In less than a week, we will find out which players will be attending the 2014 Pro Bowl.
It won’t be until January 22nd when we find out who will be drafted to which team, but we will know who will get the invitation to the NFL’s annual all-star contest, which this season will not pit the NFC vs. the AFC, but instead will feature Jerry Rice and Deion Sanders as team captains, choosing players to compete on their respective teams.
Due to this change, the Pro Bowl voting is now “unconferenced” as termed by the NFL.
So who will be invited to make the trip to Hawaii? Here’s a look at my predictions for the 2014 Pro Bowl spots.
Quarterback (six selections)
Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos
There shouldn’t be any doubt that Peyton Manning will be getting an invitation to Hawaii. He currently stands as the NFL’s leading vote getter not only at quarterback, but throughout the entire league.
As of November 20th (per NFL.com), Manning has 654,309 votes, more than 100,000 votes ahead of second place on the list, Drew Brees.
This has been an easier decision for fans than anyone would think, as with two games left on the season, Manning has thrown for 4,811 yards, 47 touchdowns and only 10 interceptions with a quarterback rating of 112.9, while his Broncos currently stand at 11-3 and will clinch home field advantage throughout the playoffs if they can win their final two games.
Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints
No one should be surprised by Brees taking second overall in the Pro Bowl voting, due in part to his popularity throughout the country as well as his continued stellar play, as well as the resurgence of the Saints.
Brees currently has exactly 4,500 yards and 34 touchdowns to only 10 interceptions, and with a win on Sunday will clinch the NFC South for the third time in the last five years.
Tom Brady, New England Patriots
It can be argued that no quarterback has done more with less than Tom Brady, who currently has a depleted New England Patriots squad at 10-4, just one win away from their fifth consecutive AFC East title despite not having Rob Gronkowski, Vince Wilfork, Jerod Mayo or many other vital pieces on both sides of the ball.
Also despite the lack of weapons, Brady has still thrown for 4,049 yards, 23 touchdowns and only two interceptions.
Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers
Newton hasn’t been as explosive as we’ve seen him be in his first two years in the NFL, but he has been more consistent than ever before, which has led to a 10-4 record for his Carolina Panthers and a situation where if they win out, they can win their first NFC South title since 2008.
With those accolades also come some solid numbers, like 3,049 yards passing, 507 yards rushing, and 27 total touchdowns.
Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers
Philip Rivers’ 2013 has been a career resurgence, one where he is a league-leader in completion percentage (69.9 percent) while throwing for 4,048 yards and 28 touchdowns with only nine interceptions and a passer rating of 106.9. His incredible play will get the attention of the league’s players and coaches, sending him back to Hawaii.
Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions
Stafford has had his struggles this season in Detroit, but his numbers scream Pro Bowl: 4,211 yards and 30 touchdowns will catch anyone’s attention, despite the uneven play of the Lions as of late.
Alternates: Andrew Luck (Indianapolis Colts), Nick Foles (Philadelphia Eagles), Russell Wilson (Seattle Seahawks).
Running Backs (six selections)
Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings
His health status will likely determine whether he plays in the Pro Bowl, but his league-wide popularity (he’s currently the third leading vote-getter among running backs) and his numbers (1,221 yards and 10 touchdowns–what he calls an off-year) make him a shoe-in to get the invite.
Jamaal Charles, Kansas City Chiefs
Charles won’t just get Pro Bowl buzz (he leads among running backs in votes), but should get some MVP buzz as well. He’s a major reason why the Chiefs are in the post-season just a year after finishing 2-14, and the success of the offense in Kansas City is contingent on his play.
Marshawn Lynch, Seattle Seahawks
Lynch is the second-leading vote-getter among running backs, and is producing a typical-Lynch season running for 1,089 yards and 11 touchdowns as part of one of the best rushing attacks in the NFL today.
LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia Eagles
McCoy is one of the most dynamic running backs in the league today, as evidenced by his 1,343 yards rushing as well as his 507 yards receiving and eight touchdowns. He’s currently fourth among the league’s running backs in Pro Bowl balloting, so his trip to Hawaii is fairly safe.
Matt Forte, Chicago Bears
Forte currently stands tall with 1,200 yards and seven touchdowns despite playing in a primarily pass-heavy offense. He’s a fan favorite from the NFL’s second biggest market, which with his numbers should be enough to send him to Hawaii.
