NFL Nation: Pro Bowl analysis 2011

2012 Pro Bowl roster

December, 27, 2011

NFC Pro Bowl: East | West | North | South AFC Pro Bowl: East | West | North | South

Here is the roster for the 2012 Pro Bowl. The game will be played a week before the Super Bowl on Sunday, Jan. 29, 2012 in Honolulu. (* Denotes starter.)


* Tom Brady, New England
Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh
Philip Rivers, San Diego

Running back
* Ray Rice, Baltimore
Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville
Arian Foster, Houston

*Vonta Leach, Baltimore

Wide receiver
* Wes Welker, New England
* Mike Wallace, Pittsburgh
A.J. Green, Cincinnati
Brandon Marshall, Miami

Tight end
* Rob Gronkowski, New England
Antonio Gates, San Diego

* Joe Thomas, Cleveland
* Jake Long, Miami
D'Brickashaw Ferguson, N.Y. Jets

Guard * Logan Mankins, New England
* Brian Waters, New England
Marshal Yanda, Baltimore

* Maurkice Pouncey, Pittsburgh
Nick Mangold, N.Y. Jets


Defensive end
* Dwight Freeney, Indianapolis
* Andre Carter, New England
Elvis Dumervil, Denver

Interior linemen
* Haloti Ngata, Baltimore
* Vince Wilfork, New England
Richard Seymour, Oakland

Outside linebacker
* Terrell Suggs, Baltimore
* Von Miller, Denver
Tamba Hali, Kansas City

Inside/midde linebacker
* Ray Lewis, Baltimore
Derrick Johnson, Kansas City

* Darrelle Revis, N.Y. Jets
* Champ Bailey, Denver
Johnathan Joseph, Houston

Free safety
* Ed Reed, Baltimore
Eric Weddle, San Diego

Strong safety
* Troy Polamalu, Pittsburgh


Shane Lechler, Oakland

Sebastian Janikowski, Oakland

Kick returner
Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh

Matthew Slater, New England


* Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay
Drew Brees, New Orleans
Eli Manning, N.Y. Giants

Running back
* LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia
Matt Forte, Chicago
Frank Gore, San Francisco

* John Kuhn, Green Bay

Wide receiver
* Calvin Johnson, Detroit
* Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona
Steve Smith, Carolina
Greg Jennings, Green Bay

Tight end
* Jimmy Graham, New Orleans
Tony Gonzalez, Atlanta

* Jason Peters, Philadelphia
* Joe Staley, San Francisco
Jermon Bushrod, New Orleans

* Jahri Evans, New Orleans
* Carl Nicks, New Orleans
Davin Joseph, Tampa Bay

* Ryan Kalil, Carolina
Scott Wells, Green Bay


Defensive end
* Jared Allen, Minnesota
* Jason Babin, Philadelphia
Jason Pierre-Paul, N.Y. Giants

Interior linemen
* Justin Smith, San Francisco
* Jay Ratliff, Dallas
B.J. Raji, Green Bay

Outside linebacker
* DeMarcus Ware, Dallas
* Clay Matthews, Green Bay
Lance Briggs, Chicago

Inside/midde linebacker
* Patrick Willis, San Francisco
Brian Urlacher, Chicago

* Charles Woodson, Green Bay
* Carlos Rogers, San Francisco
Charles Tillman, Chicago

Free safety
* Earl Thomas, Seattle
Dashon Goldson, San Francisco

Strong safety
* Adrian Wilson, Arizona


Andy Lee, San Francisco

David Akers, San Francisco

Kick returner
Patrick Peterson, Arizona

Corey Graham, Chicago


Baltimore Ravens (7)
* Vonta Leach, fullback
* Ray Lewis, inside/middle linebacker
* Haloti Ngata, interior lineman
* Ed Reed, free safety
* Ray Rice, running back
* Terrell Suggs, outside linebacker
Marshal Yanda, guard

Cincinnati Bengals (1)
A.J. Green, wide receiver

Cleveland Browns (1)
* Joe Thomas, tackle

Denver Broncos (3)
* Champ Bailey, cornerback
Elvis Dumervil, defensive end
* Von Miller, outside linebacker

Houston Texans (2)
Arian Foster, running back
Johnathan Joseph, cornerback

Indianapolis Colts (1)
* Dwight Freeney, defensive end

Jacksonville Jaguars (1)
Maurice Jones-Drew, running back

Kansas City Chiefs (2)
Tamba Hali, outside linebacker
Derrick Johnson, inside/middle linebacker

