Five Packers deserved to go to the Pro Bowl and five were chosen on Tuesday. The problem is which players will be in Hawaii on Jan. 30, 2011 and which players will be on a golf course that Sunday (of course, fans hope that none of the five Packers will be playing in that “game” and instead they’ll be preparing for a much, much bigger one a week later). Offensive tackle Chad Clifton, safety Nick Collins, wide receiver Greg Jennings, outside linebacker Clay Matthews and cornerback Charles Woodson were named to the NFC squad. That’s the highest number of Packers selected to the Pro Bowl since 2007.
Collins, Jennings and Matthews are very deserving. Collins hasn’t had a great season by his standards, but he’s still one of the top three safeties in the conference. Jennings, who only caught 14 passes in the first five games, has been arguably the league’s premiere wide receiver since the middle of October. Matthews is the most feared member of one of the league’s best defenses and a likely top-5 finisher in the defensive player of the year voting. So that’s where the fans, players and coaches got it right. But they got it wrong by rewarding Clifton and Woodson and snubbing Aaron Rodgers and Tramon Williams.
Clifton deserves all the credit in the world for bouncing back from a week 2 benching and putting together a very solid season. But at this point in his career, the only way he should be in Hawaii in January is if he’s taking his family on vacation. The 34-year-old has never been much of a run blocker, but he was so good in pass protection earlier in his career that a trip to the Pro Bowl wouldn’t have raised an eyebrow. That’s not the case now. He’s still not much of a run blocker and his protection isn’t good enough to offset that deficiency – at least as far as postseason honors are concerned.
Woodson is having a good season, but he isn’t even the best corner on his own team. That distinction goes to Williams, who was named the first alternate. While Woodson, the reigning defensive player of the year, is third on the team in tackles and has forced 5 fumbles, his coverage has been spotty. And since covering receivers is a pretty big part of a corner’s job, it’s safe to say this trip to Hawaii is borne more out of respect for what he’s done than for what he’s actually doing. Williams, on the other hand, has played so well that it’s actually a surprise when a receiver catches a pass on his watch.
Mike Vick, Drew Brees and Matt Ryan are the quarterbacks. All three are having very good seasons for very good teams, but the latter two simply aren’t as deserving as Rodgers, who’s the first alternate. Brees has thrown 21 picks in what has been an up-and-down year and Ryan is blessed to have Pro Bowlers all around him on offense. The Falcons’ star gets to hand off to Michael Turner and throw to Tony Gonzalez. The Packers’ star gets to hand off to Brandon Jackson and attempt to beat the cover-2 with Andrew Quarless. Rodgers has carried the offense on his back for the past nine weeks. That will likely get him some strong MVP consideration. Somehow, it didn’t get him to Hawaii.
The good news for Rodgers and Williams is that they’ll probably wind up in Hawaii if the Packers don’t get to the Super Bowl. Since either Philadelphia, New Orleans or Atlanta is likely to get there if Green Bay doesn’t, the first alternate would step in for Vick, Brees or Ryan. The only fly in the ointment would be if the Bears and Jay Cutler make it all the way to Dallas. As for Williams, he’ll get his ticket punched the minute Woodson begs out of the game. And the odds of No. 21 making the trip are about the same as, well, they’re about the same as the Bears and Jay Cutler making it to Dallas.
Offensive guard Josh Sitton and nose tackle B.J. Raji were also overlooked, but that didn’t come as a big surprise. Young linemen often have to wait their turn while bigger-named veterans bask in the Hawaii sun for an undeserving year or two. Guard Chris Snee of the Giants and nose tackle Jay Ratliff of Dallas are two prime examples. Both are perennial Pro Bowlers, but neither has had a particularly good season. Unfortunately, that’s how this whole process works and why it’s so flawed. Fans vote for their favorites, and let’s be honest, players and coaches vote for who they know and who they see. For example, do you think Sitton and Raji got votes from any coaches or players from the Saints?
Anyway, we’ve spent way too much time writing about a fake game – especially when the Packers have such a huge real game coming up in a matter of days. And if the Packers are to beat the Bears and then go on a run through the playoffs, they’ll do it on the backs of players like Rodgers, Sitton, Raji and Williams. And if those four are sipping champagne and holding the Lombardi Trophy on Feb. 6, 2011 at Cowboys Stadium, do you think any of them will care one iota about not making the Pro Bowl?