NFC West: Pro Bowl

Eighteen players from the NFC West earned Pro Bowl honors this season. Only the NFC North (19) had more players honored.

The NFC West still has some catching up to do since realignment in 2002, however. The chart shows the number of Pro Bowl selections by division since then. The NFC West ranks seventh with 125.

The totals for this season look like this: NFC North 19, NFC West 18, AFC East 16, AFC North 15, AFC West 14, AFC South 12, NFC East 12 and NFC South 12.

Feel free to bring along these figures to the next divisional cocktail party you attend.

NFC West Pro Bowl update as Fitz added

January, 22, 2013
An updated look at NFC West players named to the Pro Bowl after the NFL announced Larry Fitzerald's addition to the NFC squad:

Arizona Cardinals

Named to team initially: cornerback Patrick Peterson.

Named to team as an alternate: receiver Larry Fitzgerald, replacing the injured Brandon Marshall; and inside linebacker Daryl Washington, replacing Super Bowl participant NaVorro Bowman.

Comment: Fitzgerald ranked 20th among NFC players in receiving yards this season. He ranked 16th in receptions. He ranked tied for 29th in receptions. Other players would have been more deserving as alternates. I went back to see if Fitzgerald were snubbed when he missed the Pro Bowl following the 2004 and 2006 seasons, just to see if his selection to the squad this year might qualify as a make-up call. That was not the case. Fitzgerald did not have Pro Bowl-caliber stats during those seasons. However, Fitzgerald has earned his high standing in the league. He's a great player even though he didn't have a great season for reasons relating directly to the Cardinals' issues at quarterback.

San Francisco 49ers

Named to team initially: Bowman, free safety Dashon Goldson, running back Frank gore, guard Mike Iupati, outside linebacker Aldon Smith, defensive end Justin Smith, tackle Joe Staley, strong safety Donte Whitner, inside linebacker Patrick Willis.

Comment: The 49ers are in the Super Bowl, which made all their selections ineligible to play in the Pro Bowl. It's looking like Michael Crabtree could challenge Fitzgerald and the other NFC receivers for a Pro Bowl spot next season. He topped 1,100 yards this season and his production spiked with Colin Kaepernick behind center.

Seattle Seahawks

Named to team initially: running back Marshawn Lynch, tackle Russell Okung, free safety Earl Thomas, center Max Unger, returner Leon Washington.

Named to team as an alternate: quarterback Russell Wilson, in place of the injured Matt Ryan.

Comment: The fact that Charles Tillman, Tim Jennings and Peterson missed the Super Bowl means zero spots have opened up for alternates at cornerback. Seattle's Richard Sherman certainly was worthy of consideration at that position. Lynch's status will be worth monitoring here. He suffered a foot injury during the playoffs.

St. Louis Rams

Named to team initially: none.

Named to team as an alternate: none.

Comment: Those advocating Jeff Fisher as a coach of the year candidate should note that the team had no players named to the Pro Bowl and no players named as alternates. There is young talent on this roster, however. Defensive tackle Michael Brockers is one player to watch next season.

Russell Wilson and Pro Bowl worthiness

January, 22, 2013
Aaron Rodgers, Matt Ryan and Robert Griffin III were named to the Pro Bowl as NFC quarterbacks this season.

All three withdrew from the game, citing injuries.

That left alternates Drew Brees, Eli Manning and Russell Wilson to replace them. Were they worthy? The chart compares regular-season stats for all six quarterbacks.

Rodgers, Ryan and Wilson would have been my top three when all six of the quarterbacks' seasons concluded. Pro Bowl voting took place with two regular-season games remaining. Rodgers, Ryan and Griffin would have been my choices at that point in the season, followed by Wilson, Brees and Manning if those six were the players from which to choose.

Your thoughts?

Washington, Wilson worthy of Pro Bowl

January, 21, 2013
Picking apart the Pro Bowl selection process has become sport for NFL fans frustrated by seemingly unworthy choices.