Miami Dolphins (2)
* Jake Long, tackle
Brandon Marshall, wide receiver

New England Patriots (8)
* Tom Brady, quarterback
* Andre Carter, defensive end
* Rob Gronkowski, tight end
* Logan Mankins, guard
Matthew Slater, special-teamer
* Brian Waters, guard
* Wes Welker, wide receiver
* Vince Wilfork, interior lineman

N.Y. Jets (3)
D'Brickashaw Ferguson, tackle
Nick Mangold, center
* Darrelle Revis, cornerback

Oakland Raiders (3)
Sebastian Janikowski, place-kicker
Shane Lechler, punter
Richard Seymour, interior lineman

Pittsburgh Steelers (5)
Antonio Brown, kick returner
* Troy Polamalu, strong safety
* Maurkice Pouncey, center
Ben Roethlisberger, quarterback
* Mike Wallace, wide receiver

San Diego Chargers (3)
Antonio Gates, tight end
Philip Rivers, quarterback
Eric Weddle, free safety


Arizona Cardinals (3)
* Larry Fitzgerald, wide receiver
Patrick Peterson, kick returner
* Adrian Wilson, strong safety

Atlanta Falcons (1)
Tony Gonzalez, tight end

Carolina Panthers (2)
* Ryan Kalil, center
Steve Smith, wide receiver

Chicago Bears (5)
Lance Briggs, outside linebacker
Matt Forte, running back
Corey Graham, special-teamer
Charles Tillman, cornerback
Brian Urlacher, inside/middle linebacker

Dallas Cowboys (2)
* Jay Ratliff, interior lineman
* DeMarcus Ware, outside linebacker

Detroit Lions (1)
* Calvin Johnson, wide receiver

Green Bay Packers (7)
Greg Jennings, wide receiver
* John Kuhn, fullback
* Clay Matthews, outside linebacker
B.J. Raji, interior lineman
* Aaron Rodgers, quarterback
Scott Wells, center
* Charles Woodson, cornerback

Minnesota Vikings (1)
* Jared Allen, defensive end

New Orleans Saints (5)
Drew Brees, quarterback
Jermon Bushrod, tackle
* Jahri Evans, guard
* Jimmy Graham, tight end
* Carl Nicks, guard

N.Y. Giants (2)
Eli Manning, quarterback
Jason Pierre-Paul, defensive end

Philadelphia Eagles (3)
* Jason Babin, defensive end
* LeSean McCoy, running back
* Jason Peters, tackle

San Francisco 49ers (8)
David Akers, place-kicker
Dashon Goldson, free safety
Frank Gore, running back
Andy Lee, punter
* Carlos Rogers, cornerback
* Justin Smith, interior lineman
* Joe Staley, tackle
* Patrick Willis, inside/middle linebacker

Seattle Seahawks (1)
* Earl Thomas, free safety

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1)
Davin Joseph, guard

AFC North Pro Bowl analysis

December, 27, 2011
NFC Pro Bowl: East | West | North | South AFC Pro Bowl: East | West | North | South

Perfect sense: Headlining the six Pro Bowl starters for the Ravens is outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, who is an NFL Defensive Player of the Year candidate. He leads the AFC with a career-best 13 sacks to go along with six forced fumbles, five passes defensed and two interceptions. Steelers wide receiver Mike Wallace is third in the AFC in receiving yards (1,182) but he has the highest yards per catch average (16.6) of any receiver with more than 70 receptions. Ravens running back Ray Rice leads the NFL with 1,869 yards from scrimmage and is tied for first in the AFC with 10 rushing touchdowns.

Made it on rep: Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis is still the best inside linebacker in the division but others (namely Houston's Brian Cushing) have had better seasons this year. Baltimore went 4-0 when Lewis was injured, and he's been a non-factor in the two games since he returned. There's no argument that the Browns' Joe Thomas is the most talented left tackle in the AFC but he didn't have a stellar year. He has tied a career high with seven penalties and has been part of an offense that ranked 30th in the NFL in scoring. The same goes for center Maurkice Pouncey, who didn't play as well as last year because of illness and injuries.

Got robbed: Ten starters on the Steelers' defense, which ranks first in fewest yards and second in points allowed, got snubbed. Strong safety Troy Polamalu is the Pittsburgh defense's only representative. Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton should have been the third alternate after turning a four-win team into a playoff contender and becoming the fourth rookie with 20 touchdown passes. Another Bengal, Geno Atkins, outplayed the Ravens' Haloti Ngata at times this season and led all interior linemen with eight sacks. The Browns' Joe Haden has been the AFC North's top cornerback and broke up the third-most passes this season in the NFL (19).

