Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Sports Central 2013 Pro Bowl Selections

By Brad Oremland

Five Quick Hits

* Knowshon Moreno is now one of nine players in NFL history to rush for over 200 yards in a loss. His 37 attempts were the most by a losing player since 2004.

* The NFL is all about image. Fining Ahmad Brooks for the hit on Drew Brees that drew a much-disputed flag "proves" the call was correct, so Brooks is out $16,000.

* It's not much of a spoiler that Andy Reid is my choice so far as Coach of the Year. But Bruce Arians (ARI) deserves serious consideration, as well, and I'm impressed with Ron Rivera's (CAR) transformation into Riverboat Ron. It's hard to change, but he's helped his team.

* Also, don't forget Darth Belichick (NE). The Patriots lost their whole receiving corps, their best RB has a fumbling problem, and their two best defensive players are on IR. They're 8-3 and two of their losses were controversial.

* The Pro Football Hall of Fame has announced this year's semifinalists. My preferences to advance: Morten Andersen, Steve Atwater, Derrick Brooks, Tim Brown, Don Coryell, Terrell Davis, Tony Dungy, Kevin Greene, Marvin Harrison, Joe Jacoby, Walter Jones, Will Shields, Michael Strahan, Paul Tagliabue, George Young. It is outrageous that Zach Thomas isn't a semifinalist.

***

Pro Bowl voting has been open for over a month, but now every team has played the same number of games. Here's a look at my ballot, in the new "unconferenced" format. If you'd like to vote along as you read, you can do so here.

Quarterback

Peyton Manning (DEN), Drew Brees (NO), Philip Rivers (SD), Russell Wilson (SEA), Tony Romo (DAL), Matthew Stafford (DET)

If we still had to vote by conference, the last spot in the AFC would be Tom Brady (NE) over Andrew Luck (IND). Brady has played great since Rob Gronkowski and company returned from the injured list, but he really struggled in the first half of the season. He ranks 10th in yards and 20th in passer rating. Luck has fallen apart without Reggie Wayne in the lineup, and even before that, he was more good than great.

The two players I have misgivings about leaving off my ballot are Cam Newton (CAR) and Aaron Rodgers (GB). Newton is a great player, and his team is rolling, but the Panthers aren't asking him to do as much as in the past. I think the guys I chose have done more for their teams. If Rodgers returns from his broken collarbone in the next week or two and plays at 100%, he'll deserve a Pro Bowl trip. He's got a proven track record, his stats are fantastic, and the Packers have collapsed without him (0-3-1). But if he doesn't come back this season, how do you omit someone like Romo (23 TD, 7 INT, 97.2 rating) or Stafford (ranks 3rd in yards and TDs) in favor of a guy who only played half the season? For the same reason, I'm not ready to vote for Nick Foles (PHI).

Running Back

LeSean McCoy (PHI), Jamaal Charles (KC), Matt Forte (CHI), Marshawn Lynch (SEA), Adrian Peterson (MIN), Knowshon Moreno (DEN)

The first five choices here seem pretty obvious. But narrowing down the final spot was brutal. Eddie Lacy (GB), who has played great but missed a few weeks with an injury, didn't even draw serious consideration with this competition. But how do you rule out Reggie Bush (DET), Alfred Morris (WAS), and Frank Gore (SF)?

Before Moreno's 224-yard performance on Sunday night, I had Gore penciled in for the last spot, beating the others on a tiebreaker for his years of meritorious service. But with Moreno out-rushing Bush (83), Morris (52), and Gore (31) combined in Week 12, I believe he deserves to edge ahead. Bush is a perfect fit for Detroit's offense, but Knowshon is the right fit for Denver, too. He's a good pass-blocker who understands what Peyton Manning needs him to do on every play, he doesn't go backwards, he's a pretty good receiver, and he's the only player on the team who doesn't fumble.

