Hope you all had a very Merry Christmas! Richard Sherman got his Christmas wish, as he won his appeal against suspension, and then the NFL's version of Boxing Day meant the release of Pro Bowl rosters so everyone could start fighting over 'snubs' for a game no one is supposed to care about, though it does involve a payday and often bonuses for a playing in a game no one has actually played in for ages.
The voting system produces the kind of anomalies you'd expect. Jeff Saturday, benched by the Packers, is voted to the NFC team, and said he'd give his spot to guard Josh Sitton, who wasn't. Maurkice Pouncey, who battled injuries and probably wasn't even the best center named Pouncey in the AFC, gets voted a starting spot too. Five players from the 2-13 Chiefs go to the game (see below for details). And so on and so forth.
But put the whole 'snub' issue into context. Pro Bowl teams contain three quarterbacks, even though you can only play one at a time, but also three safeties, even though you play two at a time, and one special teamer, even though you need ten around the kickers. But no one has any idea of who the best ten special teamers might be. A lot of Pro Bowl voters would be like me, and not have seen every game every week, and few of them watch the linemen closely, much less the two gunners on every punt. When the season's over, I will run Cock-Up, my formula for determining the most valuable kickers, and tell you who the Pro Bowl kickers should have been, but basically, you have to allow for reputation, and, in the case of Victor Cruz, a good end zone dance and TV commercials, to determine why certain players are or aren't snubbed. Is Julio Jones more crucial to the Falcons than Roddy White? Should Dez Bryant's late season renaissance be rewarded? Should Richard Sherman have been ahead of, say, Tim Jennings (oh yes, but...
The other thing to consider when ranting about 'snubs' is that worthy Pro Bowlers are sometimes overlooked legitimately, because of the depth of talent at a position, which seems to be the case on the D line, and at safety—check out the NFC's safety spots, where it's hard to argue against the picks, but you can make cases for Kam the Bam Chancellor, William Moore, Antrel Rolle, or Thomas DeCoud. It's not a snub when the guy picked over you is equally or slightly more deserving. A lot of people have made a good case for CJ Spiller, for example, saying it's not fair to penalise him because Chan Gailey couldn't figure out how to put him on the field, but who among Arian Foster, Ray Rice, or Jamaal Charles would you drop? Maybe the most interesting case is Gronk: who has been dominant when he's played, even when he was less than 100 per cent early, but has missed significant time to injury. I have no problem with his being voted in, but I'd also have no problem with Heath Miller being the starter and Owen Daniels getting some recognition.
Better to worry in the run-up to the New Year, how to pick week 17, when some teams are eliminated from everything but the race for next year's jobs, and others are fighting for the two remaining playoff slots in the NFC, or maybe for seeding. Resting players nursing injuries makes sense, resting if you're in position for the bye week doesn't, in my mind. But the question about which players are going to show up, and in what moods they will be, makes week 17 even more of a crap-shoot than weeks 1-16. Just remember, given the choice between going to the Pro Bowl and playing in February, you know which one most players will choose.
Tampa Bay (6-9) at Atlanta (13-2): The Bucs, particularly Josh Freeman, seem to be imploding in the second-half of the season again: perhaps the rah-rah does wear off? But the Falcons, having clinched top seed, may well be dusting the cobwebs off Luke McCown. Pick: Falcons
Newark Airport Jets (6-9) at Buffalo (5-10): I'm going to miss the Jest in the New Year, though I suppose Tim Tebow wouldn't say the same thing. They announced Thursday that the Sanchize will start this game; Greg McElroy's 11 sacks last week fell (so to speak) only one short of the NFL record, which is held by Bert Jones, Warren Moon, and Donovan McNabb, pretty good company anyway you look at it. This could be a statement game for Sanchez, but it might also be for CJ Spiller, or Ryan Fitzpatrick, who would probably be under assault if he played in nominal New York as opposed to actual New York. Given the nature of the Bills, Chan Gailey will probably use Spiller as a decoy and give the touches to Tashard Choice. Given the nature of the Jets, this would be the week Sanchez completes 22 of 25 for four touchdowns. Given the nature of picking the NFL, I might as well toss a coin. Pick: heads, I mean Bills
