The NFL's best players will be making a trip to Hawaii to participate in this Sunday's AFC-NFC Pro Bowl. The NFC will field an impressive array of all-stars.
San Francisco's overtime loss to the Giants last weekend may have turned out to be the NFC's gain, as a conference-best eight 49ers had been picked to the initial squad and just two New York players -- quarterback Eli Manning and defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul -- had made the list.
San Francisco will ultimately send six representatives to the contest, with running back Frank Gore, cornerback Carlos Rogers and safety Dashon Goldson all withdrawing after citing injuries and veteran long snapper Brian Jennings recently added as a need player. Six Green Bay Packers, headlined by quarterback Aaron Rodgers, will also be on the final NFC roster, with head coach Mike McCarthy and his staff directing the team.
The selected NFC starting defense won't be undergoing a whole lot of changes, with Rogers the lone honoree to bow out of the contest. The 49ers will still have a presence on the unit, however, with disruptive tackle Justin Smith (58 tackles, 7.5 sacks) and inside linebacker Patrick Willis (97 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 INT) each receiving well-deserved citations for their contributions to one of the NFL's stingiest defenses in 2011.
Even without Pierre-Paul, the conference won't be bereft of top-notch pass rushers, as Minnesota end Jared Allen (66 tackles, 1 INT) led the league with 22 sacks and Dallas outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware (58 tackles, 19.5 sacks) and Philadelphia end Jason Babin (40 tackles, 18 sacks) finished second and third, respectively, in that category. Rogers will be replaced in the opening lineup by Chicago's Charles Tillman (99 tackles, 1 sack, 3 INT) in the veteran corner's first trip to Honolulu, while 35-year-old Charles Woodson (74 tackles, 2 sacks, 7 INT) garnered his eighth career Pro Bowl nod on the opposite side and joins outside linebacker and Green Bay teammate Clay Matthews (50 tackles, 6 sacks, 3 INT) as a starter.
Aaron Rodgers (4643 passing yards, 45 TD, 6 INT) will the first up out of an absolutely loaded NFC crop of quarterbacks after setting an new NFL single-year standard with a 122.5 passer rating. The prolific Brees (5476 passing yards, 46 TD, 14 INT), meanwhile, shattered Dan Marino's 27-year-old mark for passing yards in his banner 2011 campaign, while the dynamic Newton (4051 passing yards, 21 TD, 17 INT) threw for more yards than any rookie in league history.
That stellar trio won't have the luxury of working with perhaps the best receiver in the game today, however, with Detroit superstar Calvin Johnson declining to attend because of a sore Achilles tendon, though the combo of Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald (80 receptions, 1411 yards, 8 TD) -- the 2009 Pro Bowl MVP -- and Carolina veteran Steve Smith (79 receptions, 1394 yards, 7 TD) alongside New Orleans tight end and first-time selection Jimmy Graham (99 receptions, 1310 yards, 11 TD) ensures there will be more than enough elite targets to go around.
The backfield also possesses two quality pass-catchers in Philadelphia first-timer LeSean McCoy (1309 rushing yards, 48 receptions, 20 total TD) and Chicago's Matt Forte (997 rushing yards, 52 receptions, 4 total TD), slated to participate despite missing the final four weeks of the regular season with a sprained knee. Graham is one of three Saints chosen as starters, along with the stout guard tandem of Carl Nicks and Jahri Evans.
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