Alfred Morris, Washington Redskins
One of the few things to go right in D.C. this season, Morris is ranked fifth in the NFL in rushing, but you probably don’t notice it with all of the white noise coming out of the Beltway. The players and coaches likely will, which should get Morris in.
Alternates: Eddie Lacy (Green Bay Packers), Ryan Matthews (San Diego Chargers), DeMarco Murray (Dallas Cowboys).
Wide Receivers (eight selections)
Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions
If I have to elaborate why Megatron will get the invite to Hawaii, you probably just started watching football this morning. Johnson is the leading vote-getter among wide receivers, and is currently second overall in receiving yards to our next receiver on the list.
Josh Gordon, Cleveland Browns
In terms of yards, Josh Gordon is the leading receiver in the NFL. This is borderline amazing when you consider that he plays for the Cleveland Browns and has had the likes of Brandon Weeden, Jason Campbell and Brian Hoyer throwing him passes all season, as well as the fact that he has only played in 12 games all season yet already has 74 catches for 1,467 yards and nine touchdowns.
Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers
Being third in receptions in the NFL is one way to get on the list, so is scoring five touchdowns while gaining 1,307 yards. A definite shoe-in.
Brandon Marshall, Chicago Bears
As crazy as this is to believe, Brandon Marshall has been the MVP for the Chicago Bears this season. With 90 catches for 1,185 yards and 10 touchdowns, Marshall has been a steadying presence on offense for the Bears, and more importantly he has remained a peaceful presence as well as a mentor to our next man on the list.
Alshon Jeffery, Chicago Bears.
Both of Chicago’s alpha-receivers deserve trips to Hawaii, and both should get said trips. Jeffery’s 80 catches for 1,265 yards and seven touchdowns would make him the top receiver on most teams, but with the Bears he’s the number two guy, who’s just as deserving as the number one man for Pro Bowl consideration.
A.J. Green, Cincinnati Bengals
Green has been a force for the Bengals since joining the league in 2011. In 2013 it’s been more of the same for the former Georgia Bulldog, with 87 catches for 1,268 yards and eight touchdowns as the main guy on the Bengals offense.
Andre Johnson, Houston Texans
Johnson has been the rare bright light on an otherwise bleak Houston Texan season. Already a dynamic fan-favorite, Johnson’s still prolific numbers (99 catches, 1,295 yards and five touchdowns), will bring him back to Hawaii.
Demaryius Thomas, Denver Broncos
He’s just a part of a well-oiled offensive machine in Denver, but what a key part he has been. His 78 receptions lag behind most of the other receivers on this list, but his 11 touchdowns and 1,194 yards make him a near-certainty to get an invite to the islands in January.
Alternates: DeSean Jackson (Philadelphia Eagles), Pierre Garcon (Washington Redskins), Dez Bryant (Dallas Cowboys), Vincent Jackson (Tampa Bay Buccaneers).
Tight Ends (four selections)
Jimmy Graham, New Orleans Saints
Graham is the leading tight end in terms of receptions (76), yards (1,071) and touchdowns (14) while also leading all tight ends in votes.
Vernon Davis, San Francisco 49ers
Davis is as important to the 49ers offense as Graham is to the Saints offense. He’s second overall in the league in touchdowns to fellow tight end Jimmy Graham (Davis has 12), and is a major reason why the 49ers offense has worked both in the run game and in the air.
Julius Thomas, Denver Broncos
Peyton Manning’s tight ends instantly become his best friends on the field. This is what happened with Julius Thomas, who has been Peyton’s best red zone target with 11 touchdowns. Thomas is also second among tight ends in the NFL’s Pro Bowl voting.
Tony Gonzalez, Atlanta Falcons
This will likely be a career achievement award for Gonzalez, who’s due to retire after the season and take his place as the best tight end in NFL history. His numbers are Pro Bowl caliber with 71 catches for 704 yards and seven touchdowns, so his impending retirement won’t be the sole reason for his trip to Hawaii, but it will play a small factor into it from the coaches and players’ end.
Alternates: Jason Whitten (Dallas Cowboys), Charles Clay (Miami Dolphins).
Fullbacks (two selections)
John Kuhn, Green Bay Packers
In a position like fullback or the offensive line where stats don’t seem to matter as much, reputation tends to come into play. In terms of fullbacks, John Kuhn’s reputation is among the best, and in Green Bay he is a fan favorite.
Mike Tolbert, Carolina Panthers
Tolbert is an important piece to the Panthers offense, and also leads all fullbacks in Pro Bowl votes.
Alternates: Chris Ogbonnaya (Cleveland Browns).
