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Pro Bowl dreaming

Who do you think from the Bengals will make the Pro Bowl? My list is No Doubt: Carson Palmer, Chad Johnson, Willie Anderson, Deltha O'Neal. Probably: Rudi Johnson. Maybe: Odell Thurman, TJ. What do you think?
Kevin, Cincinnati KEVIN:
That's a pretty good list. Throw in kicker Shayne Graham, and they're looking at sending at least five players, their most since the six of 1989. And some of these next-tier guys could make it more than that as alternates.

The list could very well expand to more with some interesting alternate selections that would open it up to guys like running back Rudi Johnson, left tackle Levi Jones and rookie middle linebacker Odell Thurman.

You can put T.J. in there, too, but I just think Houshmandzadeh has too big of a mountain to climb for one of the two spots behind Chad and Marvin Harrison. He'll have to be content with being the best No. 2 receiver in the NFL, but it's clear the Bengals paid him the right amount of money to keep him when you stack his numbers against the rest of the league.

Palmer, Chad, Anderson, and O'Neal should be locks. Palmer (one of the NFL's top two passers all year), Johnson (the perennial AFC receiving leader) and O'Neal (the league leader in interceptions since Game 2) because of their numbers. Anderson because the offense has been even better than when he was voted in 2003 and 2004.

Graham, trying to become the Bengals' first Pro Bowl kicker ever, leads the most recent fan voting released Tuesday, but that only accounts for a third of the selection. Coaches and players also have to vote, and it has to help Graham that he has been perfect since the bye week on a team closing in on a division title.

Kansas City's Lawrence Tynes leads Graham slightly in points (101-97), field-goal percentage (85 to 83), and has a long of 52 yards compared to Graham's 48. But while Graham's short kickoffs have been a concern, his coverage team is ranked second while Tynes is kicking for a unit that is ranked next to last in coverage. That has to account for something when the players and coaches vote.

Rudi Johnson has a tough nut in a conference with the Colts' Edgerrin James and the Chargers' LaDainian Tomlinson. It looks like he's in a battle with the Chiefs' Larry Johnson for that last spot. Larry has more TDs (11-9), 42 more yards, and Rudi has 34 more carries. But you have to like Rudi's popularity, and his people do a good job getting him on national shows like Jim Rome's radio gig and "The Best Damn Sports Show," on Fox. Plus, he's flat out come up big in big games lately. He can win a vote, but one of the top three backs always seems to bow out, anyway, so Rudi could end up going like he did last year as an alternate.

It's about time for Levi Jones to get some votes and at least be an alternate. With only three tackles being named, he's got a tougher road than Rudi. Linemen always go to the Pro Bowl even if their appendages are falling off. But he really should be named at least a first or second alternate. And given that Palmer has racked up Pro Bowl numbers against top 10 defenses such as Chicago, Baltimore( twice), Pittsburgh (twice), and Indy, and given the club leads the NFL in offense, that team's left tackle ought to be an automatic Pro Bowl starter.

I think Thurman has been great and deserves to be NFL Rookie of the Year just based on what he has meant to what looks to be a play-off team that relies on turnovers. But there are a lot of veteran backers in the AFC that are in front of him. It helps him that Baltimore's Ray Lewis has been hurt, but you figure big-market inside backers like Zach Thomas and Jonathan Vilma, as well as the Colts' Gary Brackett, are going to get votes in front of Thurman. And a guy like Pittsburgh's James Farrior has been there before.

A lot of times, that's all it takes. And I'm not saying this applies to Farrior, because everyone in Bengaldom knows how much he has hurt this team in the past, and he's a fine player.

But once you go at a spot that doesn't rely on stats (offensive guards and tackles, defensive tackles and backers) you keep going about two years after you should because of pure rep. It probably doesn't help Thurman, either, that his team isn't synonymous with defense like Miami and Pittsburgh. Thurman might not be there yet, but he is a Pro Bowler of the future.

And I think he's played well enough on a high-profile team in big games (Indy, Pittsburgh) that he could sneak in as an alternate even now. But he'll soon be a regular.

Houshmandzadeh is terrific and is so important. But who do you knock out of there among Reggie Wayne (Harrison's teammate who has more yards and catches), and Hines Ward (nine TDs to Housh's five)? You do have to say, though, that he's in the next tier if you look at T.J.'s line of 56 catches for 743 yards and five TDs.

It's quite comparable to Miami's Chris Chambers (60-837, six), Denver's Rod Smith (63-802, five), New England's Deion Branch (65-800, four), and the guys from Oakland, Randy Moss (45-771, five) and Jerry Porter (56-770, four). He's another outside alternate guy.

Aother guy who could make it is cornerback Tory James if he comes up with a couple of more picks this Sunday before the players and coaches vote Dec. 19 or 20 and the fan voting stops. Dec. 16. He has four interceptions, which is tied for fourth among AFC corners. The teams are unveiled Dec. 21 at 7 p.m.on ESPN.

By the way, here is that 1989 Pro Bowl class for the Bengals: running back James Brooks, quarterback Boomer Esiason, safety David Fulcher, tight end Rodney Holman, guard Max Montoya, and tackle Anthony Munoz.

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