The NFL announced its Pro Bowl lineups on Tuesday, with two of the designations to the annual All-Star festivities belonging to the Bengals. Despite his hamstring injury forcing him to miss basically four games, wide receiver A.J. Green made the squad, as did defensive tackle Geno Atkins. The two Cincinnati stars making the Pro Bowl has now become an annual occurrence.
At this point, most NFL fans could care less about the Pro Bowl. Aside from being voted there and being placed on the AP All-Pro as Hall of Fame resume builders, it’s nothing more than a “game” to help round out the league’s calendar.
We need to call things as they are: Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict is largely disliked by both the league and other fan bases. Cincinnati fans are mostly in his corner because he is the type of player you love to have on your team. We respect his on-field abilities and what he brings to the Bengals, despite the issues he sometimes inspires.
Burfict wasn’t designated as a Pro Bowl alternate, but one has to wonder if the national media and league’s constant painting of Burfict as a villain didn’t play into it. After all, the league forced him to miss the first three games of the season with a suspension, both hurting the team (they started 1-2 without him) and his personal statistics.
Over the past handful of weeks, one could designate Burfict as the team’s in-game MVP. Even though he left the Week 15 matchup against the Steelers briefly with a head injury, Burfict still made his presence known in a variety of ways. He finished with nine tackles and a pass break-up on Sunday.
Even with the early-season suspension, constant negative stigmas and disappointing 2016 season from the Bengals, Burfict has had an above-average campaign. In the team’s five games between Weeks 8 and 13, Burfict averaged 12.4 tackles per game with two total interceptions, five passes defended and a sack.
Does the media’s image of Burfict reflect the national perception?
The Bengals have long been known as chokers in the big moments, but very few teams and their fan bases have experienced what Who Dey faithful had to go through last January. While the 2015 Wild Card loss isn’t solely on Burfict’s shoulders (remember, he got them back into the game before the personal foul), he is still looked at as a reason why the team improbably lost.
Between suspensions and social media being able to chronicle every moment of sporting events these days, very little of Burfict’s antics, questionable or not, go unnoticed. With a Pro Bowl berth coming from players, fans and the powers-that-be in the NFL, it’s possible that the popular bugs-in-the-ear could have prevented him from being nominated to the squads.
Shots like the one below from Week 15 might resonate with opposing players and national voters, keeping him out of All-Star status. Even though, this is a completely legal and by-the-books tackle.
Does it even matter he’s not a Pro Bowler?
Sometimes having a Pro Bowl designation doesn’t matter to fans or players. Given Burfict’s fickle personality, he might brush a potential second Pro Bowl berth as “ho-hum”. Still, one can’t overlook his spark-plug-like ability to jump-start the Bengals’ defense, as well as his immense statistical production.
Even with missing three games by a questionable NFL-sanctioned suspension, Burfict is 20th in overall tackles this year. And, even though the Bengals are just 4-5-1 since his return, there’s little doubt that he has been a big part of the team’s attempt at its sixth straight playoff appearance.
Did Burfict get robbed of his second Pro Bowl appearance?