Thursday, December 22, 2011
NFC North Pro Bowl questions
By Kevin Seifert
Most of you know I'm not a big fan of the Pro Bowl. I don't necessarily have a way of making it better, but that doesn't mean I have to like the current incarnation. In the end, the rosters are rarely a true rendering of the best players in the NFL.
Fan balloting ended Wednesday, and you might be excited that NFC North players received more votes than those of any other division. I'm not. Mostly I'm impressed with your tenacity at the virtual ballot boxes. The Green Bay Packers' Chad Clifton, who hasn't played in two months, was the leading vote-getter among tackles? Well done.
Players and coaches are next up for voting. Teams for both the NFC and AFC will be announced Tuesday, to be followed shortly by injury- and playoff-related pullouts. In advance of the announcement, let's consider some of the more interesting Pro Bowl-related questions in the NFC North:
How will injuries impact the final voting?
Matt Forte has missed the past two games due to injury, but he's still second in the NFL in all-purpose yardage.
Minnesota Vikings tailback Adrian Peterson, Chicago Bears tailback Matt Forte and Packers receiver Greg Jennings were all having obvious Pro Bowl years before their seasons were cut back by injuries. Peterson has returned after missing three games but ranks behind 16 other players with 932 rushing yards. Forte's 1,487 all-purpose yards still rank No. 2 in the NFL, but he might not play again this season and thus would have only 12 starts on his stat line.
Jennings, meanwhile, is probably done for the regular season and doesn't rank among the NFL's top 10 in either receptions or receiving yards.
In an ideal world, voters wouldn't hold a few games missed for injury against deserving candidates. But let's face it: some players, fans and coaches use the NFL statistics leaders to cast their ballots.
Suh finished second among NFC defensive tackles in fan voting, but he quite frankly hasn't made the same impact as he did as a rookie in 2010. His three sacks rank behind eight other defensive tackles in the NFL, including two from the Bears alone; Henry Melton and Amobi Okoye have combined for 11 sacks.
Suh also missed two games because of his NFL suspension, further limiting his opportunities for production. We'll see.
Those of us who have seen most Packers games would agree Matthew has made an impact beyond his six sacks. But assuming that at least some voters use the stat packet for their guide, it must be noted that 37 players have more sacks.
With that said, Matthews also has two interceptions, 10 passes defensed and two forced fumbles. He's had a Pro Bowl season.
How many NFC North cornerbacks will make it?
I would say Packers cornerback Charles Woodson, who is tied for the NFL lead with seven interceptions, is a lock. But there are two other names to at least consider.
Lions cornerback Chris Houston has four interceptions, two of which he's returned for touchdowns, but has missed two games because of a knee injury. Meanwhile, Bears cornerback Charles Tillman has only two interceptions but has been widely complimented for his work against Lions receiver Calvin Johnson this season and overall has had an excellent year.
Chances are Woodson is the only player named Tuesday, but it wouldn't be surprising for Houston and Tillman to be named alternates.
Are both Bears linebackers in?
Lance Briggs has been named to every Pro Bowl since 2005 and Brian Urlacher returned last season after injury-related absences. Both have been healthy and productive this season and have the advantage of name recognition, but you never know how the Bears' late-season slide will impact their candidacies.
For what it's worth, Urlacher needs 36 tackles over the final two games of the season to match his 2010 total. Briggs has already surpassed last year's performance in terms of tackles.