The groans have almost become automatic when the NFL announces players appearing as replacements for those unable to participate for reasons ranging from injuries to participation in the Super Bowl.

Sometimes the replacement process works out best for all involved. That was the case when the San Francisco 49ers' advancement to the Super Bowl cleared the way for Arizona's Daryl Washington and Washington's London Fletcher to represent their teams on the NFC squad as inside linebackers. Both players have been deserving, but it was tough beating out the 49ers' Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman.

Washington's selection as a replacement for Bowman makes him a Pro Bowl player for the first time. He had nine sacks, two forced fumbles and an interception for a Cardinals defense that ranked among the NFL's top five in expected points added (EPA), Total QBR, third-down rate, interception rate, sack rate, first downs, red zone efficiency and passer rating. Washington signed a contract extension before the season.

The NFC West also will see Seattle's Russell Wilson ascend to the Pro Bowl.

Wilson was the third alternate in voting that ended right before Wilson tossed four touchdown passes during a 42-13 victory over San Francisco. Wilson then led the winning 90-yard touchdown drive against St. Louis a week later before guiding Seattle to the verge of the NFC Championship Game with a record-setting performance against Atlanta in the divisional playoffs.

Wilson will replace the Falcons' Matt Ryan, who suffered a shoulder injury against the 49ers on Sunday. Ryan will miss the game. Aaron Rodgers and Robert Griffin III already withdrew from the Pro Bowl.

Wilson finished the regular season eighth in Total QBR and fifth in NFL passer rating. He led the NFL in both categories from Week 10 through the divisional round of the playoffs, where a last-second loss to Atlanta eliminated the Seahawks. Wilson becomes the Seahawks' first Pro Bowl quarterback since Matt Hasselbeck and the first quarterback in team history to achieve Pro Bowl status for the team as one of its own draft choices.
Aaron Rodgers' withdrawal from the Pro Bowl moves Seattle Seahwaks rookie Russell Wilson one step closer to playing in the game.

Wilson was the third alternate for the annual all-star game.

Rodgers, Robert Griffin III and Matt Ryan were the three quarterbacks named to the NFC roster. Griffin is already out while recovering from knee surgery. Ryan would be out if his Atlanta Falcons advanced to the Super Bowl.

Drew Brees was named to the game as the first alternate. Eli Manning was the second alternate.

Wilson would be named to the NFC roster if Ryan were in the Super Bowl or if one of the other alternates skipped the game.

NFC West Pro Bowl analysis

December, 26, 2012
NFC Pro Bowl: East | West | North | South AFC Pro Bowl: East | West | North | South

Perfect sense: The San Francisco 49ers put nine players in the Pro Bowl. The Seattle Seahawks were next among NFC West teams with five. Arizona had one. St. Louis had none. These results were not shocking.

The 49ers sent two-fifths of their starting offensive line and six members of their defense to the Pro Bowl. Tackle Joe Staley and guard Mike Iupati were natural selections on the line.

The 49ers' Frank Gore and the Seahawks' Marshawn Lynch were solid choices behind Adrian Peterson at running back.

Seahawks offensive line coach Tom Cable suggested Russell Okung was playing as well as any left tackle around. Voters apparently agreed. They named him as one of the starters, a first for Okung. Voters showed some smarts by selecting Seattle's Max Unger as the starting center. He's been very good since last season. The word must be getting around.

Patrick Peterson's struggles as a punt returner for Arizona did not keep him from becoming a first-time Pro Bowl choice at cornerback. Peterson made it only as a returner last season. He has generally been very good in pass coverage this season, although San Francisco gave him problems in a Monday night game. Peterson might not be the best corner in the NFC West, but he has had a good season overall.

NFC West defensive backs scored big for the second year in a row. The 49ers' Dashon Goldson (starter) and Seattle's Earl Thomas (backup) are the free safeties. The 49ers' Donte Whitner is the strong safety. All play for top defenses and winning teams. That probably gave them the edge over Arizona's Kerry Rhodes and St. Louis' Quintin Mikell. Defensive back play is a strength in the division.

