Saturday, November 24, 2007

NFL Pro Bowl Balloting Update [EdMcGon]

The only early NFL Pro Bowl balloting results I can find are from last week (at Mile High Report). If anyone has a link to more current information, please post it in the comments section.

How does Tom Brady fall below Brett Favre and Peyton Manning in the Pro Bowl vote totals? Brady is having not only the best season of his career, but the best season ANY quarterback has EVER had.

I would buy the argument that "Favre is carrying his team", except for the fact he did NOT carry them last year. The truth is the Packers have surrounded Favre with enough talent this year that he CAN carry them.

As for Manning, he is having one of the worst seasons of his career. Aside from Brady and Favre, the other quarterbacks having a better year than Manning: Ben Roethlisberger, Tony Romo, David Garrard, Jeff Garcia, and Matt Hasselbeck.

The Pro Bowl is NOT about who has had a better career, but rather who is having the best season THIS YEAR. No one is better than Brady this year.

Only the best tight end in the NFL this year and going back to 2004. But you wouldn't know it based on the Pro Bowl votes, which only rank him as the best in the AFC.

Jason Witten of the Cowboys has 238,598 votes, compared to Gates getting only 199,593 votes. Statistically, they are comparable. Not counting the Cowboys-Jets game, Witten has 55 catches for 696 yards and 5 touchdowns, whereas Gates has 54 catches for 729 yards and 6 touchdowns. So why is Witten worthy of more votes?

The truth is Gates is being underutilized by the Chargers (thank you Norv Turner) whereas Witten is being utilized to the best of his abilities by the Cowboys. Ask any NFL head coach or scout who they would rather have on their team, and Gates would win easily over Witten.

But there is a reasonable explanation for this voting anomaly: Tony Gonzalez. Gonzalez has 59 catches for 690 yards and 4 touchdowns. These numbers are certainly worthy of Pro Bowl votes. Compare this to the NFC's second best tight end, Jeremy Shockey: 48 catches for 528 yards and 3 touchdowns.

Clearly, Witten rates a bigger edge over the second best tight end in his conference than Gates in his conference. Kudos to the Pro Bowl voters for recognizing this.

According to the Pro Bowl voters, Nick Folk of the Cowboys and Adam Vinatieri of the Colts are the two best kickers in the NFL this year.

In the NFC, I will grant the argument for Folk, since he has made 85% of his field goals. However, in the AFC, there are only two names we should be talking about: Rob Bironas (Titans) and Kris Brown (Texans). Both of them are perfect on their extra points, compared to Vinatieri who has missed two. Both of them have made over 90% of their field goals (Bironas has 92.3%, Brown has 91.3%), whereas Vinatieri has only made 76% of his field goals. Both of them are perfect on field goals beyond 50 yards (Bironas is 3/3, Brown is 4/4), whereas Vinatieri missed his only try from that distance (in fact, the longest field goal Vinatieri has made this year was from 39 yards).

I would even rank Shayne Graham (Bengals) above Vinatieri this year, although below the other two because Graham's longest field goal was from 48 yards. Graham has been perfect on extra points, and has been good on 95.5% of his field goal attempts.

How on earth does Wes Welker lead the AFC for kick returner votes? He is not even the best return man on his own team!

Welker does a good job returning punts for the Patriots, but Ellis Hobbs handles the kick return duties. Hobbs tied an NFL record with a 108 yard kick return for a touchdown earlier this year. Welker has no touchdowns returning kicks or punts this year.

Among the worthy kick returners, it is an easy choice between Joshua Cribbs of the Browns (with 2 touchdowns on 1475 kick return yards) and Leon Washington of the Jets (with 3 touchdowns on 946 kick return yards).

Among the worthy punt returners, Roscoe Parrish of the Bills is the clear leader in the AFC, with 330 punt return yards for a 19.4 yard average (which is almost worthy of a kick returner) and one touchdown, compared to Welker's 236 return yards for an 11.2 yard average and no touchdowns.

I hope that after the Packers pass rushing display against the Lions that their defensive ends get a little more respect from the Pro Bowl voters.

Even before that game, Aaron Kampman and Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila were among the NFC leaders in sacks, with 9.0 and 8.5 respectively. The other leader is Trent Cole of the Eagles with 9.0 sacks.

So who is the NFC's leading Pro Bowl vote receiver? Osi Umenyiora of the Giants, with 8.0 sacks. While Osi is having a great year, Kampman or Cole both deserve more consideration. Each of them have had over 50 tackles this year, whereas Osi has only had 30. Even Michael Strahan of the Giants, who is having arguably his worst season, has 8.0 sacks and 37 tackles.

How does Dwight Freeney of the Colts merit ANY Pro Bowl consideration? He has had 3.5 sacks and 21 tackles. Even if you throw out Jared Allen of the Chiefs (9.5 sacks and 38 tackles) because of his suspension early this season, there are still plenty of better choices

Start with Elvis Dumervil of the Broncos (8.0 sacks and 23 tackles). Then look at Freeney's other bookend for the Colts, Robert Mathis (6.0 sacks and 27 tackles). How about Jason Taylor of the Dolphins (5.0 sacks and 30 tackles), Kyle Vanden Bosch of the Titans (5.0 sacks and 31 tackles), or Mario Williams of the Texans (5.0 sacks and 29 tackles)?

A year after the Chargers Shawne Merriman is suspended for steroid use, he is having his worst season. Coincidence? I doubt it.

Yet he still gets the most votes at outside linebacker in the AFC, even though his numbers (45 tackles and 5.5 sacks) are clearly less than two other outside linebackers, Mike Vrabel of the Patriots (50 tackles and 9.5 sacks) and James Harrison of the Steelers (57 tackles and 7.5 sacks).

So it doesn't matter that Merriman made his name while using steroids, while two better players who have NEVER been accused of steroid use get ignored?

I hate to pick on Tedy Bruschi, because his story is inspirational (had a mild stroke, a congenital heart defect, and was partially paralyzed). And the Patriots are having a good year. It can even be argued that his work against the run has made the Patriots a better defense this year. But his numbers (56 tackles and 2 sacks) are nowhere among the AFC leaders for inside linebackers.

Among the AFC's inside linebackers, Ray Lewis is probably still the best, with 92 tackles and 1.0 sacks. Even if you throw out Lewis based on his story versus Bruschi's, there are still other better choices.

Start with Gary Brackett of the Colts, with 87 tackles and 0.5 sacks. Then there is DeMeco Ryans of the Texans with 83 tackles and 2.0 sacks. Consider D.J. Williams of the Broncos, with 82 tackles and 1.0 sacks.

Last and certainly least, we have the punters.

While Mat McBriar of the Cowboys would not be my first choice in the NFC (I would take Andy Lee of the 49ers), at least McBriar is close enough to merit consideration.

However, in the AFC, how does the player with the easiest job in the NFL get ANY votes? Chris Hanson of the Patriots has only punted 22 times this season, for a net average of 36.2 yards. Granted, he has pinned opponents inside their 20 a total of 8 times (36%), with 18% of his kicks being touchbacks.

But if you only look at Hanson's averages and percentages in comparison to other punters in the AFC, he is still nowhere near the best in the AFC. There are 10 AFC punters with better net averages. There are four punters with better "inside the 20" percentages. There are 15 punters with lower touchback percentages.

For the best in the AFC, look at Shane Lechler of the Raiders (44.3 net) or Daniel Sepulveda of the Steelers (44.2% inside the 20, with a touchback percentage of 4.7%).