Players, coaches, and the fans who voted on NFL.com did a solid job of selecting the AFC and NFC representatives for the league's Feb. 10 all-star game in Honolulu. There were no outrageous choices, nor outrageous omissions.
Still, as is customary throughout the NFL on this day, I feel compelled to point out some teams and players that would be justified in feeling slighted.
For that matter, how do the 8-6 Minnesota Vikings end up with seven selections, three more than the winner of their division, Green Bay? It makes no sense.
One choice that certainly will tug on all heartstrings is that of late Washington Redskins safety Sean Taylor, who was killed during an invasion of his South Florida home.
Let's begin our scrutinizing with the AFC squad.
I don't have a strong argument against any of the four receivers chosen (Randy Moss, New England; Reggie Wayne, Indianapolis; Braylon Edwards, Cleveland, and T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Cincinnati). Each has been exceptional in his own right.
Besides Moss and quarterback Tom Brady, Welker has been a major factor in the Patriots' perfect season. It could be argued that without Welker's ability to consistently get open over the middle, there would be far fewer long-distance connections between Brady and Moss on the perimeter. Numerous coaches and league executives have told me that the key to New England's passing success is Welker. If you think about it the winning streak probably would have ended against Philadelphia had Welker not come through with his 13-catch game.
Other than New England's Matt Light, I can't say that I totally agree with the AFC choices at offensive tackle. Baltimore's Jonathan Ogden is a Pro Bowl fixture and certainly had reputation going for him. However, there isn't a whole lot about the Ravens' offense this season that said Pro Bowl to me. Buffalo's Jason Peters was worthy of recognition, although, again, the Bills' offense hardly made a case for anyone to be considered an all-star.
A player who should have been included was Cleveland rookie Joe Thomas, who has performed very much like an established veteran in both pass protection and run-blocking. Without Thomas, the Browns would not have their explosive passing game, Jamal Lewis would not be experiencing a career revival, and Cleveland would not be in contention to reach the postseason for the first time since 2002.
Speaking of the Browns, their quarterback, Derek Anderson would have been my pick over Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger for the third spot behind Brady and Indianapolis' Peyton Manning. Anderson has done a tremendous job of getting the ball into the hands of Edwards and his other talented receivers. A strong case also could be made for Jacksonville's David Garrard to fill the No. 3 quarterback job on the AFC squad. Garrard has been incredibly efficient while also making big plays to complement the running of Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew.
Speaking of Taylor, why isn't he one of the AFC team's running backs? San Diego's LaDainian Tomlinson and Pittsburgh's Willie Parker are good picks, and I don't have any serious issue with the selection of the Colts' Joseph Addai. However, Taylor has been such a huge factor in allowing the Jaguars to establish themselves as one of the top teams in the AFC.
I like the AFC's three defensive ends -- Kansas City's Jared Allen, Tennessee's Kyle Vanden Bosch, and Taylor. But how was Houston's Mario Williams left out? True, his biggest game (3 ½ sacks) didn't come until Week 15 against Denver, but he was having a strong enough year before then to merit a trip to the Pro Bowl.
Now for some second-guessing on the NFC side.
I'm generally OK with the four receiver picks: Terrell Owens, Dallas; Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona; Torry Holt, St. Louis, and Donald Driver, Green Bay. But I'm surprised not to see the name of the Saints' Marques Colston. After all, he is second in the conference with 87 receptions for 1,092 yards and nine touchdowns. That's better than all of the receivers chosen (Pro Bowl tight end Jason Witten of the Cowboys is first with 88 catches).
Although Driver was more productive, the Packer receiver I would have selected was Greg Jennings, who had a much higher yards-per-catch average (17.6 to Driver's 13.0) and many more touchdowns (12 to Driver's two).
Three other Green Bay players with legitimate beefs for being left out of the Pro Bowl voting are offensive tackle Chad Clifton, linebacker Nick Barnett, and cornerback Charles Woodson.
The Packers' offense is about much more than Brett Favre's ageless arm or the pass-catching skills of Driver and Jennings. Clifton had done a tremendous job of helping to give Favre ample time to throw, and in opening holes for Ryan Grant, who emerged from virtually nowhere to give the Packers a running game.
Barnett and Woodson have been two of the best players on a solid defense. Barnett is on a par statistically with the two inside/middle linebackers chosen, Seattle's Lofa Tatupu and San Francisco rookie Patrick Willis. Al Harris, the Packers' other cornerback, did make the NFC squad, which probably hurt Woodson's ability to also be selected. But Woodson has had an outstanding year and is arguably the stronger player in coverage.
Of course, at least the Packers had multiple Pro Bowl selections. Certainly, one member of Tampa Bay's defense, which ranks third in the league and second against the pass, deserved one. What about cornerback Ronde Barber, who has two interceptions, a forced fumble, and a sack? Or how about linebacker Barrett Ruud, who has 108 tackles, three forced fumbles, and a pair of interceptions?
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