Returner Leon Washington has helped Seattle rank among the league leaders in field position this season. He was a strong choice as the kickoff returner.

Made it on rep: I was watching to see whether Larry Fitzgerald would make it on name. He did not. The quarterback situation in Arizona isn't his fault, of course, but Pro Bowl selections Calvin Johnson, Brandon Marshall, Julio Jones and Victor Cruz head a long list of receivers enjoying more productive seasons in 2012. The other players selected from the NFC West have been having good enough seasons to receive strong consideration. We can debate whether all were the best choices, but that is true every year. None of the players selected should apologize to anyone.

Some have questioned whether the 49ers' Justin Smith has been as effective this season. His sacks are down. Smith made it as a starter at defensive tackle even though he plays defensive end in the base defense. Smith was a worthy choice despite his diminished sack production, in my view. The 49ers' recent struggles without him provide supporting evidence.

Got robbed: Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman, Cardinals linebackers Daryl Washington, Cardinals defensive end Calais Campbell and 49ers punter Andy Lee are four that come to mind first. The Rams put no players in the Pro Bowl despite a vastly improved record. There were no obvious oversights, however.

Sherman has arguably been the best corner in the NFL this season. He's also facing a potential four-game suspension for allegedly using performance-enhancing drugs. Voters must have held that against him. Otherwise, Sherman would have been an easy choice, even above the very deserving players selected.

Washington, who leads the Cardinals with nine sacks, should get some sort of consideration even though it's tough to say the 49ers' Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman were undeserving. All three are inside linebackers. Willis and Bowman are less specialized. They're plenty fast, but also able to take on blocks. Washington relies more on avoiding opposing linemen to blow up plays. He's very good at it, too. But the road to Hawaii runs through San Francisco for inside linebackers. Best of luck to anyone trying to break through.

At punter, I haven't studied New Orleans' Thomas Morstead enough to comment on his play, but the punters from San Francisco, Seattle and Arizona would have been worthy choices based on their play this season.

Campbell has been flat-out dominant at times this season. He also missed games to injury. But with the Cardinals' defense ranking among the league leaders against the pass despite no help from their own offense, Campbell had to get consideration.

Washington's Robert Griffin III beat out Seattle's Russell Wilson as a backup quarterback on the NFC squad. Wilson has closed ground recently, but voting took place a week ago. That put Wilson at a disadvantage. He would have had a better chance if voting took place this week or possibly next.

Thomas was the lone Seahawks defender. That was a bit of a surprise for a team that has allowed fewer points than any other. Chris Clemons? Brandon Mebane? It wasn't to be for Seattle's defensive line. Late-game breakdowns against Detroit and Miami didn't help. Seattle's run defense also softened as the season progressed.

Click here for the complete Pro Bowl roster.

Where NFC West stands in Pro Bowl voting

November, 14, 2012
A few thoughts on where NFC West teams and players stand -- or do not stand -- in ongoing fan balloting for the Pro Bowl:
NFL teams would rather have a young future Pro Bowl prospect than a washed-up player with a Pro Bowl in his distant past.

For that reason, the number of players on a roster with Pro Bowl experience isn't an air-tight way to measure roster strength. It can be a pretty good indicator when taking a big-picture view, however.

The San Francisco 49ers head into Week 10 with an NFL-high 13 players having at least one Pro Bowl to their names. They certainly have one of the strongest rosters in the NFL.

The list includes David Akers, Leonard Davis, Vernon Davis, Dashon Goldson, Jonathan Goodwin, Frank Gore, Brian Jennings, Andy Lee, Randy Moss, Carlos Rogers, Justin Smith, Joe Staley and Patrick Willis.

I would expect additional 49ers to achieve Pro Bowl consideration in 2012. NaVorro Bowman, Mike Iupati, Anthony Davis and Aldon Smith would be logical candidates for first-time consideration.

