Pro Bowl balloting has been open for about two weeks now and there are several Bucs who deserve to receive a free vacation to Hawaii this year....
The two obvious choices coming out of the NFC are Brett Favre and Tony Romo. Both of whom are leading the NFC in the poorly understood quarterback rating as well as leading the two best teams in the conference.
There are about four quarterbacks to choose from for the last spot: Jeff Garcia, Jon Kitna, Matt Hasselbeck, and Donovan McNabb. McNabb has suffered his yearly injury, which means you can fully expect the Eagles to make another playoff run without McNabb playing. Hassselbeck could be the darkhorse in this race seeing as how the Seahawks could be forced to throw the ball more often with Shaun Alexander out. Kitna will continue to put up impressive yardage and touchdown totals as long as Mike Martz is coaching that offense. Let's take a look at 3 of the quarterbacks stats so far.....
Jeff Garcia: 7.6 yards per completion, 11 TDs, 3 INTs, 96.6 QB rating
Jon Kitna: 7.8 yards per completion, 12 TDs, 11 INTS, 90.2 QB rating
Matt Hasselbeck: 7.2 yards per completion, 17 TDs, 8 INTs, 91.3 QB rating
Our boy Garcia has fewer touchdowns but he also has dramatically fewer interceptions (all of which came in the Jags game oddly enough) which explains his superior QB rating. Kitna and Hasselbeck will both finish the season with superior passing yardage and total touchdowns but that does not mean Garcia is any less vital to his team's success than Hasselbeck or Kitna. Anyone who has watched the Bucs recognizes that the key to their success has been Jeff Garcia, which is why Garcia deserves a trip to the Pro Bowl this year.
If Cadillac was still healthy he would have likely been the clear cut favorite to be the NFC's third representative at runningback for the Pro Bowl. After Adrian Peterson and Brian Westbrook there is a clear dropoff in backs. I voted for Clinton Portis as the 3rd NFC Back based on the excellent rebound season he is having (802 yards, 6 TDs) even while splitting carries with Ladell Betts. I also considered voting for Marion Barber simply because he is one of the most exciting players to watch right now.
After Terrell Owens there is a log jam for the last 3 receiver spots. For the hell of it I will list the contenders and their stats although I expect you to vote for ol' man Galloway anyway.
Larry Fitgerald: 904 yards, 13.7 y/c, 4 TDs
Torry Holt: 755 yards, 12.4 y/c, 5 TDs
Marques Colston: 754 yards, 12.4 y/c, 5 TDs
Bobby Engram: 744 yards, 12.4 y/c, 3 TDs
Kevin Curtis: 722 yards, 16.0 y/c, 4 TDs
Roy Williams: 719 yards, 13.1 y/c, 5 TDs
Joey Galloway: 711 yards, 17.8 y/c, 6 TDs
Bernard Berrian: 709 yards, 13.9 y/c, 2 TDs
If you're looking for a reason to elevate Galloway above everyone else on this list his yards per catch is the best reason. Galloway has done an excellent job of taking a 12 yard reception and turning it into a 30 yard touchdown.
TACKLES, GUARDS, CENTERS AND FULLBACKS
As Mike Alstott has taught us these honors typically go to the players with the most name recognition. There are no reliable stats to measure their performance and the best players are the ones who are rarely recognized.
With Luke Petitgout out for the season the Bucs best lineman has probably been guard Davin Joseph although I could easily be persuaded to pick another Bucs lineman as the best. BJ Askew has also done an excellent job filling in for first Mike Alstott and then Michael Pittman. Maybe this has more to do with Gruden's offense since I've seen Alstott and Pittman do the same thing out of the fullback position but I have been impressed by Askew's ability to catch the ball out of the backfield and turn it into a big gain.
D-tackles, like every position on the defense, are more difficult to rank based on their stats. The Football Outsiders made an interesting observation that we often judge offensive players by how well they perform on the field but judge defensive players on how their teams perform when without them. For example, the FO guys look at how Tennessee has struggled without Albert Haynewsworth in the lineup. For a more local example just look at how the Bucs failed to generate a pass rush last season when Simeon Rice was injured.
Anyway, that's a long way of saying you should vote for Chris Hovan at defensive tackle since he has been the lynchpin for the Bucs d-line as they have rotated players in and out. Hovan is the one player the Bucs d-line could least afford to lose.
At outside linebacker even though he has slipped a bit Derrick Brooks is still deserving of a Pro Bowl nod. He has the fourth most tackles among NFC outside linebackers, and more importantly is the leader of the best defense in the NFC. The linebacker nominations typically go to the players on the best defense and it doesn't hurt that Brooks is a well known name. Cato June is a bit more of a question mark as he has played better than Brooks but is not as well known. At the very least one of the two deserves to get to the Pro Bowl.
Barrett Ruud definitely deserves a Pro Bowl nomination, even among a deep field of inside linebackers. He has been the key to the Bucs defensive renaissance, playing the most difficult position in the Tampa Two defense.
Phillip Buchanon has been a pleasant surprise since the Bucs picked him up in the middle of last season. All that was expected of Buchanon was to help out on special teams and maybe be the fourth corner. Instead Buchanon has exceeded expectations and has filled in for the oft-injured Brian Kelly. That being written Ronde Barber is the corner more worthy of the Pro Bowl nod, although I'm willing to hear arguments to the contrary.
No question both Jermaine Phillips and rookie Tanard Jackson deserve Pro Bowl berths. It's amazing how much better the safeties are playing this season. The Bucs are much better at shutting down the run this season and both players have been brought back memories of John Lynch in the Pewter and Red.