In filling out my Pro Bowl ballot, I took several things into account, including soliciting the opinions of some NFL personnel types.
Check out the ballots of all the NFL.com writers and see where we differ. Of course, our votes don't count and they come after fan voting was accounted for, so we're not in position to sway decisions.
That's probably a good thing.
Let the scrutiny begin.
I was leaning hard toward Allen because he's been one of the league's premier pass rushers for a few years and plays with a fury that keeps him ahead of more talented but less passionate players at his position. The fact that Abraham is not an every-down player also had me leaning toward Allen. Then, after covering the Atlanta-Tampa Bay game over the weekend, I decided to give Abraham my vote.
To preface my explanation, I am very familiar with the Falcons having covered them for years with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution before joining NFL.com this fall. However, my decision had nothing to do with home-cooking. With reporters who have to cover their alma maters or analysts who report on their former ball clubs, there's a tendency to be more cynical of those teams we are familiar with, so Abraham drew no favors.
I would venture that more than half of the Falcons' defense couldn't start for Minnesota. Allen, as great of a player as he is, has the Williams Wall -- Pat and Kevin -- alongside him on the line, and both of those monsters are perennial Pro Bowlers (although only one got my vote this year). Cornerback Antoine Winfield also should be making a trip to Hawaii since he's made a few game-changing plays that have the Vikings on top of the NFC North.
Having talent around him is not Allen's fault and doesn't diminish anything he's done because his presence has made those players better as well.
In the AFC, the inclusion of Pittsburgh wide receiver Hines Ward might not go over well because he ranks 23rd in yardage and is behind high-volume receivers like Wes Welker, Randy Moss and Lee Evans. When it comes to leadership, toughness and performing in crunch time, though, I'll take Ward all day. There is nothing like having a wideout with a bounty on his head in the Pro Bowl.
As for first-year players, the likely Rookie of the Year, Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, didn't make my final cut. He's done wonders and played well beyond his years and will be making a few trips to the annual All-Star game -- and maybe a few Super Bowls -- but Kurt Warner, Eli Manning and Drew Brees have just been too solid to add him into that company right now.
While the exclusion of Minnesota defensive tackle Kevin Williams was difficult, I had to make room for Dallas' Jay Ratliff, who has been the most dominant, play-making defensive tackle all season. Ratliff has seven sacks, 44 tackles and has drawn enough attention for outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware to get some favorable blocking matchups en route to amassing a league-high 19 sacks.
These are just a few of the more controversial choices I made. I say controversial because there are worthy players who will get snubbed when the votes that count actually are unveiled on Tuesday. For the most part, though, the deserving players get their due, which is what this is all about.