Seattle ranks tied for third among NFL teams with 11 Pro Bowlers. Baltimore (12), Pittsburgh (11) and Philadelphia (11) are in the same range, followed by New England (10), Green Bay (10) and Chicago (10).

The Seahawks' list includes Brandon Browner, Kam Chancellor, Braylon Edwards, Heath Farwell, Marshawn Lynch, Zach Miller, Sidney Rice, Michael Robinson, Earl Thomas, Marcus Trufant and Leon Washington.

Cornerback Richard Sherman would be a logical candidate for first-time consideration. Defensive linemen Brandon Mebane and Chris Clemons have at times played at a Pro Bowl level. Punter Jon Ryan has played well, too.

Arizona and St. Louis are tied for 25th with five Pro Bowlers apiece.

The Cardinals' list features Darnell Dockett, Larry Fitzgerald, Todd Heap, Patrick Peterson and Adrian Wilson. Linebacker Daryl Washington is an obvious candidate for consideration this season. Safety Kerry Rhodes has also played well at times.

The Rams' list includes Cortland Finnegan, Steven Jackson, Quintin Mikell, Steve Smith and Scott Wells. Chris Long has played at a Pro Bowl level at times. Rookie kicker Greg Zuerlein deserves consideration. Linebacker James Laurinaitis faces stiff competition at inside linebacker.

The fan portion of Pro Bowl balloting is ongoing.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has revived debate over the Pro Bowl and its worthiness. Is he genuinely concerned for the quality of the game? Or are there more sinister motives? And should the game go on? NFC West blogger Mike Sando and NFC East counterpart Dan Graziano pick up the discussion.

Sando: Dan, I know what you're going to say. The Pro Bowl is one of our cherished American institutions. Fathers and daughters, mothers and sons, have for generations set aside one Sunday each February to watch what is, by all accounts, a celebration unlike any other. When that NFL offseason calendar finally comes out via emailed news release and we know for certain the Pro Bowl date, well --

Graziano: You know, Mike, when I told you I thought you should get the first word on this, I expected you to make your case for why it should go. I'm still waiting. The Pro Bowl's not hurting anyone. The players love going. It gets good TV ratings. No one has to watch it if they don't want to watch it. I don't understand what's so offensive about it that it has to be abolished. So some guys who have been beating each other's brains out for half a year get to kick it in Hawaii for a week and play flag football. Why should that bother anyone?

Sando: They'll either cancel it now or after a quarterback suffers a freak injury. Why risk losing one of the average or slightly above-average quarterbacks named to the game as a replacement? And if one of the truly elite quarterbacks gets hurt, imagine the outrage. In the immortal words of Ricky Watters, "For who? For what?"

Graziano: I guess, but what was the last major Pro Bowl-related injury? My issue with it is this: If they want to scrap the game, fine. I don't watch it and won't miss it. I just don't want Roger Goodell to expect me to buy that the quality of the on-field product is the reason for doing it. This is the same league that fed us a month's worth of replacement officials because it wanted to bust the officials' union, and killed the 2011 offseason because it wanted to bust the players' union. I don't think the quality of the on-field product is ever the NFL's chief motivation for its actions, and I don't buy it now. This is a bargaining chip -- a means of trying to get something out of the players, who want to keep the game. The game drew 12.5 million viewers this year, and the league's broadcast partners certainly aren't looking to get rid of it. It's impossible for me to believe they would scrap a ratings winner (more viewers than the Major League Baseball All-Star Game) just because they don't think guys hit hard enough in it. Something's fishy.

Sando: Wait, the game is profitable and doing well in the ratings, and the commissioner wants to scrap it as a bargaining chip? Why give up sure money for potential money?

Graziano: So you're taking him at his word? You don't think he has any ulterior motive for doing this? You don't think he's still trying to get that 18-game schedule, and that he sees this as a potential avenue for getting something he wants by holding hostage something the players want? Am I just a conspiracy theorist?

