NFC East should dominate Pro Bowl voting
When fan voting ended Dec. 9, the NFC East was the people's choice. Led by supportive Washington Redskins fans, 58 NFC East players, including 25 Redskins, filled the top five spots of the 19 positions under Pro Bowl consideration.
Fan voting accounts for one-third of the tally. Coaches and players chipped in during the past week, and their selections tend to favor players on teams with winning records. Last season, the NFC East led the league with 21 Pro Bowlers, led by the Dallas Cowboys' 13 selections. (That total includes injury replacements.) The next closest division was the AFC North with 18.
The NFC South is the only other division that lacks a team with a losing record, but it could get shut out of many of the top spots. Last season, Jeff Garcia of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was the only NFC South player to go to the Pro Bowl, and he went as an injury replacement. In fan voting, only 11 NFC South players were in the top five in the positions. Only the NFC West had fewer. Here are five things to watch:
1. The toughest battle is at defensive tackle in the AFC.
Trades brought tackles Shaun Rogers of the Cleveland Browns and Kris Jenkins of the New York Jets to AFC teams. Rogers and Jenkins have been two of the more dominating players in the league this season. Albert Haynesworth of the Tennessee Titans, Vince Wilfork of the New England Patriots and Jamal Williams of the San Diego Chargers were last season's AFC Pro Bowl tackles, and Casey Hampton of the Pittsburgh Steelers and John Henderson of the Jacksonville Jaguars were the top two alternates. Richard Seymour of the Patriots, Haloti Ngata of the Baltimore Ravens and Marcus Stroud of the Buffalo Bills also are in this year's mix. Only three go, so several Pro Bowl-caliber AFC defensive tackles will be slighted. In the NFC, Pat Williams and Kevin Williams of the Minnesota Vikings are favorites to return (though Pat Williams is out two to six weeks with a shoulder injury suffered Sunday). They would be ineligible had a Minneapolis judge not granted an injunction to let them continue playing despite their suspensions for a banned substance that was in diet pills they were taking.
2. It will be interesting to see how the coaches' and players' voting reshapes the quarterback selections.
Brett Favre of the Jets, Peyton Manning of the Indianapolis Colts, Jay Cutler of the Denver Broncos, Ben Roethlisberger of the Steelers and Kerry Collins of the Titans were the top five quarterbacks in fan voting. Will Roethlisberger beat out Cutler because the Steelers are 11-3, even though his numbers aren't as good as Cutler's? In the NFC, the debate rests on whether Matt Ryan of the Falcons will crack a top three that is rock-solid. Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints, Eli Manning of the New York Giants and Kurt Warner of the Arizona Cardinals finished as the top three in fan voting. Ryan was fifth, but "Matty Ice" has the Atlanta Falcons in the wild-card hunt and in second place in the competitive NFC South. And where does Tony Romo of the Cowboys fit in?
3. The incredible rookie class of running backs could earn spots on the AFC team, but it could be overwhelmed in the run-heavy NFC.
Among AFC rushers, Chris Johnson of the Titans ranks second only to veteran Thomas Jones of the Jets with 1,159 yards. Steve Slaton of the Houston Texans is right behind him with 1,124 yards, but a late rush of 350 yards in the past three games could leave him a little short. Will they beat out veterans Marshawn Lynch of the Bills and LaDainian Tomlinson of the Chargers? The NFC is rough. Seven of the top 10 runners in the league are in the NFC, including Chicago Bears rookie Matt Forte, who ranks eighth with 1,115 yards. Adrian Peterson of the Vikings, Michael Turner of the Falcons and Clinton Portis of the Redskins are most likely to be named the three Pro Bowlers, but DeAngelo Williams of the Carolina Panthers is right behind them at 1,229 yards.
4. Offensive-line voting could have a Manhattan twist.
Last season, New England's 16-0 regular-season record helped three Patriots -- Matt Light, Logan Mankins and Dan Koppen -- go to Hawaii with quarterback Tom Brady. Part of what led the Giants to their Super Bowl success (and continued solid performance) is the togetherness and talent of their offensive line. Guard Chris Snee has been a Pro Bowl alternate the past couple of years. Tackle David Diehl and center Shaun O'Hara have had Pro Bowl seasons, and right tackle Kareem McKenzie ranks fourth in fan voting. For the Jets, guard Alan Faneca is a lock. Center Nick Mangold and tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson ranked high in fan voting and might join Faneca in Hawaii.
5. Terrell Owens has been complaining about not getting the ball from Tony Romo, but he'll blow up even more if he doesn't go to the Pro Bowl.
Owens ranks in a tie for 30th for receptions with 58. He has 886 yards and nine touchdowns. Owens finished fourth in fan voting, but he's going against Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald of the Cardinals, Roddy White of the Falcons, Antonio Bryant of the Bucs, Greg Jennings of the Green Bay Packers and Calvin Johnson of the Detroit Lions. All those players have each racked up 1,000 yards and more than 70 catches. Owens has the support of many players, but he might fall short because of his numbers. Four receivers go to Hawaii. Jason Witten should go with Chris Cooley as the NFC tight ends.
John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
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