Pro Bowl analysis: NFC North
The NFC North put nine players in the Pro Bowl this season. Before we get into the whys and the wherefores, let's look at the whos:
- Chicago linebacker Lance Briggs*
- Green Bay safety Nick Collins*
- Green Bay cornerback Charles Woodson*
- Minnesota defensive end Jared Allen
- Minnesota guard Steve Hutchinson
- Minnesota tailback Adrian Peterson*
- Minnesota defensive tackle Kevin Williams*
- Minnesota defensive tackle Pat Williams
- Minnesota cornerback Antoine Winfield*
- Chicago defensive tackle Tommie Harris (first)
- Chicago center Olin Kreutz (second)
- Chicago punter Brad Maynard (second)
- Chicago tight end Greg Olsen (second)
- Chicago kick returner/receiver Devin Hester (third)
- Chicago linebacker Brian Urlacher (third)
- Detroit kicker Jason Hanson (first)
- Detroit receiver Calvin Johnson (second)
- Green Bay cornerback Al Harris (unknown)
- Green Bay receiver Greg Jennings (first)
- Green Bay defensive end Aaron Kampman (unknown)
Analysis: The story of the division is probably Vikings cornerback Antoine Winfield, who made his first Pro Bowl team after 10 quietly productive NFL seasons. Winfield is one of the league's best tackling cornerbacks and has improved every year in coverage, but his middling interception totals usually excluded him from this list. He has only two interceptions this season, but a pair of early-season sacks/forced fumbles -- including one against New Orleans on "Monday Night Football" -- finally put him over the top.
I thought two Packers would make the team, and that one of them would be cornerback Charles Woodson. I guessed that receiver Greg Jennings would join him and safety Nick Collins would be a first alternate. Instead it's the opposite.
Collins is tied for third in the NFL with five interceptions and has returned three for touchdowns, and big plays are a significant part of playing the safety position. But none of those interceptions have come in the past five games and the Packers are 1-4 in that stretch amid a complete breakdown of their pass defense. Collins shares responsibility for that collapse, but ultimately the interceptions and touchdowns got him the name recognition a Pro Bowl player needs.
Jennings, meanwhile, improved his reception and yardage totals from last season but was caught in a logjam behind receivers who have more productive for better teams: Atlanta's Roddy White and Carolina's Steve Smith. It's hard to overcome the reputations of Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald, Jr., and Anquan Boldin, who are the NFC starters. The same goes for Detroit receiver Calvin Johnson, who has had a relatively spectacular season for the worst team in the NFL.
You could have made an argument for three NFC North kickers: Ryan Longwell, Robbie Gould or Jason Hanson. But only Hanson can top John Carney of the New York Giants, who has drilled 29 of 31 field goals for a 90 percent conversion rate and will represent the NFC East. Hanson has made 96 percent of his kicks, including all eight from 50 yards or beyond, but has 10 fewer attempts than Carney.
Finally, based on our earlier Pro Bowl post, there is a contingent of people who believe Minnesota's Chad Greenway was as deserving as Chicago's Lance Briggs. To which I say: Please. Greenway has put himself on the map with 132 tackles, 4.5 sacks and seven tackles behind the line of scrimmage this season. But Briggs has put up similar numbers -- remember, most defensive statistics are unofficial and determined by indiv
idual teams -- while carrying the burden of being his team's best defensive player.
When opponents plan for the Bears, the first player they consider is Briggs. Schemes are designed to avoid him or otherwise take him out of the play. When teams prepare for the Vikings, Greenway is no higher than fifth on their list of priorities. He has an easier path to make plays because he doesn't receive nearly the attention that Briggs does. At least not yet, anyway.