AROUND THE LEAGUE

Punter Brandon Fields might be Miami Dolphins’ best shot at Pro Bowl

 

gcote@MiamiHerald.com

Voting has begun for the Pro Bowl, the game that players are thrilled to be chosen for but don’t really want to play in, which is why they come up with excuses such as a headache, bunions or the-dog-ate-my-playbook.

You may vote at NFL.com, as early and often as you wish, like in Chicago. Voting ends Dec. 17, and the teams are to be announced Dec. 26, with the game scheduled Jan. 27 in Honolulu, which has no pro sports of its own so has convinced itself the Pro Bowl is a big deal.

Opening the vote in October is too early, of course. The regular season entering this week was, mathematically, only 40.6 percent done. Are you ready to judge a movie after watching less than half of it? The early voting underlines the Pro Bowl as a popularity contest more than anything else.

But since voting is under way, I figured I’d zero in on the home team with an early look at Dolphins players’ Pro Bowl chances as they seem today. Here are a handful of players on the radar, alphabetically, plus a few other maybes:

Reggie Bush: Doubtful. He is presently seventh in the AFC in rushing but the pack ahead of him includes Honolulu-tested regulars such as Arian Foster, Jamaal Charles, Ray Rice and a suddenly surging Chris Johnson.

Brandon Fields: Decent shot. Yes, the punter! His 51-yard average leads the AFC, and his 42.7 net average also is solid.

Brian Hartline: Tough climb. It was cute he led the league in receiving yards after that one week, but he has slipped to fifth in the conference, and those ahead of him are Pro Bowl-pedigreed Wes Welker, Reggie Wayne and A.J. Green, along with Peyton Manning’s new pet, Demaryius Thomas. Also, Hartline has only one TD.

Jake Long: Marginal. He is helped by the fact offensive linemen tend to be habit picks, and Long has the track record. But it’s pretty clear he isn’t having anything close to a great season. (Center Mike Pouncey might have a better case but probably isn’t known enough.)

Cameron Wake: Right in the mix. His 6 1/2 sacks are third in the conference. He is becoming a known guy. He’ll have a good chance if he keeps up this pace and is seen as the clear star of a pretty solid defense. Miami playoff contention would help his case.

Wild cards: Miami has a strong run defense. If that keeps up and voters are foraging for a reason, players such as Randy Starks and Paul Soliai could gather support. DBs Sean Smith and Reshad Jones are having nice seasons but don’t have the name recognition and lack eye-catching interception totals. Marcus Thigpen could get into the special teams/return man mix with another return-TD or two.

Scatter-shooting the league:

• May I say this Saints Bountygate thing is getting mighty ponderous? Enough already. First the four suspended players who are appealing want NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to recuse himself, so he does. Goodell appoints his predecessor Paul Tagliabue, but the players are objecting to him, too. Fellas, who would you prefer? The mayor of New Orleans? Your NFLPA rep? Drew Brees? Get real. End this. Move on.

• Parity? Mediocrity? By any name you choose, the 17 teams within one game of .500 (4-3, 3-3 or 3-4) are the most entering Week 8 since the 1970 merger.

• The 11 of 13 games decided by eight points or fewer last week marked the highest percentage of such games in any week since 2001.

• It will probably happen in the fourth quarter of this week’s Saints-Broncos game. Brees and Peyton Manning will surpass 100,000 combined career passing yards. They enter the game with a combined 99,475.

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