Offensive Tackle (six selections)
Branden Albert, Kansas City Chiefs
Albert is the leader of a line that has protected Alex Smith well throughout the season while also leading one of the AFC’s top running attacks.
Joe Staley, San Francisco 49ers
Another excellent bookend pick from an excellent offensive line. Staley is currently second only to Albert among tackles in the Pro Bowl and will find an invite to Hawaii sent his way.
Matt Kalil, Minnesota Vikings
The second-year tackle has put together another good season and should be a cornerstone in the Vikings organization for years to come.
Joe Thomas, Cleveland Browns
Thomas is still one of the best offensive tackles in the NFL today, and thanks to his great reputation, should head to Hawaii once again.
Lane Johnson, Philadelphia Eagles
A solid rookie year for the 2013 first-rounder gets him into the Pro Bowl.
Jordan Gross, Carolina Panthers
Outside of Newton and Tolbert, Carolina’s line has been a major factor in their success in 2013. Gross will get the benefit of a Pro Bowl invitation thanks to their success.
Alternates: Nate Solder (New England Patriots), Anthony Davis (San Francisco 49ers), Jake Long (St. Louis Rams).
Guard (six selections)
Jeff Allen, Kansas City Chiefs
Allen is ranked second in Pro Bowl votes among guards, and has been key in Kansas City’s dominance up front.
Zane Beadles, Denver Broncos
Keeping Peyton upright while creating holes for Knowshown Moreno help make the Broncos offense work. Beadles has done a superb job of that, and because of it will get the invite to Hawaii (he’s already ranked first in voting among guards).
Dan Connolly, New England Patriots
Look at New England’s offensive line play, and you’ll see a middle of the line that is almost impenetrable. Brady has time to throw partly due to his quick release, and partly due to the great play of his guards. Connolly gets the reputation vote here.
Kyle Long, Chicago Bears
The receivers have played a big part in the Chicago Bears’ offensive resurgence of 2013, but the real improvement came in the middle of the line once Kyle Long came on early in the year. He’ll be rewarded with the Pro Bowl trip due to said success.
Larry Warford, Detroit Lions
Another rookie from the NFC North gets the Hawaii invitation, with Lions guard Larry Warford getting the vote. He’s been a great fit on Detroit’s offensive line, and has been almost an ace in pass protection.
Logan Mankins, New England Patriots
Another reputation pick here. Mankins has been a stalwart on the Pats’ offensive line, and has continued his success in 2013 as a versatile piece.
Alternates: Ben Grubbs (New Orleans Saints), Jon Asomoah (Kansas City Chiefs), Alex Boone (San Francisco 49ers).
Center (four selections)
Max Unger (Seattle Seahawks)
Currently Unger leads the NFL in Pro Bowl votes among centers, and with the success of the Seahawks offense, it’s a well-earned distinction.
Manny Ramirez (Denver Broncos)
Ramirez is currently ranked second in Pro Bowl voting, and should get in on that aspect alone, but he has done a fantastic job of keeping Peyton upright in Denver.
Brian De La Puente (New Orleans Saints)
New Orleans has been able to keep Brees upright and allow the offense to click all season thanks to a strong interior offensive line. De La Puente has been the leader of that line, and will earn himself a Pro Bowl appearance due to their success.
Alex Mack (Cleveland Browns)
Mack has been one of the better centers in the NFL, which should earn him a Pro Bowl trip.
Alternates: Mike Pouncey (Miami Dolphins), Jonathan Goodwin (San Francisco 49ers).
Defensive End (six selections)
J.J. Watt (Houston Texans)
One thing that has remained stellar in Houston while it all fell apart has been J.J. Watt, who’s showing us even more brilliance this season thanks to his 9.5 sacks despite getting met with double-teams week-in and week-out.
Robert Quinn (St. Louis Rams)
You don’t want a part of the Rams’ defensive line, especially with Robert Quinn coming off the edge with his 15 sacks.
Mario Williams (Buffalo Bills)
Williams is finally living up to his contract in 2013 with 12 sacks as part of a Bills’ defensive line that has made life for the quarterback a living hell all season.
Muhammad Wilkerson (New York Jets)
Ask any Jets fan what the best part of an otherwise abysmal season has been, and Muhammad Wilkerson’s play will likely be the answer. Wilkerson so far has 10 sacks on the year and has been the catalyst for one of the NFL’s best front sevens.
Cameron Jordan (New Orleans Saints)
Jordan has thrived in Rob Ryan’s defense for the Saints, racking up 11.5 sacks on the year.