Rookie surprise: The Bengals' A.J. Green became the first rookie wide receiver to make the Pro Bowl since Anquan Boldin in 2003. He leads Cincinnati in receptions (63), receiving yards (1,031) and touchdowns (seven). A big-time playmaker, Green leads the NFL this season in catches of 35 or more yards (11).

Click here for the complete 2012 Pro Bowl roster.

AFC West Pro Bowl analysis

December, 27, 2011
NFC Pro Bowl: East | West | North | South AFC Pro Bowl: East | West | North | South

Perfect sense: Kansas City may be in last place but linebacker Derrick Johnson and Tamba Hali are top-level players. They both deserve this honor. They are building-block players on a young defense. Johnson is a tackling machine and Hali, who has 12 sacks, is one of the better pass-rushers in the NFL. Oakland kicker Sebastian Janikowski made his first Pro Bowl in his 12-year career. It is past due and it's well deserving. Janikowski, who tied an NFL record with a 63-yard field goal at Denver in Week 1, is a great weapon. Oakland punter Shane Lechler is one of the game’s all-time best punters. He always deserves to go to the Pro Bowl. San Diego safety Eric Weddle is tied for the league lead with seven interceptions. He is earning his $40-million deal he signed this year. Denver linebacker Von Miller deserved being a Pro Bowler. He has 11.5 sacks and he’s been a complete player. The No. 2 overall draft pick has made a bigger impact as a run stopper and he has been a catalyst to a much improved defense. Kudos to Denver cornerback Champ Bailey, who is still playing at a high level. He is one of five players ever to be named to 11 Pro Bowls and he is the only cornerback with 10 or more Pro Bowls. Can you say “first-ballot Hall of Famer?”

Made it on rep: A few AFC West stars made the Pro Bowl in injury-filled years. Oakland defensive tackle Richard Seymour was banged up and he had some games where he didn’t make a big impact. Still, he also had some moments of greatness. He blocked two field goals in an Oakland overtime win at Kansas City on Saturday. San Diego tight end Antonio Gates dealt with a lot of injuries this season and he didn’t take many games over, but he had 59 catches and he is still a premier player despite the injuries. Denver defensive end Elvis Dumervil, the first Denver defensive lineman to make the Pro Bowl in nine years, had a great season, but he didn’t enjoy a full season. He has 9.5 sacks, all in the past eight games. He was slowed by injuries early in the season. San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers had big yardage numbers (he became the third player in history to throw for more than 4,000 yards in four straight years). But he has thrown 19 interceptions and he was out of sync for much of the season.

Get robbed: Denver running back Willis McGahee has been the lynchpin to the NFL’s best running offense. A big reason why the Tim Tebow offense has worked is because McGahee –- one of the best free-agent signings in the NFL this year -- ran so well. He is enjoying resurgence at the age of 30. McGahee, who has 1,054 yards rushing and averaged 4.8 yards per carry, is reportedly a first alternate. San Diego running back Ryan Mathews also had a strong season and he had a case to make the team. He is a second alternate. Kansas City receiver Dwayne Bowe had 75 catches and he had a nice season. Oakland safety Tyvon Branch and fullback Marcel Reece each had big years and could have earned spots on the team. Perhaps each player will get their due next year. By the way, Tebow is reportedly a second alternate. Because quarterbacks often bow out, there is a strong chance Tebow will be eating pineapple in Hawaii next month.

Click here for the complete 2012 Pro Bowl roster.

AFC East Pro Bowl analysis

December, 27, 2011
NFC Pro Bowl: East | West | North | South AFC Pro Bowl: East | West | North | South

Perfect sense: The New England Patriots not only led the AFC East in Pro Bowl players, but they led the entire conference with eight players. New England was tied with the San Francisco 49ers with the most players to make the Pro Bowl. As expected, New England's offense led the way with five players. Quarterback Tom Brady, receiver Wes Welker, tight end Rob Gronkowski were all deserving skill players. Two New York Jets players -- cornerback Darrelle Revis and center Nick Mangold -- also were no-brainers.

