The NFL will announce its Pro Bowl teams next week.
Those are popularity contests. With fans' votes counting for a third of the vote -- players and coaches make up the other two thirds -- the right players don't always go to Hawaii.
|Peyton Manning has the Colts gunning for a perfect season. (Getty Images)|
There will be no automatic trip to Hawaii for the guys on these lists. Not even a trip to Hoboken for that matter.
What they can take from it is the satisfaction of knowing that popularity had nothing to do with their names being on these teams.
We'll leave the popularity stuff to the ballot-box stuffers.
These are real Pro Bowl teams, where earning your way on is all that matters.
QB: Starter: Peyton Manning, Colts. Reserves: Carson
Palmer, Bengals; Tom Brady, Patriots.
Comment: This might be the clearest picture of all the positions. These three are definitely the best in the league.
RB: Starter: LaDainian Tomlinson, Chargers. Reserves:
Edgerrin James, Colts; Larry Johnson, Chiefs.
Comment: Tomlinson is the best back in football, so he edges James for the start. Johnson is a rising star.
FB: Starter: Lorenzo Neal, Chargers.
Comment: He's a guard masquerading as a fullback. Tomlinson loves this guy.
WR: Starters: Chad Johnson, Bengals; Marvin Harrison, Colts.
Reserves: Reggie Wayne, Colts; Hines Ward, Steelers.
Comment: Johnson and Harrison were easy choices. Wayne deserves to finally get a trip to Hawaii, while Ward has again been the Steelers' go-to guy and has 10 touchdown catches.
TE: Starter: Antonio Gates, Chargers. Reserve: Tony Gonzalez,
Comment: These two are slam dunks, although Todd Heap is close.
T: Starters: Levi Jones, Bengals; Shane Olivea, Chargers.
Reserve: Tarik Glenn, Colts.
Comment: Jones did a great job on Dwight Freeney and has moved to the elite level. Olivea is a rising youngster who gets by with toughness and is a true right tackle.
G: Starters: Brian Waters, Chiefs; Will Shields, Chiefs.
Reserve: Alan Faneca, Steelers.
Comment: Waters and Shields are the reason Larry Johnson is having a great year. Faneca hasn't played as well as he has in the past, but this is a thin position.
C: Starter: Tom Nalen, Broncos. Reserve: Jeff Saturday,
Comment: Nalen is having one of his best seasons, while Saturday is the quarterback of the Colts line -- which is a difficult thing.
K: Lawrence Tynes, Chiefs.
Comment: He missed a big kick last week, but he has had a good season.
DE: Starters: Dwight Freeney, Colts; Jason Taylor, Dolphins.
Reserve: Trevor Pryce, Broncos.
Comment: Robert Mathis and Derrick Burgess have good sack numbers, but they're more of situational players, so Freeney and Taylor get the start. Pryce doesn't get sack numbers, but he's as good as they come against the run.
DT: Starters: John Henderson, Jaguars; Jamal Williams, Chargers.
Reserve: Marcus Stroud, Jaguars.
Comment: Henderson is playing better than any tackle in the league, even if he only has one sack. Williams is the key to the Chargers run defense.
OLB: Starters: Keith Bulluck, Titans; Cato June, Colts,
Reserve: Ian Gold, Broncos.
Comment: Bulluck is starring on a bad team, while June is putting up big numbers on a good one.
ILB-MLB: Starter: Mike Peterson, Jaguars. Reserves: Al
Wilson, Broncos; Jonathan Vilma, Jets.
Comment: Peterson plays behind the two big tackles, so he puts up big numbers, but he's a heck of a player. Wilson is a thumper, while Vilma is the next great middle linebacker.
CB: Starters: Champ Bailey, Broncos; Rashean Mathis, Jaguars.
Reserve: Deltha O'Neal, Bengals.
Comment: Bailey is still the best in the league in coverage, while Mathis has jumped his game up to the highest level. O'Neal has nine interceptions and has played well.
S: Starters: Troy Polamalu, Steelers; Bob Sanders, Colts.
Reserve: Nick Ferguson, Broncos.
Comment: With Ed Reed missing time, Polamalu was the best at his position this year. Sanders is a rising star, and Ferguson is a better player than more-heralded teammate John Lynch.