Olivier Vernon (Miami Dolphins)
You might say Vernon has benefited from having Cameron Wake on the other side, but his 11.5 sacks and stellar play throughout the season speaks for itself.
Alternates: Cameron Wake (Miami Dolphins), Shaun Philips (Denver Broncos), Chandler Jones (New England Patriots).
Defensive Tackles (six selections)
Dontari Poe (Kansas City Chiefs)
The right system, the right fit, and the right development have propelled Poe into the upper-echelon of interior linemen, and into becoming the leading vote-getter at defensive tackle.
Jason Hatcher (Dallas Cowboys)
The Cowboys defense is somewhat of a joke now, but Jason Hatcher and his nine sacks don’t appear to be in on it (nor does his status as the second-leading vote-getter among defensive tackles).
Kyle Williams (Buffalo Bills)
Williams has eight sacks this season, and has been a beast inside for the Bills.
Jurrell Casey (Tennessee Titans)
You can’t leave a defensive tackle with 11.5 sacks off the Pro Bowl roster. Casey’s play has helped spearhead a sneaky-good Titans defense throughout the season, where it has given quarterbacks headaches in the pocket.
Ndamukong Suh (Detroit Lions)
His bad reputation might work against him with fans, players and coaches, but his good play this year should get him to Hawaii.
Justin Smith (San Francisco 49ers)
The 49ers front seven held their own without Aldon Smith, and his fellow Smith Justin is a reason why.
Alternates: Jared Odrick (Miami Dolphins), Gerald McCoy (Tampa Bay Buccaneers), Marcell Dareus (Buffalo Bills).
Inside Linebacker (four selections)
Kiko Alonso (Buffalo Bills)
He’s the NFL’s leading vote-getter at the position, and already a legend from Eugene to Buffalo and back. His 137 tackles, two sacks and four interceptions are a major reason for not only his impending Pro Bowl invitation, but also the Defensive Rookie of The Year, which is his to lose at this point.
Sean Lee (Dallas Cowboys)
With 99 tackles and four interceptions, Lee has been a highlight in a Cowboys defense filled with lowlights from time to time.
Karlos Dansby (Arizona Cardinals)
After being discarded for the younger, more expensive and supposedly better (but not by a long-shot) Dannell Ellerbe, Dansby rejuvenated his career in Arizona with 111 tackles, 6.5 sacks and three interceptions.
Derrick Johnson (Kansas City Chiefs)
Johnson is the quarterback on defense for the Chiefs, and has filled his role well.
Alternates: A.J. Hawk (Green Bay Packers), Demeco Ryans (Philadelphia Eagles).
Outside Linebacker (six selections)
Tamba Hali (Kansas City Chiefs)
You don’t want to see Tamba Hali and his 11 sacks and four forced fumbles heading to the backfield. Because of this, he’s the leading vote-getter among outside linebackers in the NFL.
Terrell Suggs (Baltimore Ravens)
With 74 tackles and nine sacks, Suggs is having a vintage Terrell Suggs season.
Robert Mathis (Indianapolis Colts)
Mathis leads the league in sacks with 16.5, and has six forced fumbles to go along with it. This is a no-brainer as far as I’m concerned.
Elvis Dumervil (Baltimore Ravens)
Dumervil and Suggs have been one of the best outside linebacker tandems in the game, so if one gets in, the other should follow suit. Dumervil brings 9.5 sacks to the table, giving Baltimore a dominant linebacker group.
Lavonte David (Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
Just look at this impressive resume: 126 tackles, six sacks, two forced fumbles and five interceptions. He can’t miss the Pro Bowl with those lofty numbers.
Junior Galette (New Orleans Saints)
Another part of the aggressive Saints front-seven, Galette’s nine sacks and one forced fumble have been a key part of their defensive resurgence under Rob Ryan.
Alternates: John Abraham (Arizona Cardinals), Whitney Mercilus (Houston Texans), Brian Orakpo (Washington Redskins).
Cornerbacks (eight selections)
Richard Sherman (Seattle Seahawks)
Can he talk? Better than almost anyone in the NFL. It worked to a charm as Sherman is the top vote-getter among corners in the NFL. Fans also appreciate his play, as he has been a lock-down corner for the Seahawks defense thanks to six interceptions, which is the most among all NFL corners.