Made it on rep: There are very few stud left tackles in the NFL, and it showed again in this year's Pro Bowl voting. Jake Long of the Miami Dolphins and D'Brickashaw Ferguson of the Jets had their most inconsistent seasons and both made the Pro Bowl. Long has battled through injuries and hasn't been his usually dominant self this year. But Long playing at 80 percent is still better than most NFL left tackles. He will miss the Pro Bowl with a biceps injury. Ferguson also underachieved compared to past seasons. The Jets are ranked No. 27 in total offense, and a major reason is Ferguson and the rest of New York's offensive linemen couldn't pass protect or run block consistently over a 16-game season.

Got robbed: For a division that most likely has just one playoff team and maybe only one team with a winning record, it's hard to complain about 13 Pro Bowlers. But if I want to get greedy, there's two additional players I thought should have made the cut. Punter Brandon Fields has been terrific for the Dolphins. Fields averages 48.9 yards per punt. His longest punt was 71 yards and he's kicked 31 inside the 20 this season. But in the AFC it's hard to beat Oakland Raiders punter Shane Lechler, who is arguably the best in the NFL. Jets linebacker David Harris also had a good year. Harris has 84 tackles, five sacks and four interceptions (one returned for a touchdown). But he's one of the more quiet Jets players and doesn't get the recognition he deserves.

Sorry, Bills: There were zero Buffalo Bills players who made the Pro Bowl. Starting running back Fred Jackson was probably their best chance. But Jackson broke his leg after 10 games and is out for the season.

Click here for the complete 2012 Pro Bowl roster.

NFC North Pro Bowl analysis

December, 27, 2011
NFC Pro Bowl: East | West | North | South AFC Pro Bowl: East | West | North | South

Perfect sense: Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is the presumptive league MVP. He was pretty much a lock to be named the NFC's starter. Detroit Lions receiver Calvin Johnson is tied for the NFL lead in touchdown receptions (15). He wasn't going to get snubbed. Neither was Minnesota Vikings defensive end Jared Allen, who leads the league with 18.5 sacks, nor Green Bay Packers cornerback Charles Woodson, who is tied for the league lead with seven interceptions. It was nice to see the league recognize some deserving NFC North players who had the potential to slip through the voting cracks. Bears tailback Matt Forte was leading the NFL in all-purpose yards when a knee injury sidelined him in Week 13. He obviously won't play but still deserved the honor. Bears cornerback Charles Tillman has had an outstanding season, as we have discussed, especially when matched up against Johnson. Tillman has only two interceptions, but I was glad to see voters didn't overlook him. Packers center Scott Wells is anonymous on a league level, but the Packers feel he has had his best season. And although Packers linebacker Clay Matthews has only six sacks, voters correctly recognized the all-around impact he's made this season. Finally, Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh didn't make the team but was named an alternate. That was the right decision. Independent of the headlines he has made this season, Suh hasn't made a Pro Bowl-level impact.

Made it on rep: The Bears defense slipped this season, especially in the past month, but ultimately that didn't impact the candidacies of middle linebacker Brian Urlacher or weak-side linebacker Lance Briggs. In the end, Briggs has been named to every Pro Bowl since 2005 and Urlacher has made two consecutive Pro Bowl teams after several years of injury-related absences. I would say both players were on the cusp. For sure, they made a limited number of impact plays this season. Urlacher has three interceptions and neither a sack nor a forced fumble. Briggs has two forced fumbles, one interception and no sacks. Meanwhile, I wonder if Packers defensive lineman B.J. Raji got makeup recognition for his strong 2010 performance. Raji has three sacks, less than half of his total last year, and is supposed to be a key pass rusher on a defense that hasn't gotten nearly enough pressure this year. Raji has had a credible, solid season. But was it Pro Bowl worthy? I'm not sure.

Got robbed: I wondered if voters would side with New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning over Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, and in the end they did. Stafford is an alternate behind the Rodgers, Manning and the New Orleans Saints' Drew Brees. Stafford could still be named to the Pro Bowl as an injury or Super Bowl replacement, presuming he is not playing in the Super Bowl himself, but he has established himself as one of the NFL's top quarterbacks. He has a better passer rating, a higher completion percentage, 10 more touchdown passes and two less interceptions than Manning this season. The only people that would have complained had the reverse occurred -- Stafford elected and Manning named an alternate -- are hard-core Giants fans.

Click here for the complete 2012 Pro Bowl roster.

