I voted on the Pro Bowl today, which I'd never done before. It was a disappointing experience.
I appreciate that the NFL trusts their voters enough to have them select starters from every position, but I say this as a fairly substantial football fan: I have no idea who to select in most of the categories. Quarterback, wide receiver, running back, tight end - sure. Cornerback, strong safety, free safety, punt returner - maybe. But that's only 8 of 19 categories. The vast majority of NFL fans are in no way capable of making intelligent selections on these categories, yet they will vote anyway. They will vote for either their team's players, or they will vote for names they recognize, which is part of why certain "name" players continue to return to the Pro Bowl year after year, despite ineffective play.
It makes you appreciate the strategy of players like Joey Porter - it's smart to be mouthy, because it means that fans will remember you when it comes time to vote.
I thought I'd walk you through my Pro Bowl ballot, both to highlight the players I'm rooting will be recognized this year, and to open my ballot up to the harsh daylight of the Internet. But mostly, I want to you understand: I am an NFL fan. I play a lot of fantasy football. I watch all of the games that I can, regardless who's playing, and I notice things like who made which block where, and all of those details. And yet this is my ballot:
AFC - Tom Brady (Patriots), Peyton Manning (Colts), and Matt Schaub (Texans)
Everyone already knows Brady and Manning are locks for the Bowl this year, but did you know Schaub already has over 2600 yards and has 17 touchdowns (not counting tonight)? Apologies to Ben Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers, who have similar stats but have had bigger downsides this year.
NFC - Drew Brees (Saints), Aaron Rodgers (Packers), and Brett Favre (Vikings)
Ugh. I hate doing it, but I have to admit - not only is Favre having a very good season, he's also having possibly the finest season of his long career. He's got nearly 2500 yards at a 70 percent completion rate, with 21 touchdowns and only 3(!) interceptions, which is mind-blowing when you consider what a gunslinger he's historically been. What's worse: if the season ended today, he would be a near-unanimous choice for MVP. Just awful to think about.
AFC - Chris Johnson (Titans), Maurice Jones-Drew (Jaguars), and Cedric Benson (Bengals)
If I had my way, Cedric Benson would win the MVP trophy this year. Also, did you know Chris Johnson is within reach of a 2,000 yard season? He'd have to rush for 130 yards a game from here on out, which isn't crazy when you consider he's averaging over 120 right now. Apologies to Ray Rice, who may finish as a top-5 RB.
NFC - Adrian Peterson (Vikings), Steven Jackson (Rams), and DeAngelo Williams (Panthers)
Steven Jackson is currently number two in rushing yards this year (1,031), ahead of everyone but Johnson, even the much-ballyhooed Adrian Peterson - and all this behind one of the worst offensive lines in the league. I would bet that if you asked most NFL fans where Jackson ranked on the rushing charts, they would estimate somewhere from 8th to 10th. This is just another of many reasons why it sucks to be a St. Louis Ram.
AFC - Reggie Wayne (Colts), Randy Moss (Patriots), Wes Welker (Patriots), Andre Johnson (Texans)
It's not homerism as a Patriots or Texans fan - Moss and Welker are both top-5 in receiving yards this season, as are both Johnson and Wayne. The only NFC member? Go ahead, guess which one of these it is:
NFC - Larry Fitzgerald (Cardinals), Steve Smith (Giants), Sidney Rice (Vikings), Roddy White (Falcons)
Give up? It's Sidney Rice. No kidding. Also, my selection of White was just personal preference - Chad Ochocinco (Bengals) and Desean Jackson (Eagles) would also be acceptable selections.
AFC - Dallas Clark (Colts) and Antonio Gates (Chargers)
NFC - Vernon Davis (49ers) and Tony Gonzalez (Falcons)
Clark and Gates are clear selections for their receiving yards, and Davis has more receiving touchdowns than any other player except Larry Fitzgerald. Gonzalez? Just having his standard excellent season - he's not significantly better than Brent Celek, who has almost identical stats and on less targets
Alright, now it gets tricky. Keep in mind, up to this point, I have recognized every single player on the ballot and know what kind of year they're having, good or bad. My vote was an extremely intelligent, well-reasoned ballot, though I'm certain you could argue against some of my picks if you wanted. But they were all smart, well-chose votes. Now, look at what happens here:
AFC - only recognized one player: the Colts' Jeff Saturday. Didn't vote.
NFC - didn't recognize anyone.Didn't vote.
AFC - picked Damien Woody (Jets), Duane Brown (Texans), and Matt Light (Patriots).