Sando: Nope, wouldn't take him at his word. Goodell definitely wants that 18-game schedule. The commissioner has an agenda. Lots of people do. Some of the attorneys and players suing the league have agendas, too. It's a little incongruous for players and their union to promote player safety while lobbying to uphold a game utterly lacking in consequence. If the commissioner had made keeping the Pro Bowl a huge priority, the union probably would have argued against it by now. We all agree the game isn't very good. The fact that some people would rather watch it than watch nothing isn't much of a defense.

Graziano: No, but it is a reason to think the league would want to keep it, all else being equal. Which is why I'm suspicious there is more to this than just "the game isn't very good, so there's no reason to keep having it." Heck, the same could be said for the Jacksonville Jaguars, but Goodell's not calling for them to be abolished.

Sando: So, the Pro Bowl is basically the Jacksonville Jaguars of pro all-star games. Keep it! Seriously, Dan, I think players should still earn Pro Bowl honors. But with so many truly elite players opting out of the game or missing it because of postseason obligations, the league has devalued the game further. Twenty-four players went to the Pro Bowl last season as replacements for Super Bowl participants and/or injured players.

Graziano: Which is the real reason the league sees it as a worthwhile target -- it can help them extract something they want from the players. Again, I couldn't care less if they get rid of the game or not. My problem is that he's being obviously disingenuous about his reasons for doing so, telling the public, "You don't like this thing anyway, right?" and forcing the players to fight for something no one else likes just because it's pleasant and profitable for them. It's business, I get it. But the way the NFL does business gets shadier and shadier all the time. The Pro Bowl isn't in trouble because it's hurting anybody. It's in trouble because putting it there can help NFL owners get something they want.

Sando: I've now spent more time writing about the Pro Bowl than either one of us has probably spent watching one. A-ha! That's what Goodell wanted all along, people talking about his product. Looks like it worked. No more.

News that the Pro Bowl is likely going away comes a couple months after commissioner Roger Goodell threatened to discontinue the game.

Television ratings for the annual all-star game have remained relatively strong, but the product does nothing to enhance the NFL's brand, in my view. The drama and strategy that make real games compelling cannot exist in a Pro Bowl context.

The NFL Players Association has promoted continuing the game, calling it an important tradition. I get it, but elite players worried about risking injuries unnecessarily should welcome the news.

"Guys play a full season, they play physical through a full season, and you get rewarded," the New England Patriots' Vince Wilfork said during Super Bowl week. "The last thing you want to do is go out in a game like that and hurt yourself. That is not good for the individual or for the organization."

Wilfork's coach, Bill Belichick, responded humorously when asked about Aaron Rodgers' complaints that the 2012 Pro Bowl had become even more farcical than its predecessors. It was clear Belichick thought poorly of what the game had become.

"I felt like some of the guys on the NFC side embarrassed themselves," Rodgers told ESPN 540 in Milwaukee. "I was just surprised that some of the guys either didn't want to play or when they were in there didn't put any effort into it."

There should be no faking tackle football. It's a game best played with emotion and with something at stake beyond the potential for injury.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Quarterback Aaron Rodgers kicked off Super Bowl week by complaining about the Pro Bowl.

Midway through the week, New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick implied he felt similarly about the NFL's annual all-star game.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell capped the week by threatening to discontinue the annual all-star game if uncompetitive play continues.

Additionally competitive play should result now that the NFL's Most Valuable Player (Rodgers), its most decorated coach (Belichick) and highest-ranking executive (Goodell) have voiced their displeasure. Anyone planning to blatantly loaf through the game has been put on notice. Goodell's comments resembled what a coach might say through the media to get his team's attention. Time to step it up, guys.

George Atallah of the NFL Players Association responded Sunday by saying the game should continue.

I doubt the league would discontinue the game right away. TV ratings dipped some to a 7.9, but the Pro Bowl was still the highest-rated sporting event of the weekend. Players will not go full speed, nor should they. But they'll likely pick up the pace next year to avoid drawing more fire.

