ballyhooed pick-six on the national stage of last year's NFC Championship gave the nose tackle a little too much pub.

The Packers have allowed 4.7 yards per carry, one of the worst figures in the league, with much of it coming right through the middle. In some instances that's because the Packers held a lead and were willing to let teams run. But for a club that often plays with large leads that force opponents to throw, allowing 114 rushing yards per game is unacceptable. Some of the blame has to land at Raji's feet.

Most receiving yards this season
Player
Team
Yards
1,518
1,437
1,358
1,308
1,262
» Complete receiving yardage leaderboard

Greg Jennings

Staying with the defending champs, a strong case can be made that Giants receiver Victor Cruz deserved a nod over Jennings. There's no question that No. 85 in green and gold is the better player. To be totally fair, however, a Pro Bowl spot is not a career award. Cruz has made more big plays than any receiver this side of Megatron through 16 weeks.

If you take a look receiving yards, then you see just what kind of 2011 the free agent from Massachusetts had. When the G-Men needed a game-changer this season, it was often Cruz -- more often than Hakeem Nicks or Mario Manningham -- who made them. Start with last week versus the Jets.

Cruz has 409 more yards than Jennings, who was injured late in the season. That was a tough break, but it should have created a Pro Bowl spot for one the league's most exciting young players.

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