P: Josh Miller, Patriots.
Comment: He leads the conference in average and net average. That's an impressive combo.
Return man: Jerome Mathis, Texans.
Comment: This rookie averages 30 yards per kickoff return and has two for touchdowns.
Special teams: Robert Mathis, Colts.
Comment: He is a force on special teams. Just watch him blast people every week.
QB: Matt Hasselbeck, Seahawks. Reserves: Eli Manning,
Giants; Mark Brunell, Redskins.
Comment: This is really a down year for NFC quarterbacks, so Hasselbeck takes the start almost by default. The reserves? Somebody has to go.
RB: Starters: Shaun Alexander, Seahawks. Reserves: Tiki
Barber, Giants; Warrick Dunn, Falcons.
Comment: Alexander is having an MVP-like season, so he gets the start. Dunn edges out Washington's Clinton Portis for the final spot.
FB: Starter: Mack Strong, Seahawks.
Comment: He's the guy leading Alexander to all those yards.
WR: Starters: Steve Smith, Carolina; Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona.
Reserves: Santana Moss, Redskins; Joey Galloway, Bucs.
Comment: Smith is an MVP candidate, while Fitzgerald has put up huge numbers with the Cardinals. Moss has cooled some, while Galloway is having his best year since 1998.
TE: Starter: Alge Crumpler, Falcons. Reserve: Jeremy
Comment: Clearly they are the two best in the NFC. Washington's Chris Cooley is a riser who just misses.
T: Starters: Walter Jones, Seahawks; Jon Jansen, Redskins.
Reserve: Orlando Pace, Rams.
Comment: Jones is the league's best tackle, while Jansen gets the nod in a weak right tackle group. Pace is still a heck of a player.
G: Starters: Steve Hutchinson, Seahawks; Chris Snee, Giants.
Reserve: Larry Allen, Cowboys.
Comment: Hutchinson and Jones make up the best side of any line in the league. Snee is a real comer who will be a perennial choice here.
C: Starter: Olin Kreutz, Bears. Reserve: LeCharles
Comment: When he's not breaking teammates' jaws, Kreutz is a heck of a player. Bentley would get more notice on a better team.
K: Neil Rackers, Cardinals.
Comment: He has missed one field-goal attempt all season, making 34 of 35. That's amazing.
DE: Starters: Mike Strahan, Giants; Will Smith, Saints.
Reserve: Adewale Ogunleye, Bears.
Comment: Strahan lowered his body weight, but his production didn't drop. Smith has quietly developed into a star.
DT: Starters: Rod Coleman, Falcons; Tommie Harris, Bears.
Reserve: La'Roi Glover, Cowboys.
Comment: Coleman is a sack guy inside, while Harris has emerged as a dominant player for a good Bears defense.
OLB: Starters: Lance Briggs, Bears; Derrick Brooks, Bucs.
Reserve: Karlos Dansby, Cardinals.
Comment: Briggs is a rising star, while Brooks is a veteran who continues to play at a high level. Dansby could be a starter in years to come.
ILB: Starters: Brian Urlacher, Bears. Reserves: Antonio
Comment: Urlacher has finally lived up to the hype. He's been all over the field. Pierce has been worth the price of free agency to the Giants.
CB: Starters: Ken Lucas, Panthers; Nathan Vasher, Bears.
Reserve: Ronde Barber, Bucs.
Comment: Lucas has played as well as the Panthers had hoped when they signed him away from Seattle. Vasher has been an impact player on defense, while Barber has really come on the past six weeks.
S: Starters: Adrian Wilson, Cardinals; Dwight Smith, Saints.
Reserve: (tie) Brian Dawkins, Eagles; Darren Sharper, Vikings.
Comment: Wilson doesn't get the due he deserves because he plays for the Cardinals. Smith has been all over the field for the Saints, while Sharper has the interception numbers and Dawkins is still one of the best.
P: Josh Bidwell, Tampa Bay.
Comment: He leads the NFC in average and has one of the better net averages
Return man: Willie Ponder, Giants.
Comment: He has a return for a touchdown and takes it in a lean year for NFC return men.
Special teams: Corey Ivey, Rams.
Comment: He always seems to be in the middle of the action.