Patrick Peterson (Arizona Cardinals)
Peterson has always been one of the most electrifying players in the NFL, and the fans have rewarded him by making him the second-highest vote-getter among corners. Peterson continues to electrify with three interceptions on the season, as part of one of the most underrated defenses in the NFL.
Brent Grimes (Miami Dolphins)
In an offseason where the Dolphins spent major money, their best acquisition has been a one-year possible rental that has turned to the player most likely to be tagged in 2014. Grimes and his four interceptions have turned a secondary that was mediocre in 2012 into a true team strength in 2013, and Grimes himself has had yet to allow a touchdown to his receiver this season.
Sean Smith (Kansas City Chiefs)
Smith was a square peg in a round hole in Miami, but with the Chiefs he has managed to fit into a defense that fits his strengths, and is playing well due to that.
Joe Haden (Cleveland Browns)
Haden remains one of the toughest cover corners in the NFL, and is such a strength on the Browns defense that he rarely (if ever) gets the ball thrown to his receiver.
Aqib Talib (New England Patriots)
The former problem child in Tampa Bay has seemed to have found a home in New England, where when healthy he has been a force in their secondary.
Darrelle Revis (Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
The fans will vote him in due to his reputation, but the players and coaches will see his recent play since the Buccaneers realized that the best press cornerback in the game should be allowed to play in press coverage, and vote him in based off of play that has been good enough to allow him to attempt to reclaim his spot as the best cornerback in the league.
Johnthan Banks (Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
Yes, the Revis effect is in play here, but Banks is taking advantage of his opportunities and for that, could be an upset pick to get the invite to Hawaii as a rookie.
Alternates: Tramaine Brock (San Francisco 49ers), Darius Butler (Indianapolis Colts), Alterraun Verner (Tennessee Titans).
Strong Safety (two selections)
Ken Chancellor (Seattle Seahawks)
What makes the Seahawks defense so successful? Part of that has fallen on strong safety Ken Chancellor’s shoulders. Chancellor leads the league in votes among strong safeties, and should easily get an invite.
Eric Berry (Kansas City Chiefs)
It’s hard to find a weakness in the Chiefs’ defense, and if you start looking at Eric Berry, you will still be looking for quite a while.
Alternates: Troy Polumalu (Pittsburgh Steelers), Antrel Rolle (New York Giants).
Free Safety (two selections)
Earl Thomas (Seattle Seahawks)
Both Seahawks safeties lead the league in votes at their respective positions. Both Seahawks safeties have plenty of reasons for making the Pro Bowl.
Both Seahawks safeties will hope to miss the field goal due to other commitments in New Jersey the week after.
Eric Reid (San Francisco 49ers)
It would be interesting to see Eric Reid in a defensive backfield with Richard Sherman and either Earl Thomas or Ken Chancellor, but even more interesting has been Reid’s play with the Niners, where he has been one of the best safeties in the NFL.
Alternates: Jarius Byrd (Buffalo Bills), Malcolm Jenkins (New Orleans Saints).
Kicker (two selections)
Justin Tucker (Baltimore Ravens)
He’s not among the leading vote-getters among kickers, but he has been the most accurate and incredible in the NFL this season.
Stephen Gostkowski (New England Patriots)
Gostkowski’s accuracy in 2013 has been among the best in the NFL, which is part of the reason why he leads all kickers in votes.
Alternate: Nick Folk (New York Jets)
Punter (two selections)
Brandon Fields (Miami Dolphins)
Expect the coaches and players to move this man into the starting Pro Bowl spot. Fields has been one of the best punters in the NFL, and the lone bright spot on an otherwise erratic Miami Special Teams unit.
Dustin Colquitt (Kansas City Chiefs)
Colquitt has been one of the best punters in the NFL, and currently leads the league in vote-getters at the position.
Alternate: Andy Lee (San Francisco 49ers)
Punt Return (two selections)
Tavon Austin (St. Louis Rams)
It took a while to get going this season, but Austin has come on as a strong return man for the Rams, and has been one of the most exciting players to watch in the league.
Devin Hester (Chicago Bears)
Hester is always good for at least one return per season, but this will lie more on reputation than what he has done this season.
Alternate: Trindon Holliday (Denver Broncos).
Special Teams Player (two Selections)
David Bruton (Denver Broncos)
Bruton has been an ace special teams player on the Broncos, and currently leads all vote-getters.
Eric Weems (Chicago Bears)
Traditionally the Bears have been spectacular at special teams, but while Devin Hester and Robbie Gould get most of the credit, Weems has been one of their best special teams players, and is currently second among special teams players in votes received.