AFC South: Pro Bowl analysis
Perfect sense: J.J. Watt, the presumed front-runner for NFL Defensive Player of the Year, is starting the Pro Bowl, as are left tackle Duane Brown, receiver Andre Johnson and running back Arian Foster. They’ve all been stars for the Texans, who are in position to secure the No. 1 seed in the AFC with a win at Indianapolis on Sunday. Chris Myers, the Texans' wily veteran center, is a backup behind Pittsburgh’s Maurkice Pouncey. Colts receiver Reggie Wayne ranks behind Johnson and A.J. Green, who are the starters, but is part of the four-receiver unit along with New England’s Wes Welker. Wayne's been excellent for a team that shed a lot of veterans and has been a great and productive leader amid a youth movement. Foster’s yards per carry are down nearly half a yard since last year, but with two-fifths of his offensive line replaced, that’s not so bad, and his team is better than Ray Rice's or Jamaal Charles'.
Made it on rep: Johnathan Joseph was fantastic last year and went to his first Pro Bowl. This one is on the coattails of that one. He has dealt with groin and hamstring injuries. He missed two games and struggled badly in several others. Kareem Jackson blossomed on the other side of the Texans’ defense and was more deserving, in my eyes. I can’t say Texans guard Wade Smith made it on reputation. His reputation is for being a workmanlike piece of a line that plays better than the sum of its parts. Colts outside linebacker Robert Mathis was good, but not spectacular. I won’t argue against him being in, but I don’t think it would have been a huge insult if he didn’t make it.
Got robbed: Matt Schaub has done a lot of good things this year, including throwing for a remarkable 527 yards against Jacksonville on Oct. 18 in an overtime win. But I would have put Colts rookie Andrew Luck ahead of Schaub as the AFC’s third quarterback, behind Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. I’m not offended that it didn’t break that way. To me, however, Luck’s year has been more impressive. His offense pushes the ball downfield more than any other in the NFL. He has thrown too many picks, for sure. But seven comeback wins out of 10 team wins just a year after the franchise won only two games is remarkable. Schaub has got a load of talent around him, and you can’t punish him for that. At the same time, Luck has helped make several rookies around him, a patchwork offensive line and even the below-average defense all better than they really are. There are no Titans or Jaguars on the AFC team, and I’m not sure a case can be made that there is anything wrong with that.
Click here for the complete Pro Bowl roster.
Here's a quick take on who's in and who missed out on the game everybody wants to be on the roster for, but few actually want to play in.
Tennessee Titans (6 selections)
The Titans had the best record in the league when player and coach balloting was conducted, and they got three starters in the Pro Bowl in Mawae, Haynesworth and Finnegan. They will be joined by running back Chris Johnson, left tackle Michael Roos and strong safety Chris Hope.
Finnegan, Johnson, Roos and Hope are all Pro Bowl selections for the first time.
Though Haynesworth is going to miss the final two regular season games with a sprained MCL in his left knee, he would have met play/time incentives connected to wins anyway. But those contractual mechanisms are moot now. Getting named to the Pro Bowl means the Titans cannot put the franchise tag on him for a second year, and while they can start negotiating with him after the final regular season game, he is on track to become an unrestricted free agent.
While it's easy to complain about the process that selects the team, it worked the way it should instead of the way it usually does in the case of two Titans.
Finnegan played well and it got him enough attention to get the spot he deserved. He had five interceptions to help his case. Roos had no stats and only ranked fourth in fan voting, but players and coaches put him over the top. Typically a young tackle with a small market team might not get to the Pro Bowl until two years after he reached a Pro Bowl level. But Roos is hitting his peak and broke through.
Snub discussion: Outside linebacker Keith Bulluck has gotten used to getting bypassed -- he's only been to one Pro Bowl in nine seasons. Michael Griffin is probably playing Pro Bowl caliber ball but if there are only three spots for safeties, Troy Polamalu, Ed Reed and Hope sure seem like right ones. Fullback Ahmard Hall is a worthy candidate if you're looking for a blocker, but voters seem incapable of focusing on the primary piece of the job. They liked LeRon McClain, who's a fullback that gets a lot of carries -- he has 693 rushing yards and seven touchdowns. Kicker Rob Bironas has comparable numbers to Stephen Gostkowski.
Indianapolis Colts (4)
Quarterback Peyton Manning will be the starting quarterback in his ninth Pro Bowl. After he missed all of training camp and the preseason following two knee surgeries, he and the Colts started slow. But Manning and his team have restored the natural order. The competition is pretty weak, but Manning could be in line for his third MVP award. Among his receivers in Hawaii are Reggie Wayne, who will come off the bench with Wes Welker, and starters Andre Johnson and Brandon Marshall.
The Colts have two of the three Pro Bowlers at defensive end with Dwight Freeney starting and Robert Mathis earning the spot as a reserve. It's well deserved. Mathis was long cast as a situational player, but he's a well rounded end who terrorizes quarterbacks and strips them a ridiculously high percentage of the time he hits them.
Snub discussion: Tight end Dallas Clark has put together a great resume this season, but was trapped behind Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates. The Jets Nick Mangold, not Jeff Saturday, will play behind Kevin Mawae at center. Saturday missed four games and the Colts early struggles on the offensive line were a big story.
Houston Texans (2)
Johnson and Williams, selected for the first time, are cornerstone players for the Texans and have a chance to finish the season at 9-7 if they can win two more.
Snub discussion: Owen Daniels knows he can be productive and not earn a spot so long as Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates are around. Dallas Clark isn't going either, and he probably ranks ahead of Daniels in the eyes of the voters too. Take pride in being the fourth-best guy, Owen, there are a ton of teams that would love to have you.
Jacksonville Jaguars (0)
A 5-9 season produced no Pro Bowlers for Jacksonville. It's hard to make a case for anyone but running back Maurice Jones-Drew, the second leading scorer among non-kickers in the AFC. But he didn't deserve to go ahead of Thomas Jones, Ronnie Brown or Chris Johnson.