INDIANAPOLIS -- Bill Belichick seemed to weigh his options carefully when asked about Aaron Rodgers' complaints about the Pro Bowl lacking a certain competitive zeal.

"Um, what I'm going to say wouldn't be probably what I should say," the New England Patriots' coach said Wednesday during his Super Bowl news conference.

Belichick paused.

"I'm going to let that one go," he said.

Another pause.

"What it was and what it is now is a lot different," he added.

What the Pro Bowl was long ago -- a marginally competitive all-star game featuring final scores such as 10-6, 23-21 and 23-10 -- has turned into a game where the losing team routinely has 30-plus points. Rodgers, the Green Bay Packers' Pro Bowl quarterback, lamented the NFC squad's lack of competitiveness during a 59-41 defeat Sunday. He said some players from the NFC squad embarrassed themselves with their lack of effort.

Rodgers did not name guilty parties, of course. NFC West teams had 17 Pro Bowlers this season, including some who withdrew from the game.

Once Belichick's news conference finished, I went across the hall to poll New England players on the subject during their daily media session.

"I tried to go hard in the game," said linebacker Jerod Mayo, a Pro Bowl selection in 2010. "The harder you go, the less likely you are to get injured. You try to tempo it a little bit, you're probably going to get hurt."

Nose tackle Vince Wilfork, a four-time Pro Bowl choice, advocates caution.

"Guys play a full season, they play physical through a full season, and you get rewarded," Wilfork said. "The last thing you want to do is go out in a game like that and hurt yourself. That is not good for the individual or for the organization."

Guard Logan Mankins, also a four-time Pro Bowl selection, said he doubts there's a realistic way to ramp up competitiveness.

"I don't know how you fix it," Mankins said. "You're going to give a little effort, but you're not going to get out of control. Some guys are free agents over there. You get hurt in a Pro Bowl and it's going to affect that contract with another team. Who would want to get hurt in a Pro Bowl and not be able to play the next season?"

On Aaron Rodgers' Pro Bowl complaints

February, 1, 2012
INDIANAPOLIS -- Retired tight end Todd Christensen once half-jokingly said he could "smell the Mai Tais in the huddle" during Pro Bowl games.

The annual all-star game has always been a farce.

Aaron Rodgers thought things went too far during the most recent game Sunday.

"I felt like some of the guys on the NFC side embarrassed themselves," Rodgers told ESPN 540 in Milwaukee. "I was just surprised that some of the guys either didn't want to play or when they were in there didn't put any effort into it."

OK, then. What to do?

Canceling the game is one option. Keeping the current setup is another. Upping the financial stakes for winning the Pro Bowl stands out to me as the only way to ensure a higher level of play. But doing so would diminish the experience for players, who mostly enjoy the camaraderie.

I'd be interested in your take. It's something I'll revisit later in the day.

2012 Pro Bowl counts: NFC West up there

December, 28, 2011
The San Francisco 49ers (eight), Arizona Cardinals (three) and Seattle Seahawks (one) have combined to give the NFC West more initial Pro Bowl selections than the NFC East and AFC South combined.

The chart breaks down the counts by offense, defense and special teams for each division.

The counts will change as players withdraw from the game for various reasons.

Around the NFC West: Pro Bowl surprises

December, 28, 2011
A single tweet from a Philadelphia reporter trumped all the others I ran across after the NFL announced its Pro Bowl teams for the 2011 season.

"I have to say this one more time before I go to bed," Les Bowen of the Philadelphia Daily News wrote. "49ers have more Pro Bowlers (8) than the entire NFC East (7). Not how I saw it in August."

The situation at cornerback was particularly illustrative. Carlos Rogers, a relatively cheap pickup by the San Francisco 49ers in free agency, is a Pro Bowl starter. Nnamdi Asomugha, the Philadelphia Eagles' prized offseason acquisition, is only a second alternate -- behind first-alternate Brandon Browner, a player the Seattle Seahawks signed from the CFL amid zero fanfare.

Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle provides perspective by noting that the 2011 49ers tied a franchise record with six Pro Bowl starters. Branch: "They also had six starters in 1971. San Francisco and New England, which also had eight players selected, have the most Pro Bowlers of any NFL team this season and the Niners' eight Pro Bowlers are their most since they had 10 in 1995."

Matt Maiocco of passes along reaction from 49ers players following their selection to the Pro Bowl.

Also from Maiocco: player-by-player review for the 49ers' defensive players from Week 16.

More from Maiocco: a look at the offensive players.

Clare Farnsworth of says Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor and the team's other Pro Bowl selections/alternates earned their standing on the strength of votes from coaches and players. Coach Pete Carroll on Chancellor and Browner: "As first-time starters, the fans wouldn’t really know them. But their peers have recognized the impact that they’ve had."

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times takes a closer look at the range where the Seahawks figure to draft in the first round.

Brady Henderson of 710ESPN Seattle passes along Carroll's thoughts on what Tarvaris Jackson could do better late in games. Henderson: "Specifically, Carroll pointed to a third-and-2 play on the final possession in which Jackson threw incomplete deep down the middle of the field. Carroll said throwing a check-down pass instead would have gained about 15 yards."

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic checks in with the Cardinals' Pro Bowlers, including Adrian Wilson. Somers: "This is Wilson's fourth consecutive Pro Bowl selection and fifth overall. In early August, it didn't seem possible that he would play this season, much less make the Pro Bowl. Wilson suffered a torn right biceps muscle in training camp and missed the preseason. He didn't play well in the first month or so of the season, but then settled into coordinator Ray Horton's new scheme. Wilson thanked his teammates, the coaching staff and the rest of the organization for being patient while he returned from the injury."

Also from Somers: The Cardinals plan to bring back quarterback Kevin Kolb even though they could get out of his contract by declining to pay a $7 million bonus. Somers: "He's not going anywhere. The Cardinals traded away too much (cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, second-round pick in 2012) and committed to a five-year contract worth as much as $63 million. Kolb has missed six starts and most of a seventh game this season due to injury, but the Cardinals are too deep in this relationship to sever it after one year. And just as important, who takes over if Kolb is gone?" Noted: That last part is a key consideration. It's a little early to bail on such a significant investment under unusual circumstances.

Darren Urban of has this to say about John Skelton's slow starts and fast finishes: "It’s so odd, not that Skelton plays better at the end of games but that there is such a discrepancy on how much better he plays. Is it inexperience, or a lack of a full offseason of reps (since he got little as a rookie in his non-lockout offseason), as coach Ken Whisenhunt suggests? Maybe. But it’s hard to tell why Skelton suddenly gets all Brady in the final 15 minutes (yes, he is compared to Tebow, but Skelton usually is passing the ball better than Tebow late) when he can be very John Navarre before then."

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Chris Long, Steven Jackson and James Laurinaitis have played well enough to receive Pro Bowl consideration. Thomas: "Laurinaitis is enjoying arguably his best NFL season, with 131 tackles, three sacks, and two interceptions. But only two middle linebackers per conference earn Pro Bowl berths, and San Francisco's Patrick Willis and Chicago's Brian Urlacher -- this year's NFC Pro Bowlers -- are tough competition." Noted: I hadn't considered Laurinaitis seriously given the Rams' struggles on defense, particularly against the run. The Cardinals blocked him well while springing Beanie Wells for 228 yards. Some of the other inside linebackers in the NFC West -- Daryl Washington, NaVorro Bowman and K.J. Wright -- have sometimes stood out.

Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch offers thoughts on a report from San Diego suggesting Jon Gruden and A.J. Smith could come to St. Louis in leadership roles with the Rams. Miklasz: "My best guess is that the speculation is most likely originating from Los Angeles, home of off-the-books Rams adviser John Shaw, who is tight with Chargers' president/owner Dean Spanos."



Sunday, 1/25