The AFC takes down the NFC in a battle of the NFL's best
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We simulated the 2011 Pro Bowl 1,001 times. The simulation engine generated each team's chance of winning and average score. The statistical inputs to the thousands of NFL games simulated are based on rigorous analysis of each team's roster, depth chart and statistically based player ranking. Roster modifications have been made for injuries and suspensions, and those players are not part of their team's game simulation.
All-Star events are meant to showcase a sport's pre-eminent players. Unfortunately for the NFL, last year's edition of the Pro Bowl did not accomplish this request. To conjure additional hype for the football festivities, Roger Goodell moved the celebration up two weeks, disallowing members of Super Bowl squads from participating in the game. This, coupled with an unusually high number of stars who were, um, "injured," correlated to the presence of players who were rather pedestrian in 2009. For those who need further evidence, the AFC quarterback trio was Matt Schaub, Vince Young and David Garrard. Apparently, Chad Henne was unavailable.
Also at the heart of the matter was the game's new location. For the first time since 1979, the Pro Bowl was moved from the friendly confines of Honolulu to the site of that year's Super Bowl, Miami. While most would consider South Beach quite the vacation scene, NFLers were displeased their annual Hawaii trip would not come to pass.
So amid protests from media and players alike, Goodell returned the Pro Bowl back to Aloha Stadium for 2011 in hope of reinvigorating the event. And although kickoff isn't until 7 p.m. ET on Sunday, the early returns are promising. Whereas Garrard was the eighth choice at the AFC quarterback position in '10, only one alternate signal caller, (Matt Cassel), will be suiting up for either roster. Better yet, almost all the intriguing movers and shakers from the 2010 season will be in attendance.
One player who falls into this category is Philadelphia quarterback Michael Vick. The former No. 1 overall pick returned in 2009 from his incarceration, but his lack of playing time made Vick an afterthought at the start of the 2010 season. Instead, most of the attention surrounding the Eagles centered on another gunslinger, Kevin Kolb, and his promotion to the starting role after the departure of seasoned veteran and city enigma Donovan McNabb. But when Kolb went down against Green Bay in Week 1, Vick emerged from oblivion to lead Philly to a division title. Vick's comeback was highlighted by a six-touchdown performance on a Monday night showdown against rival Washington, where the former Virginia Tech Hokie tossed for 333 yards and ran for another 80. Although he ended the season on somewhat of a skid, Vick's presence in the Pro Bowl is another step on his road to redemption.
Vick isn't the only former flameout who finally has come to fruition. Brandon Lloyd was widely considered to have All-Star talent but, thanks to a less-than-stellar work ethic, never quite reached his potential. But with Brandon Marshall fleeing to Miami, Lloyd was presented a starring role with the Broncos and did not disappoint. Lloyd led the league in receiving with 1,448 yards and added 11 touchdowns. To a lesser extent, Jaguars tight end Marcedes Lewis was considered a first-round bust, hauling in just seven touchdowns in his first four years in the league. The UCLA product responded this season by tying for the league lead in touchdowns at his position with 10.
Another one of 2010's breakout stars making an appearance will be Houston Texan Arian Foster. An undrafted rookie out of Tennessee, Foster played in six games in 2009, rushing for 257 yards and three scores. But not much was expected of Foster for 2010, as he was projected as third on the depth chart behind Steve Slaton and newcomer Ben Tate. Then Tate suffered a season-ending injury in the preseason and Foster outplayed Slaton in camp, so Foster climbed to starter status for the Texans' Week 1 matchup against the Colts. Foster made the most out of this opportunity, rushing for 231 yards and three touchdowns in an upset of Indianapolis. Foster finished the season with the rushing title, thanks to 1,616 yards on the ground, earning All-Pro honors in the process.
Foster will have undrafted brethren when he heads to Honolulu. Cameron Wake, once of the Canadian Football League, finished third in the NFL with 14 sacks for the Dolphins. Colts center Jeff Saturday will be making his fifth Pro Bowl appearance after going undrafted in 1998. Foster's backfield buddy Vonta Leach will be suiting up for the AFC at fullback. Other notable undrafted players include Jason Peters, London Fletcher and David Akers.
And then there are the perennial Pro Bowlers. In a sport where the average career length is less than 3-1/2 years, these gladiators continue to compete at an elite level. Peyton Manning, who despite dealing with college walk-ons, fifth-string running backs and backup tight ends, threw for 4,700 yards and 33 touchdowns. Manning earned his 11th Pro Bowl invite, tying Brett Favre for most appearances by a quarterback. Also making their 11th appearances are tight end Tony Gonzalez and linebacker Ray Lewis. Gonzalez had his lowest output since 1998 but was still a vital contributor to the 13-3 Falcons, while Lewis remains just as fearful as he was when he led the Ravens to a Super Bowl 10 years ago.
So who wins the battle for conference supremacy? According to the WhatIfSports NFL simulation engines, the AFC comes out on top in a barn burner, 39-38. Vick may have garnered most of the headlines in 2010, but when it comes to the Pro Bowl, he's still a novice compared to the sage-like Manning.
2011 Pro Bowl Prediction - 1,001 Simulations
|2011 AFC Pro Bowl||51.5||39|
|@ 2011 NFC Pro Bowl||48.5||38|
Joel Beall is a Content Writer for WhatIfSports.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.