Morris averages 5 yards a carry, and he's closing in on 1,000 yards. He's a good, instinctive runner, and his style is great for Mike and Kyle Shanahan's system. But he comes out on passing downs, and his workload is down this year. I think Moreno means more to the Broncos. Gore is having another very good season in his very good career. He's a powerful runner who doesn't make many mistakes, and he's central to San Francisco's very limited offense. I like all these players, but Knowshon gets the nod for his all-around game and his importance in Denver's call-at-the-line offense.

I wouldn't have voted for him, but it seems wrong that Giovani Bernard (CIN) is not on the ballot. He's made some sensational plays.

Wide Receiver

Calvin Johnson (DET), Brandon Marshall (CHI), Demaryius Thomas (DEN), DeSean Jackson (PHI), A.J. Green (CIN), Jordy Nelson (GB), Antonio Brown (PIT), Josh Gordon (CLE)

I know, I didn't vote for Dez Bryant (DAL). It was a tough call. But Bryant is 16th in the NFL in receiving yardage, and tied for 11th in receptions. He is a little better in TDs (t-8th) and first downs (t-6th), but he has a fumbling problem and self-control issues. Would you rather have Dez than Wes Welker (DEN)? All this guy does is get open and make plays. He already has a career-high 9 TDs, behind only Calvin Johnson and Demaryius Thomas among WRs.

The toughest cut was actually Andre Johnson (HOU). In the years I've made my Pro Bowl ballot public (2002-13), the wide receivers I've voted for most are Torry Holt, Reggie Wayne, Calvin Johnson, and Andre Johnson, five each. Andre Johnson is a great player, and his numbers this season are super: top-five in receptions, yards, and first downs — and he's done that with three different quarterbacks. I just don't think he's the same kind of explosive difference-maker this year.

I would guess Nelson, Brown, and Gordon are the players who might invite some controversy on my ballot. Let's start with Brown: he leads the NFL in receptions and ranks 2nd in receiving yards. He's having a terrific year. Gordon, suspended the first two weeks, is averaging 110 yards per game, second only to Calvin Johnson. He's a play-maker no matter who the Browns use at QB. Jordy Nelson just might be the best clutch receiver in the league this year. He's got good numbers, and every time I see the Packers it seems like Nelson makes a big play when they need one. I'd be happy with Andre Johnson or Jordy Nelson, but if you gave me the choice, this year I'd go with Nelson.

Fullback

Bruce Miller (SF), John Kuhn (GB)

This position is so hard to vote for, because most of these guys get very limited playing time. Miller, though, has started every game. He blocks for Frank Gore and Colin Kaepernick, and he has almost 200 receiving yards. Kuhn is a legit blocker and occasional short-yardage back. Darrel Young (WAS), who scored 3 touchdowns in Week 9, might be my third choice. Vonta Leach (BAL) is a perennial, but Baltimore's run game has been awful this year. If I was drafting a real team, we'd forget about a fullback and go three-wide or two tight ends.

Tight End

Jimmy Graham (NO), Vernon Davis (SF), Rob Gronkowski (NE), Julius Thomas (DEN)

Gronkowski is the best tight end in the NFL, and it isn't close, but he's missed half the season. If you want to use that last spot on someone with more playing time, I understand. But if he's still healthy a month from now, I know I'd be kicking myself for leaving him off.

The longer I study football, the more I care whether or not tight ends can block. I've complained about Jimmy Graham in the past, but my problem isn't that he can't block — he did a nice job on the first play of the Thursday night game against Atlanta — it's that he doesn't block. He usually leaves the field. If he stays on, he splits out wide and runs a fade to clear his defender out, or he looks for a cornerback he outweighs by 60 pounds and stands in front of the guy. I'd love to have him on my favorite team as a (huge) wide receiver, but he doesn't play tight end. Nonetheless, he's such a good player, he's got to be in the Pro Bowl, and this is where he's listed. I'll live.