Baltimore (10-5) at Cincinnati (9-6): I doubt any of the players sit around and figure the scenarios the way the media do, but if the Ravens win and the Pats lose the Ravens and Bengals would play again next week, and in those scenarios neither team usually seems to try to win. Otherwise, the Bengals are locked into the sixth seed, so this could be a rest day for them, which would mess up Joe Flacco's desire to turn into John Skelton when they play on the road. Pick: Ravens
Chicago (9-6) at Detroit (4-11): Matt Stafford threw for 443 yards and no touchdowns last week, which broke Joe Montana's record for most yards without a score, 441. This is a more interesting mark than Calvin Johnson's breaking Jerry Rice's record for consecutive 100 yard games or for a season's receiving yards, simply because it is a measure of the Lions' on going frustration. Although Megatron's yards have come in 'easy' circumstances (the Lions trailing, and needing to pass) but he has almost literally been the Lions only decent wide receiving option for much of the season. The Bears need a win and some help from the Skins and Packers winning to get into the playoffs, which is a lot to play for. However, the inevitable collision between Suh and Jay might well break the Lions' way. Jim Schwartz is just the kind of coach who can get his team fired up for a useless win that would redeem his whole useless season. Pick: Lions
Houston (12-3) at Indianapolis (10-5): The arguments for coach and rookie of the year are so multi-faceted this year they belong in some forum other than the world of sportstalk/tweet/web. But when you look at the Colt roster, and consider Bruce Arians was an emergency interim coach, getting 10 wins, much less 11, is some achievement. And though his raw stats aren't necessarily as convincing as Griffin's or Wilson's, Andrew Luck still leads the NFL in conversions on third down and ten or more yards to go, which tells you something. There isn't a lot at stake here, although a loss could propel Houston out of the byes, and they really do want to be at home as much as possible. That's enough to play for, and they really are the better team here. Maybe the Power of Pagano pays off, but pick: Texans
Green Bay (11-4) at Minnesota (9-6): The Vikings are top of the tie-breaks for the sixth seed, which means if they win this game they're in regardless of what happens at Historic Fedex Field or at Soldier Field. Should they lose, they need to hope all the teams below them (Chicago, NY, and Washington) lose too. The Packers benching of Jeff Saturday did improve their O line, and getting Clay Matthews back helps their defense. To put the contrast between these two teams into context, no Packer back this season has gained as many yards as AP had last week on an 'off-day', which also reminds us that this foolish reaching after records that the media concentrates on, is usually, and should always be, secondary to getting the game won. Pick: Pack
Miami (7-8) at New England (11-4): You may recall that last week I suggested the Phins needed to get Reggie Bush more involved as a receiver, a la Marshall Faulk. Two touchdowns receiving (and another rushing) Miami got a good win over the Jags, and Joe Philbin's being looked at as a successful coach. When you look at the Pats' roster, do you see a team laden with Pro Bowlers? I sure don't, especially when Gronk is out. Their O line has been patchwork all season, their wideouts are underwhelming, their secondary has been a problem which just seemed to be getting solved when both Aquib Talib and Alfonzo Dennard got hurt, and their front seven depends on Rob Ninkovich for big plays. Vince Wilfork is an all-pro force, Jerod Mayo one of the league's best ILBs, and Brandon Spikes has had a good year, but still. This team is about coaching (and Tom Brady) and sometimes that doesn't seem to get recognised. Pick: Pats
Carolina (6-9) at New Orleans (7-8): How did Cam Newton morph from everyone's favourite rookie sensation into a character-challenged liability? If he has a halfway decent day the Saints could break the record for most yards allowed by a team in a season. The record was held by the 1981 Colts, and thanks to Mike Tanier for pointing out that Joe Vitt was an assistant on that team too. Maybe Drew Brees is feeling like he needs to send a message to the Pro Bowl selectors for when Aaron Rodgers or Matt Ryan or RG goes to the Super Bowl. With his luck, all three will be available. Pick: Saints
Philadelphia (4-11) at New Jersey Giants (8-7): Must-win for the G-men, but they also need the Skins, Vikes, and Bears to lose, which is possible, if not probable, and Andy Reid has cooperated with fate by announcing that Mike Vick will make his valedictory performance for the Eagles along with Reid. Wagner could set this stuff to music. Fox will probably build an animation of dominos tumbling, kind of like those Vietnam era propaganda shorts. Pretty soon the whole of the US is Giants' blue. Elite Manning has been in a December tailspin, and you've got to think Tom Coughlin, Kevin Gilbride and Eli are all pulling back on the joystick as hard as they can. It's Immelman Time! Pick: Giants