NFC West Pro Bowl analysis

December, 27, 2011
NFC Pro Bowl: East | West | North | South AFC Pro Bowl: East | West | North | South

Perfect sense: Larry Fitzgerald, Adrian Wilson, Andy Lee, David Akers, Justin Smith and Patrick Willis are past Pro Bowl selections enjoying strong seasons. Their selections made perfect sense. No St. Louis Rams made it. Steven Jackson was worthy of consideration, but the team's 2-13 record made his exclusion understandable.

Patrick Peterson's four touchdowns on punt returns made him an extremely worthy if somewhat surprising choice over Devin Hester, whose reputation figured to count for something.

It was good to see voters recognize the NFC West's talent on special teams and in the secondary. Wilson and Seattle's Earl Thomas are the starting safeties. Carlos Rogers is a starting corner and Seattle's Brandon Browner, a first alternate, could very well join him in the game itself because at least one of the NFC starters, Charles Woodson, could be playing in the Super Bowl.

Made it on rep: From the NFC West? Are you kidding? This division usually fights for whatever it can get. Wilson made it on reputation last year, but he was very much deserving this time, even though it came at the expense of Seattle's Kam Chancellor, a first alternate. None of the players selected made it on rep, in my view.

We could debate the worthiness of a few, including 49ers free safety Dashon Goldson. But he didn't have much of a rep. He made big plays for a 12-3 team and got noticed despite some inconsistencies in his game. The 49ers' success cleared the way for Goldson and another first-timer, left tackle Joe Staley.

Frank Gore always deserves consideration and his numbers say he did not make it strictly on reputation, but a case can be made that other backs were producing at a higher level more recently. Gore's dropped passes have been a problem as well.

Got robbed: Seattle's Marshawn Lynch, San Francisco's Aldon Smith, St. Louis' Chris Long and Arizona's Calais Campbell come to mind immediately.

Lynch has arguably run more impressively than any back in the conference of late. He ended the 49ers' streaks without allowing a 100-yard rusher (36 games) or a rushing touchdown (15 games). Lynch was a second alternate. He has a chance to earn a spot given that Matt Forte is injured and might not play in the game. I'm not sure which NFC back is first alternate, but Lynch would move up the list if Minnesota's injured Adrian Peterson held that distinction.

Aldon Smith has 14 sacks as a rookie, but he didn't make the Pro Bowl. In fact, Smith did not even show up on a list of 49ers alternates featuring NaVorro Bowman, Ahmad Brooks, Blake Costanzo, Vernon Davis, Ted Ginn Jr., Jonathan Goodwin, Mike Iupati, Ray McDonald, Bruce Miller and Donte Whitner.

Long has 13 sacks for a team that almost never faces favorable pass-rushing situations, but with multiple high-profile sack artists in the NFC, he did not make it. The Cardinals' Campbell gets overlooked playing defensive end in a 3-4 scheme, but he's been a dominant player. At least teammate Darnell Dockett was named an alternate.

Click here for the complete 2012 Pro Bowl roster.

NFC South Pro Bowl analysis

December, 27, 2011
NFC Pro Bowl: East | West | North | South AFC Pro Bowl: East | West | North | South

Perfect sense: Drew Brees’ sixth Pro Bowl selection is no surprise. He’s already thrown for more yards in a season than any player in history and has led the Saints to a 12-3 record. The only downer here is that Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers was selected as the starter ahead of Brees. Consider that a likely precursor to what will happen with the Most Valuable Player award. But, hey, I’m sure Brees would rather start the Super Bowl than the Pro Bowl. The other slam-dunk choice in the NFC South was New Orleans tight end Jimmy Graham. He’s only a second-year, pro, but this former college basketball player is on his way to one of the best statistical seasons ever for a tight end. This is Graham’s first Pro Bowl selection. There probably will be a lot more in the future.

Made it on rep: When you’re playing on a great team, you sometimes can ride the coattails of your teammates. I have to think that’s what happened in the case of New Orleans left tackle Jermon Bushrod. Brees’ numbers certainly show the Saints are doing some good things on the offensive line. But those are coming mostly from guards Carl Nicks and Jahri Evans, who just happen to be the starters for the NFC. Bushrod has turned into a solid left tackle, but he’s far from elite. In fact, Carolina’s Jordan Gross, even though he missed some time with injury, would have been a much better choice. Some scouts also will tell you Tampa Bay’s Donald Penn, at least at times, is better than Bushrod.