Tony Gonzalez (ATL) is still dangerous. He has his moments, he's freed up opportunities for other teammates, and it's difficult to fairly evaluate a player who draws so much extra attention from defenses. But there are so many tight ends having good receiving seasons this year, and Tony's blocking isn't what it used to be. Antonio Gates (SD) is having a very nice comeback year, and I wish I'd gotten more looks at Jordan Cameron (CLE), though he's slowed down a little. Jason Witten (DAL) is having a little bit of a down year, but he's still very good. Julius Thomas is an underrated blocker and a play-maker with the ball in his hands. His big plays make up for the volume from guys like Witten, Cameron, and Gates.

Offensive Tackle

Michael Roos (TEN), Jason Peters (PHI), Trent Williams (WAS), Joe Thomas (CLE), Duane Brown (HOU), Andrew Whitworth (CIN)

Disclaimer at all the offensive line positions: I've seen about 70 games this season. That's roughly 4.5 per team, except it's not evenly distributed. There are some teams I've only seen once or twice, and that's really not enough to fairly judge players at a position which doesn't produce any stats. I'll have more faith in my year-end All-Pro selections, and I welcome feedback from knowledgeable readers if there are standouts I'm missing or mediocre players I'm overrating because I saw them on a good day.

I voted for a parade of left tackles. Most teams still put their best offensive lineman there, and those are the guys who impress me this year. I know some analysts believe omitting right tackles (and guards) is a crime against humanity, a denial of all that is fine and good in the world. If you want to try your luck with a true RT, I'll swing one of my guys over to the right side and we'll see who does better.

Whitworth and Brown have missed two games apiece, so if you prefer Joe Staley (SF), Donald Penn (TB), Nate Solder (NE), Tyron Smith (DAL), or a right tackle, that's reasonable. I also look forward to watching Charles Brown (NO) against the Panthers in Week 14, and I'd like more looks at the Chargers. But Duane Brown is really good, and the two games he missed were the first two games of Houston's nine-game losing streak. By the time he came back, the fans had turned on Matt Schaub and torpedoed their own season. The Bengals are 7-2 with Whitworth and 0-2 without him.

Offensive Guard

Andy Levitre (TEN), Mike Iupati (SF), Clint Boling (CIN), Marshal Yanda (BAL), Josh Sitton (GB), Brandon Fusco (MIN)

Iupati recently sprained his MCL, but that's not a season-ending injury. Levitre's move from Buffalo to Tennessee helps explain why Chris Johnson is having a pretty good year and C.J. Spiller is not. Boling, a 4th-round draft pick in 2011, has emerged as one of the best young linemen in the NFL. It feels weird not to vote for any linemen from the league's best offense, so you could probably make a persuasive argument for Zane Beadles (DEN).

Center

Max Unger (SEA), Jonathan Goodwin (SF), Brian De La Puente (NO), Travis Frederick (DAL)

In the mid-2000s, voting for this position was a dream. Kevin Mawae, Jeff Saturday, Olin Kreutz, Casey Wiegmann, Shaun O'Hara, Matt Birk ... you couldn't go wrong. The depth of talent then makes it hard to evaluate centers today, because I'm still holding them to a high standard. I'm not thrilled with these selections, but I've been impressed with the rookie Frederick, whose selection I criticized on draft day. I'm keeping an eye on Jason Kelce (PHI), and it's really hard to fairly evaluate Nick Mangold (NYJ) on such a terrible offense.

Defensive End

J.J. Watt (HOU), Robert Quinn (STL), Calais Campbell (ARI), Muhammad Wilkerson (NYJ), Chandler Jones (NE), Michael Johnson (CIN)

Unlike center, there is an embarrassment of riches at this position. We have so many talented pass rushers in the league now, there are a number of good players who didn't make my top six. The Pro Bowl ballot lists 57 players at this position, a few omitted because of how 3-4 DEs are sometimes categorized.