Cleveland (5-10) at Pittsburgh (7-8): The Steelers have lost five games this season by three points or less, and are playing only for pride, which is something aging teams often feel they ought to have a lot of. The Browns aren't aging, and they do have Trent Richardson who could be useful when the snow starts to fall. But I suspect pride goeth after the fall, in this case. Pick: Steelers
Jacksonville (2-13) at Tennessee (5-10): The Titans were embarrassed in Green Bay last week, while the Jags have been embarrassed much of the season. Chris Johnson, aka CJ2.0YPA is nursing a sore ankle, and players have been warned to wear extra protection in case a Jake Locker pass collides with a Blaine Gabbert pass from the previous series, and starts a chain reaction resulting in what George Bush would call nuclear disaster. The regional coverage of this game may not extend beyond Jacksonville City Limits, which sounds like a Ryan Adams movie. Just for fun, they ought to let Mike Munchak and Mike Mularkey change dressing rooms and give the other team the pre-game pep talk. Pick: Titans
Kansas City (2-13) at Denver (12-3): Five Chiefs on the Pro Bowl team? I'm not convinced Dustin Colquitt is the AFC's best punter named Colquitt, I can think of three safeties (Eric Weddle, Jairus Byrd, and Reshad Jones) I might take over Eric Berry (though there is that strange strong/free problem when you only choose three) and D'Qwell Jackson probably gave Derrick Johnson a run for his money. But when you look at the Chiefs, you see a lot of games where their D played well in the face of an offense that gave sputtering a bad name. I can't see Denver sputtering that much, unless Peyton convinces them to do the old Colt 'take week 17, bye week, and the first week of the playoffs off' thing. Pick: Broncos
Oakland (4-11) at San Diego (6-9): With Carson Palmer out, the Raiders choose between Terrelle Pryor or Hot Tub Matt Leinart. Quick bonus if you can guess who the Chargers' QB is, just in case Norv decides to rest Philip Rivers for the playoffs, or retirement, or whatever. It's Charlie Whitehurst. Pick: Chargers
Arizona (5-10) at San Francisco (10-4-1): This could be Alex Smith's chance to get a quarter or so of action, because even though the Crads have played some tough D, their offense has made the Chiefs look like the Bill Walsh Niners. This week former Patriot and Steeler-for-an-instant Brian Hoyer takes over from Lindley Kolb Skelton, which sounds like the remains of some teenaged actress. Hoyer might actually be the most effective of the four, but it probably won't be enough. Although given the way the Niners dominate the rest of the league and struggle within their division, you wonder. Pick: Niners
St Louis (7-7-1) at Seattle (10-5): The good news for the Seahawks is that, with Richard Sherman winning his appeal against his Adderall suspension, they will have their starting corners back for the playoffs, and Jeremy Lane, an impressive sixth round pick from a small college, can move into the slot. But for now Lane will be starting opposite Sherman, and as long as the refs continue to interpret constant karate chops to the receivers' arms as nothing more serious than bored bongo drumming by the defender, they'll be OK. While it would be stirring to see the Rams wind up with a winning record, pick: Seahawks
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Dallas (8-7) at Washington (9-6): The winner wins the NFC East, and the fourth seed in the playoffs. If Washington loses, they can still get a wild card, but they need the Vikings, Bears, and Giants all to lose. You've probably seen the map of the US which shows the result of polling: Texas wants the Cowboys to win, everyone else in America wants the Skins, which must make the first time in his life that Saddan Snyder has ever had the backing of so many people. Tony Romo has played exceptionally in fourth quarters for the past few weeks, and Dez Bryant could potentially feast on DeAngelo Hall and his propensity to go for the impossible interception or fan on the score-saving tackle. But the Skins haven't lost since before their bye week, in week 9 to Carolina, and that six game streak includes Thanksgiving at Dallas and wins over the Giants and Ravens. They won in Cleveland with Kirk Cousins at QB. Meanwhile, the Cowboys have squeaked out wins over the Bengals and Steelers while letting the Saints squeak past them last week. They're so short of linebackers they had Matt Roth in for a tryout; Roth last played for Rob Ryan in Cleveland sometime in the past five years. I think that bodes badly for the Cowboys against Alfred Morris, much less RG. Pick: Skins
LAST WEEK 10-6 SEASON: 155-79-1