I'm actually not sure if I remember Woody and Brown because they're good at their jobs or terrible at them, but either way, I recognized them. Light is obviously a stud, though I think he's been hurt all year. He also might be old now. The only other name I recognized was Michael Oher, about whom the new Sandra Bullock film, The Blind Side, is the life story of (Bullock, unfortunately, does not play Oher). Oher is having a bad year, which is very bad timing for both him and the movie (not that anyone who's going to go see a feel-good movie starring Bullock is going to care). He'll probably be voted into the Pro Bowl anyway.
NFC - Only recognized a few names, such as washed-up former star Orlando Pace, so the only name I vote for was the Panther's Jeff Otah.
Didn't really recognize anyone. Moved on.
AFC - Vonta Leach (Texans)
NFC - Leonard Weaver (Eagles)
Only recognized four or five player, but picked Leach and Weaver since I know they're extremely involved in their teams' gameplans.
AFC - Brandon Merriweather (Patriots)
Troy Palomalu (Steelers) will obviously win this one, though he's been hurt for so much of the year he really shouldn't. I toyed with the idea of selecting Bernard Pollard (Texans), who is having a great season, but couldn't because... well, you know.
NFC - Adrian Brown (Cardinals)
The only name I really recognized, since he's had a few high-profile interceptions.
AFC - Darrelle Revis (Jets), Nnamdi Asomugha (Raiders), Brandon Flowers (Chiefs)
This one I was sort of qualified to vote on, but mostly because Revis and Asomugha have been so top-notch that football fans know them right off. By the way, you have to be impressed with the way Asomugha has worked to try and make "Nnamdi Asomugha" the world's most unlikely household name.
NFC - Asante Samuel (Eagles), Charles Woodson (Packers), DeAngello Hall (Chiefs)
I'm mostly assuming they're having good seasons based off their reputations.
AFC - Robert Mathis (Colts), Dwight Freeney (Colts), Mario Williams (Texans)
I recognized probably half-a-dozen guys, including one or two I knew were having bad years.
NFC - Will Smith (Saints), Trent Cole (Eagles), Jared Allen (Vikings)
Would I have remembered Will Smith, who already has 8.5 sacks this year, if his name didn't make announcers make lame hip-hop jokes whenever he makes a good play? Probably not.
AFC - I picked Shaun Cody, because he's a Texan, Vince Wilfork, because he's a Patriot, and Tank Johnson, not because he's a Bengal, but because he has a great name.
NFC - Sedrick Ellis (Saints) and both members of the Vikings' "Williams Wall," Pat and Kevin Williams.
AFC - Only recognized a couple names, but Ed Reed (Ravens) was an easy selection (though I considered the Steeler's Ryan Clark, too)
NFC - Darren Sharper (Saints) is having a monster season, which is good, because I didn't recognize hardly anyone else.
AFC - Jerod Mayo (Patriots), Ray Lewis (Ravens).
And this is why it's smart to be mouthy like Lewis - people know who you are and vote for you. He'll be making the Pro Bowl until he's 50.
NFC - Patrick Willis (49ers), A.J. Hawk (Packers)
Only recognized three or four names, and wasn't totally sure I knew if these guys are having good years or not.
AFC - Elvis Dumervil (Broncos), James Harrison (Steelers), Terrell Suggs (Ravens)
You've got to feel bad for Dumervil - even though he's leading the league in sacks, he's listed as an outside linebacker in some places and a defensive end in others, so no one knows where to go to vote for him. And then, his name is misspelled on the ballot! He's listed as "Elivs."
NFC - Danny Clark (New York Giants), DeMarcus Ware (Cowboys), Lance Briggs (Bears)
Hey, the Bears are actually gonna be able to send someone to the Pro Bowl! Also, I only recognized four names.
AFC - Joshua Cribbs (Browns)
You've got to feel for the Browns - their best player is their kick returner. Not nominated, by the way: Ted Ginn, Jr., who set an NFL record by returning two kicks for a touchdown in a single game. Strange.
NFC - DeSean Jackson (Eagles)
One of the most exciting receivers in the game is also one its best kick returners.
AFC - Stephen Gostkowski (Patriots)
NFC - Lawrence Tynes (Giants)
I play fantasy football, so I knew that these guys were playing well, though I couldn't give you any stats.
AFC - Chris Hanson (Patriots)
NFC - Jeff Feagles (Eagles)
Only two names I recognized.
AFC - Joshua Cribbs (Browns) - in case he doesn't make it as a kick returner
NFC - Desmond Bishop (Packers) - though I don't know why.
And that'll do it. How sad was that?
Here's what I think: NFL fans should only be allowed to vote for certain positions - quarterback, running back, wide receiver, tight end, cornerback, strong safety, free safety, kicker, and kick returner.
All other starting positions will be voted on by a select crowd of football reporters, but the fan gets to vote for which reporters are given that position. Wouldn't that be fun?