J.J. Watt is the best defensive player in the league. He has 9.5 sacks, which is among the league leaders, but he also has 46 solo tackles, most of any defensive lineman. He has 17 tackles for loss (best in the league), 3 forced fumbles, 2 fumble recoveries, 4 pass deflections, and 2 blocked field goals. I know his team is awful, but Watt is a beast. Antonio Smith (HOU) is a nice player, but the thought of the Texans with Watt and Mario Williams (BUF) is intimidating. Williams has 11 sacks.

Quinn has 13 sacks and 6 forced fumbles. Campbell's underrated because he plays on a low-profile team, in a system that doesn't always lend itself to big stats, but he's been among the best defensive linemen in the league for a few years now. The Cardinals are 7-4, you know, and their offense kind of sucks. Michael Johnson (CIN) only has 3 sacks, less than half compared to teammate Carlos Dunlap (CIN), but he also has 8 passes defensed, most among defensive linemen. When you watch the Bengals, Johnson is the bigger difference-maker.

Charles Johnson (CAR) is a mauler, but a leg-whip from New England's Marcus Cannon sprained his MCL, and it's not clear when he'll return. Greg Hardy (CAR) is good, too, but not quite at the same level. Shaun Phillips (DEN) is on TV more often now that he plays with Peyton Manning, but he still seems to make a difference quietly. He's got 9 sacks, 5 pass blocks, and 2 forced fumbles. It's strange he doesn't get more credit nationally. Everyone raves about Cameron Jordan (NO). He's good, he's got 9.5 sacks, but I don't believe he's one of the top six DEs in the league.

Defensive Tackle

Dontari Poe (KC), Ndamukong Suh (DET), Gerald McCoy (TB), Justin Smith (SF), Randy Starks (MIA), Kyle Williams (BUF)

An absolutely stacked position. So many interior linemen are having good years, for the sake of brevity I'll just list other players I considered: Jurrell Casey (TEN), Darnell Dockett (ARI), Nick Fairley (DET), Jason Hatcher (DAL), Ricky Jean Francois (IND), Chris Jones (NE), Terrance Knighton (DEN), Star Lotulelei (CAR), Jared Odrick (MIA), Sheldon Richardson (NYJ).

Poe has 34 solo tackles, 4.5 sacks, and 4 PDs. The Chiefs have several great defensive players, but Poe is the crucial piece. Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus (BUF) benefit from the attention drawn by Mario Williams, but that works both ways. They're each having a nice season. I like Williams a little more than Dareus, Suh a little more than Fairley, and Starks a little more than Odrick.

Geno Atkins (CIN) was having another great year before his season-ending injury in Week 9. Kawann Short (CAR) isn't on the ballot, but he's a critical player in Carolina's front rotation. He might be better than Lotulelei.

Inside Linebacker

Karlos Dansby (ARI), Derrick Johnson (KC), NaVorro Bowman (SF), Daryl Smith (BAL)

Daryl Washington (ARI) has missed too much time to get my vote this year, but holy cow, he's a playmaker. Wesley Woodyard (DEN) is another ILB who probably would have made my ballot if he'd been on the field all season. The omission that especially kills me, though, is Sean Lee (DAL). He's having ... I guess you can't call it a breakout year, because he played well in 2012, too, but he was having his best season. You could vote for him and it wouldn't be crazy, but there are so many talented ILBs, I want guys who have played every game.

Back with the Cardinals, Dansby is having his best season. He leads the NFL in solo tackles (85), with 3 sacks, 2 interceptions, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery, a touchdown, and 14 passes defensed. Fourteen. Cornerbacks are jealous of that number.

Vontaze Burfict (CIN) and rookie Kiko Alonso (BUF) are both having nice seasons, but their league leads in tackles only holds up if you give them credit for an unrealistic total of assists: 41 for Burfict, and 53 for Alonso. Compare that to Dansby (3), Johnson (9), or Bowman (16). It's not that assists are bad, but the statistic is kept so unevenly that it's basically meaningless. Alonso gets an assist if he's on the field when Buffalo makes a tackle. He does have 4 INTs. Luke Kuechly (CAR), like Alonso, flies all over the field making plays, but I want to see him take the next step. Burfict, Alonso, and Kuechly all play with good defensive lines that can keep them clear of blockers. Making tackles is par for the course.