Got robbed: Rodgers and Brees were the obvious choices as the first two quarterbacks. But I seriously thought Carolina rookie Cam Newton had a very real chance to be the third quarterback. He’s not. Eli Manning ended up on the roster. Manning’s decent, but he’s not a special player. Newton is a special player. He’s already thrown for more yards than any rookie quarterback in history and has run for more touchdowns than any quarterback in history. You can also make the case that New Orleans’ running back/return man Darren Sproles should be on the roster. Sproles was only on the ballot as a return man and Arizona’s Patrick Peterson got the nod there. But I think there’s a good chance Sproles will be added at some point as a “need’’ player because any team could use a guy like Sproles.

Click here for the complete 2012 Pro Bowl roster.

NFC East Pro Bowl analysis

December, 27, 2011
NFC Pro Bowl: East | West | North | South AFC Pro Bowl: East | West | North | South

Perfect sense: You can argue whether he's even the best quarterback in his division (as you'll see below), but the New York Giants' Eli Manning is having a season worthy of a Pro Bowl spot. He is third in the conference in passing yards and has engineered five fourth-quarter comeback wins for a team that has won only seven games. Philadelphia Eagles running back LeSean McCoy might have been the best running back in the league this season, and there's little doubt that his left tackle, Jason Peters, has been the best in the league at his position. People often make the argument for Dallas Cowboys linebacker DeMarcus Ware as the best defensive player in the league, so it's little surprise that he snagged an outside linebacker spot. And a fine recovery for Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, a worthy pick who made it in spite of not being listed on the fan ballot.

Made it on rep: Eagles defensive end Jason Babin is red-hot and among the league leaders with 18 sacks, but I argue that he's not the best defensive end on his own team, as Trent Cole is the more complete player and Babin likely benefits from the extra attention Cole receives. Cowboys nose tackle Jay Ratliff has flashes of brilliance, but this isn't his most dominant season.

Got robbed: The biggest debate we ever have on the NFC East blog is over Manning and Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo. This season, Romo has the third-best passer rating in the NFC, behind only Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees. Manning is sixth in that category. Romo also has the third-highest completion percentage in the conference. Manning has the eighth highest. Romo has three more touchdown passes and seven fewer interceptions, and, among important categories, trails Manning only in yards. Those who argue Romo in the Romo-Manning debates have reason to be upset. The Washington Redskins have no Pro Bowlers. If they were to have one, a case could be made for inside linebacker London Fletcher, who leads the league in tackles with 163, or rookie outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan, who has 7.5 sacks and four forced fumbles. Eagles left guard Evan Mathis has been among the best at his position all season. And of course there is Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz, who ranks seventh in the conference in catches with 76 and second in the conference in receiving yards with 1,358. Cruz's case was hurt by his not being listed on the fan ballot.

Click here for the complete 2012 Pro Bowl roster.

AFC South Pro Bowl analysis

December, 27, 2011
NFC Pro Bowl: East | West | North | South AFC Pro Bowl: East | West | North | South

Perfect sense: Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew and Texans running back Arian Foster are two of the AFC South’s running backs, though Baltimore’s Ray Rice is the starter. MJD is on the verge of his first rushing title a season after Foster led the league in ground yards. Johnathan Joseph qualifies as one of the best veteran additions in the league and deserves his spot as a backup to Darrelle Revis and Champ Bailey.

Made it on rep: Indianapolis defensive end Dwight Freeney is the division’s lone starter. He remains a premier pass rusher who’s a very tough player to block. The last two weeks when the Colts have won showed how feared he and Robert Mathis remain, as the Titans and Texans were overeager to get the ball out of the quarterback’s hand. But on one of the league’s very worst teams, Mathis may have had a better season. And while Antonio Smith and J.J. Watt of the Texans are 3-4 ends who don’t get the glory that comes with taking the quarterback down as often, a case could be made for either as a bigger contributor to his team’s success this season.

Got robbed: The Texans are currently the No. 2 defense in the NFL and have been in the top slot for much of the season. Four Houston defenders -- outside linebacker Connor Barwin, inside linebacker Brian Cushing, Smith and Watt -- are alternates, though we don’t yet know where in the pecking order. While outside linebacker is loaded and it’s tough for 3-4 ends to get in, Ray Lewis has missed a lot of action with a toe injury. I suspect both Cushing and Jacksonville's middle linebacker, Paul Posluszny, have been more influential for their teams this season. Texans center Chris Myers should represent one of the league's best offensive lines. The Titans got no one on the initial roster. Kicker Rob Bironas has been remarkable and qualifies as their best candidate. But the AFC’s kicker, Oakland’s Sebastian Janikowski, has certainly had a big year.

Click here for the complete 2012 Pro Bowl roster.


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