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Six Patriots on Pro Bowl team

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By Greg Bedard
Globe Staff / December 29, 2010

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When you’re 13-2 and the top seed in the AFC playoffs, you expect to get a lot of respect when it comes to the Pro Bowl and other accolades.

But it doesn’t always work out that way. Especially when preseason expectations aren’t through the roof.

So in that respect, it was good to see the Patriots rewarded with six players named to the Pro Bowl yesterday. They trailed only the Falcons, who had seven selections.

The Patriots were probably helped by having 11 high-profile/national television games, including six of their past seven. And considering that they lost only one of those games (the first meeting with the Jets), the Patriots showed well in the biggest games. So there’s nothing fluky about it.

Quarterback Tom Brady was probably the only no-brainer among the group. He’s the odds-on favorite to hold off Michael Vick of the Eagles for the Most Valuable Player award. Brady simply has been outstanding this season, especially during the current seven-game winning streak.

Figured Vince Wilfork would also get voted in, but sometimes the vote goes askew with interior linemen because of the different defensive fronts being played around the league.

If you watch Wilfork day in and day out, his selection was not in question. Kyle Williams (Bills) and Antonio Garay (Chargers) both have better statistics, but that’s the nature of the position with the Patriots. You have to do a lot of dirty work and, with all the injuries on the line this season, Wilfork has been asked to do even more.

The selection of left guard Logan Mankins is a shock because he has played in only eight games. But his inclusion shows the enormous respect he has around the league, and it’s deserved. He has been outstanding since his return after a contract dispute. The Patriots have rushed for more than 100 yards in the past seven games, when he returned to the lineup full-time (Mankins rotated with Dan Connolly against the Browns).

“He absolutely should be there, even with eight games,’’ said an NFC general manager. “Look at how that offense has taken off since he’s been back. He’s manhandling people inside.’’

Despite leading the league in tackles, linebacker Jerod Mayo is the type of player who can get overlooked in the voting, which is split into thirds, among fans, players, and coaches.

Mayo isn’t flashy — he has one sack, one forced fumble, and five passes defensed — so the television commentators don’t go nuts about him. But he has been invaluable to the Patriots this season. Considering how he makes all the calls and adjustments, Mayo deserved the spot over Lawrence Timmons (Steelers), Bart Scott (Jets), and Derrick Johnson (Chiefs). Ray Lewis of the Ravens likely did not.

Rookie cornerback Devin McCourty has been at his best in the biggest games and under the brightest lights. All six of his interceptions came in games a lot of people were watching: Chargers, Vikings, Colts, Lions (two), Jets. That will garner you a lot of attention.

McCourty has been invaluable to a secondary that was lacking talent when Leigh Bodden was injured. Still, Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey has a bit of a beef here. Along with starters Darrelle Revis (Jets) and Nnamdi Asomugha (Raiders), Bailey rarely gets thrown at, so he doesn’t have the statistics. It’s a very tough position this year in the AFC, with Brandon Flowers (Chiefs) and Sean Smith (Dolphins) also having very strong seasons.

The selection of Patriots safety Brandon Meriweather is being panned throughout the league, for good reason. He has been benched for parts of three games, and you can argue that at least Patrick Chung and James Sanders have played better for the Patriots at the position.

Asked for his opinion on Meriweather’s selection, the NFC general manager said, “I’d rather not. That should tell you enough.’’

It’s never been a question of talent for Meriweather, and he definitely has his fair share of good plays. But some of his reads are a step slow and on several occasions he has left teammates out to dry by not getting to plays he should.

Eric Weddle of the Chargers was the most deserving player at this position. Michael Huff of the Raiders also has an argument, among others.

Some Patriots should be considered for injury replacement slots when they open up.

Tight end Rob Gronkowski shouldn’t have made it over Marcedes Lewis (Jaguars), who is having an outstanding year, but Antonio Gates of the Chargers made it a bit on rep. Anthony Fasano (Dolphins) and Tony Moeaki (Chiefs) will be right there with Gronkowski.

Running back Danny Woodhead really has a position of his own. It’s too bad there’s not an all-around spot on the offense. Woodhead has been a huge key to the Patriots offense.

Receivers Wes Welker and Deion Branch deserve consideration for their value to the Patriots. Branch has been outstanding for several stretches since coming over in a trade from the Seahawks.

Center Dan Koppen doesn’t get much attention and he got off to a slow start this season, but he has come on in the past seven games. Along with Mankins, Koppen has been a key part in the running game.

As for the league as a whole, here’s your all-snub team. They all should have been voted in:

Quarterback: Aaron Rodgers, Packers.

Running back: Ahmad Bradshaw, Giants.

Tight end: Vernon Davis, 49ers.

Offensive tackle: Andrew Whitworth, Bengals.

Guard: Josh Sitton, Packers.

Defensive end: Trent Cole, Eagles.

Defensive tackle: B.J. Raji, Packers.

Outside linebacker: Tamba Hali, Chiefs.

Inside linebacker: Lawrence Timmons, Steelers.

Cornerback: Tramon Williams, Packers.

Strong safety: Quintin Mikell, Eagles.

Free safety: Eric Weddle, Chargers.

Kicker: Josh Brown, Rams.

Greg A. Bedard can be reached at gbedard@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @greg_a_bedard.

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