Poor Paul Posluszny (JAC) is probably the best player on the league's worst team. His 79 solo tackles are 2nd to Dansby, plus he's got 2 picks and 8 PDs. Smith, a refugee from Jacksonville, has 3.5 sacks, 2 FF, 2 INTs, a TD, and 14 PDs. He's done a lot to ease the losses of Ray Lewis and Dannelle Ellerbe. I haven't seen a lot of the Rams, but James Laurinaitis (STL) seems to be having another fine season. Players who impress me every time I see them: Erin Henderson (MIN) and Brandon Spikes (NE). Henderson has 3 sacks and 2 INTs, and his 10 tackles for loss are the second-most among ILBs (A.J. Hawk, GB, 12). Spikes doesn't have numbers that would put him in the Pro Bowl, and he subs out in certain packages, but he always seem to find the ball-carrier.

Outside Linebacker

DeAndre Levy (DET), Robert Mathis (IND), Lavonte David (TB), Tamba Hali (KC), Thomas Davis (CAR), Ahmad Brooks (SF)

Outside linebackers are so tough to compare, because there really are two distinct positions: 3-4 pass rushers and 4-3 space players. For the first time in four years, I've chosen equal numbers of both. Levy is tied for the NFL lead in interceptions: a linebacker, with 5 INTs, returned for 75 yards and a touchdown. He also has 11 other PDs and 66 solo tackles. David, only in his second season, does everything. It's too early to compare him to Derrick Brooks, but David is a monster. He's got 70 solo tackles (most among OLBs), 5 sacks, a safety, 2 INTs, 6 PDs, and a forced fumble. Davis has 60 solos, 4 sacks, INT, FF, and 7 PDs. These guys are quick and smart — comparable to Lance Briggs (CHI), who was having a pretty good season himself until a shoulder injury.

Last week, I was ready to vote for both of KC's pass rushers, Hali and Justin Houston (KC). But a dislocated elbow might end Houston's season, so I replaced him with Brooks, who repeatedly destroyed Tyler Polumbus on Monday night. He's been making plays like that for a couple of years now. He's the Lamar Lundy of the SF linebacking corps' fearsome foursome: a great player overshadowed by big names. Mathis leads the NFL in sacks (14.5).

The return of a healthy Terrell Suggs (BAL) and the addition of former Bronco Elvis Dumervil (BAL) have helped the Ravens survive their offseason losses. Each has 9 sacks, Dumervil actually 9.5. Von Miller (DEN) is extraordinary, but he was suspended for the first six games of the season.

Cornerback

Alterraun Verner (TEN), Richard Sherman (SEA), Joe Haden (CLE), Keenan Lewis (NO), Tracy Porter (OAK), Patrick Peterson (ARI), Brent Grimes (MIA), Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (DEN)

Fourth-year CB Verner is tied for the NFL leads in interceptions (5) and passes defensed (16). He also has 2 fumble recoveries and a touchdown. Breakout year. Sherman, Haden, Lewis, Grimes, and Aqib Talib (NE) have all drawn attention as shut-down corners who can neutralize or contain an opponent's top receiver. Talib has missed three games, and he's lucky he didn't get thrown out against Carolina, but he's a valuable defender. Lewis, a free agent from Pittsburgh, has helped rejuvenate the New Orleans defense, and he doesn't get enough credit.

Former Saint Tracy Porter has 2 INTs, one of them returned for a touchdown, with a blocked kick, 11 passes defensed, and 4 tackles for loss, including 1.5 sacks. He's invisible in Oakland, but he's making big plays. No one seems to be talking about the injury to Rodgers-Cromartie, the turning point in Sunday night's Broncos/Patriots game. New England got shut out in the first half, then DRC got hurt and the Pats scored 34. The Broncos face a ton of pass attempts, and Rodgers-Cromartie has mostly held up. I don't like DeAngelo Hall's (WAS) style of play, and he's part of maybe the worst secondary in the league. But he has scored 3 TDs this year. He has 3 INTs, 2 FF, 1 FR, and 118 return yards. Washington hasn't been able to win without big plays from its defense, and most of them have come from Hall.

