For NFL fans across the nation, the next seven days may play out to be one of the most important weeks of the 2006 season for their favorite players. A week from today marks the conclusion of Pro Bowl fan voting, and the leaders of your 7-5 Jets need your help as they begin the season's final quarter.
What better way to thank the players for an outstanding season than helping them to the annual February all-star classic in Hawaii? Unfortunately, as recently as November 29, only six Jets players had received enough votes to crack the top five at their respective positions. Here they are:
Despite leading the league with a kickoff return average of 29.0 yards, second-year cornerback Justin Miller trailed Kansas City's Dante Hall as the leading fan vote getter by more than 10,000 votes. While each player has had 37 return attempts this season, Miller has outrun Hall by 230 yards and two touchdowns.
Inside linebacker Jonathan Vilma - Eric Mangini's Week 13 Defensive Player of the Week - sits third among AFC middle linebackers behind veterans Zack Thomas of Miami and Ray Lewis of Baltimore who are neck-and-neck for the first spot. While Thomas leads the NFL in total tackles with 116, Vilma has collected a team-high 96 total tackles that include 41 assists – just five behind Thomas' league best 46. Vilma not only accounted for 40 tackles in the month of October alone, the third-year veteran has led a Jets defense that has allowed just 11.25 points per game in their past four contests – two of which came against divisional leaders.
Perhaps the most electrifying player on the Jets this season has been free safety Kerry Rhodes. Although he has made tremendous strides in the Big Apple, Rhodes' production seems to have gone under the national radar as he sits fourth in AFC free safety fan balloting behind Baltimore's Ed Reed, Denver's John Lynch and Cincinnati's Madieu Williams.
After cracking the starting lineup as a rookie last season, Rhodes has emerged as one of the leaders of the Green and White defense and has posted sterling statistics in his second campaign. The Louisville product has accounted for the best stats among the leading vote getters at the free safety with 81 tackles, an AFC-best 12 pass deflections, four sacks, and four interceptions. Williams has the next-best stats at 73 tackles, three interceptions, 11 pass deflections and two forced fumbles. Despite the compelling numbers, Rhodes still sat roughly 50,000 points behind the front-running Reed.
Tying Rhodes for the most interceptions on the Jets is cornerback Andre Dyson. Dyson, who has started every game in his first season in New York, sits fifth in fan voting among cornerbacks. He trails former Jet Ty Law, now of the Kansas City Chiefs, by nearly 2,000 votes. Although Law has been productive this season in Kansas City, it is Dyson who has the slight edge in stats with 53 tackles to Law's 51 and four interceptions to Law's three.
On the other side of the ball, both quarterback Chad Pennington and wide receiver Laveranues Coles each rank fifth in fan balloting.
Leading the quarterback polls are Peyton Manning of the Colts and Tom Brady of the Patriots, but Pennington matched up well against the two Pro Bowlers when their teams went head-to-head. In Week Two, Pennington threw for 207 yards, just 10 yards short of Manning's total, while his 73.9 completion percentage was higher than Manning's 70%. In two games against the Patriots this season, Pennington threw for a combined total of 472 yards and three touchdowns to Brady's 475 yards and two touchdowns. Also ahead of Pennington on the fans' ballots were the Chargers' Philip Rivers and the Bengals' Carson Palmer. Pennington reached 1,500 career pass attempts at Green Bay, making him eligible for the career passing lists. He is second all-time behind Kurt Warner with a 65.1 completion percentage.
Coles has eclipsed 100 yards receiving four times and he has four touchdowns to his name. He is in contention to be voted back to the Pro Bowl for the second time in his career and first as a Jet. Coles' 854 yards rank seventh-best in the AFC.
*Balloting for the Pro Bowl -- which will be played at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu on Saturday, Feb. 10, and televised by CBS -- will conclude Dec. 12. The teams will be announced at 4 p.m. ET on Tuesday, Dec. 19, on a special NFL Total Access 2007 Pro Bowl Selection Show on NFL Network. *
*In addition to casting ballots on NFL.com and in stadiums, fans can cast their Pro Bowl ballot by sending the text message "PRO" to 7777 from a phone with Sprint or Nextel wireless service to vote for their favorite players at select positions. Standard text messaging and data rates apply. *
The AFC and NFC All-Star squads are made up of the consensus votes of fans, players and coaches. Each group's vote counts one-third towards determining the 43-man rosters that represent the American Football Conference and National Football Conference in the Pro Bowl. NFL players and coaches will cast their votes Dec. 14-15.