That’s not because they lack candidates. Atlanta’s star players hope to be occupied with preparing for the Super Bowl in New Orleans instead of the NFL’s all-star game in Hawaii.
The 24-man rosters for each the AFC and NFC, plus five special-teams players, will be announced on NFL Network Wednesday night. The teams playing in the Super Bowl on Feb. 3 don’t send players to the Pro Bowl on Jan. 27.
The Falcons have several players who could be honored—as expected for the team that will finish the season with the best record in the NFC.
“We’ve got a lot of guys deserving to be recognized and we certainly hope they will be,” Falcons coach Mike Smith said.
The AFC and NFC squads are based on the votes of players, coaches and fans with each group’s vote counting for one-third. The voting for all three groups ended last week.
Among Atlanta’s candidates are tight end Tony Gonzalez, quarterback Matt Ryan, wide receiver Roddy White, defensive end John Abraham and safeties William Moore and Thomas DeCoud. Gonzalez, Ryan and White were among the seven players the Falcons sent to the Pro Bowl in 2010, when they also had the NFC’s best record, and they appear to strong candidates to be honored again.
Gonzalez already got the nod from fans with 553,198 votes. Gonzalez has been named to 13 Pro Bowl rosters, including the past two.
Gonzalez, 36, ranks second among the league’s tight ends with 88 catches for 889 yards and is tied for third with eight touchdowns. His 63 catches for first downs are the most for a tight end, outpacing the Saints’ Jimmy Graham by nine.
Even when Gonzalez has a quiet game, such as when he had just one catch for nine yards during Atlanta’s victory at Detroit on Saturday, his teammates benefit.
“They used a lot of resources on Tony Gonzalez and that allowed us to get the ball to some of our playmakers outside,” Smith said.
Detroit’s focus on Gonzalez likely was influenced by Lions defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham, who was Gonzalez’s head coach for two seasons in Kansas City.
“We’re talking about probably one of the best players I’ve ever seen in my life, definitely at that position,” Cunningham said before the Lions played the Falcons. “I talked to Charlie Sanders (Detroit’s Hall of Fame tight end) yesterday at length and we were talking about Tony Gonzalez. What he said was, ‘’Gun,’ people don’t understand this guy is in the top five.’
“He looked at me like I didn’t know what he meant. I said, ‘Top five of all-time receivers, not just tight ends.’”
Ryan has recovered from a mid-season lull to finish the season strong. He ranks third in the NFC in touchdown passes (31), fourth in passing yards (4,481), fifth in quarterback rating (100.2) and sixth in completion percentage (69).
Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers got the most votes from fans among NFC quarterbacks. The other contenders at the position, such as New Orleans’ Drew Brees and Washington’s Robert Griffin III, haven’t won nearly as much as Ryan.
“Quarterbacks, I think, are judged on wins,” Lions coach Jim Schwartz said.
White was an injury replacement for last season’s Pro Bowl after being voted to the team in 2008, ‘09, and ‘10. White has 87 catches for 1,309 yards and seven touchdowns but faces stiff competition to be one of the four wide receivers to be selected.
Gonzalez, White and Jones (76 catches, 1,142 yards, 10 touchdowns) all have posted strong numbers in spite of Ryan spreading the ball around liberally.
“In our offense, I feel like it can be any one of those three guys to step up and make the plays week in and week out,” Ryan said. “I’m fortunate to have all of those guys around me.”
Abraham leads the Falcons in sacks (10) and forced fumbles (nine). He’s tied for third in the NFC in sacks and ranks second in forced fumbles.
DeCoud’s six interceptions rank second to New York’s Stevie Brown among NFC safeties. Moore has four interceptions, two forced fumbles and 75 tackles in spite of missing the past three games because of injury.