Tim Jennings (CHI) is having another big year statistically, and Darrelle Revis (TB) is tough even when he's playing hurt. Adam Jones (CIN) and Terence Newman (CIN) have stepped up since Leon Hall's injury. Brandon Flowers (KC) is solid, but he missed a couple games. Vontae Davis (IND) had a big game against Denver, but needs to show more consistency. Lardarius Webb (BAL) plays some really good games, but again, I'd like to see more of them. Prince Amukamara (NYG) continues to improve.

Strong Safety

Eric Berry (KC), T.J. Ward (CLE)

Berry and Ward lead all defensive backs in tackles for loss, 7 each. Berry has 8 PDs, 3 takeaways, 2.5 sacks, and a touchdown. Ward has 56 solo tackles, 2 INTs, 1.5 sacks, and a TD. Troy Polamalu (PIT) isn't the play-maker he used to be, but he also has 7 tackles for loss.

Mark Barron (TB), Bernard Pollard (TEN), and Major Wright (CHI) all have a lot of tackles and a couple of picks. Pollard probably is the best of the three. Antrel Rolle (NYG) has numbers, too, in part because injuries have forced this former CB into coverage. He's got 5 INTs and 9 PDs. Kam Chancellor (SEA), my choice last year in the NFC, doesn't have big stats this season, but he did deck an offensive tackle on national television, and that's got to count for something.

Free Safety

Earl Thomas (SEA),Tyrann Mathieu (ARI)

Thomas leads Seattle in solo tackles, 50% ahead of any teammate, plus he has 4 INTs and 2 FF. From a pure statistical view, you might go with Barry Church (DAL). He leads all DBs in solo tackles, forced 3 fumbles, recovered a fumble, intercepted a pass, defensed 6 other passes, and scored a touchdown. But Church is making plays partly because the guys in front of him aren't. He's not knifing into the backfield and creating chaos, he's cleaning up messes and making some good things happen.

The usual suspects are having good seasons. Ryan Clark (PIT) has been credited with a laughable 35 tackle assists, 12 more than any other DB. Reshad Jones (MIA) has a bunch of tackles and a TD. Charles Woodson (OAK) isn't the player he was a few years ago, but he's still making plays, including 50 solo tackles, 3 forced fumbles, 2 recoveries, a sack, an interception, and a touchdown. Eric Weddle (SD) has 64 solo tackles and 7 PDs.

Mathieu hasn't generated much buzz for Defensive Rookie of the Year, because (1) he plays in Arizona, (2) he's not among the league leaders in INTs, (3) he was dismissed from LSU and people don't like him, (4) he's surrounded by established stars like Dansby, Peterson, and John Abraham. But Mathieu has 62 solo tackles, with 5 TFL, including a sack. He has 2 picks, a forced fumble, and 8 passes defensed. Arizona went 5-11 last year. This year, they brought in a new head coach, plus Dansby, Abraham, Carson Palmer, and Mathieu. Now they're 7-4 and very much in the NFC playoff hunt. Credit where it's due.

Da'Norris Searcy (BUF) made some big plays in relief of Jairus Byrd, but he's not on the ballot.

Kicker

Steven Hauschka (SEA), Stephen Gostkowski (NE)

Gostkowski leads the NFL in field goals (26) and field goal percentage (96.3%). He's 2/2 from 50 yards out, including a 54-yarder in Week 6, and he's already played a couple of games in pretty rough weather. Hauschka and Nick Folk (NYJ) are close behind, both with 24 FGs and 96.0% accuracy. I prefer Hauschka because he's got better distance (3/3 50+, 53-yd long) than Folk (1/1, 50-yd long), and his lone miss was actually a block. Hauschka and Folk are tied for most field goals of 40 yards and above (12 each), which are the ones that really demonstrate skill. Every kicker in the league will hit 95% or more of his kicks from inside 40.

Adam Vinatieri (IND) is having one of his best seasons, tying a career-high with four 50-yard FGs. I also like Dan Bailey (DAL), Dan Carpenter (BUF), and Matt Prater (DEN), though it's tough to judge Prater fairly in the altitude of Denver. He's 4/5 from 50 yards and beyond, and the miss was his only one all season.

Punt Returner

Dexter McCluster (KC), Tandon Doss (BAL)

No one's really having a great year. There are 10 players with a kick return TD this season. Let's just take those 10 and narrow it down.

10. Travis Benjamin (CLE) is not on the ballot.

9. Tavon Austin (STL) averages just 23.6 on kickoffs and 8.7 on punts, and he's fumbled 3 punt returns.

8. Keshawn Martin (HOU) has the lowest PR average (8.5) out of the 10, and 2 fumbles on KRs.

7. Marcus Sherels (MIN) fair catches everything. He has 14 punt returns and 20 fair catches. Don't be scared, homie.

6. Trindon Holliday (DEN) makes stupid decisions more often than any other player in the NFL. He catches punts he shouldn't, lets them bounce when he should catch it, runs everything out of the end zone, and fumbles a lot.

5. Micah Hyde (GB) has a poor KR average (20.8).

4. Dwayne Harris (DAL) fair catches too often, but he's got great averages on KRs (31.3) and PRs (14.0).

3. Devin Hester (CHI) has 3 fumbles and he's been to enough Pro Bowls.

2. Doss doesn't return kickoffs.

1. Neither does McCluster, but mad respect for 46 PR and only 6 FC.

Choose any two from the top five, I guess.

Punter

Thomas Morstead (NO), Jon Ryan (SEA)

I had seven finalists: Morstead, Ryan, Johnny Hekker (STL), Kevin Huber (CIN), Brett Kern (TEN), Adam Podlesh (CHI), and Mike Scifres (SD). With a pretty even split among those who play in warm weather or domes (Morstead, Hekker, Scifres) and those who play in tougher conditions (Ryan, Huber, Kern, Podlesh), I chose one of each.

Morstead's had to deal with a short field the most often, but he still has exceptional averages. Scifres, having a comeback season, is an ace near the goal line (20 punts down inside the 20, only 1 touchback), but his net average is about 2.5 yards behind Morstead's.

The bad-weather guys are really interesting. Ryan won me over basically for one reason: he has allowed 15 punt return yards this season. Not 15 punt returns — 15 yards. That's a sensational job of hang time and directional kicking. Podlesh is almost as good (96 yards), and he's superb at avoiding touchbacks (19 I-20, 1 TB). Kern and Huber also have done great work near the goal line, but I can't get over 15 punt return yards in 11 games. I know the coverage team deserves credit, too, but that's mostly Ryan.

Special Teamer

Marcus Easley (BUF), Darrell Stuckey (SD)

As always, many of my favorite special teamers don't appear on the ballot. Only 23 teams even list anyone. Kassim Osgood (SF) and Matthew Slater (NE) are probably the two best, but neither one is on the ballot. I do like Easley.

The teams I voted for most this season were the 49ers and Seahawks (7 each), then the Chiefs (6), Broncos and Saints (5 each). On the 2012 Pro Bowl ballot, my leading team was the Broncos (7), followed by the 49ers, Patriots, and Texans (6 each).

2013 Midseason Awards

Offensive Player of the Year — Peyton Manning (DEN)

Defensive Player of the Year — J.J. Watt (HOU)

MVP — Peyton Manning (DEN)

Coach of the Year — Andy Reid (KC)

Assistant — Rob Ryan (NO)

Rookie of the Year — Tyrann Mathieu (ARI)

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