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Carolina Panthers

Strickly Panthers: Pro Bowl worthy


In a couple of weeks, fans will find out which of their favorite Panthers have been voted onto the Pro Bowl team.

Fans can still play a significant role by voting between now and Monday, Dec. 19. Players and coaches will then vote Dec. 20-21, and the results will be revealed on Tuesday, Dec. 27 – with fans, players and coaches counting for one-third of the vote apiece.

Statistics and level of play won't fully determine the 43-man rosters, with the popularity of the candidates and the their team sometimes playing a role. Reputation can be a powerful influence as well, with players who have made the Pro Bowl in the past often getting selected again.

Carolina fans are encouraged to vote for their favorite Panthers often. Here's a look at some Panthers who should be worthy of serious consideration.

First, a look at the offensive side of the ball.

WR STEVE SMITH: The four-time Pro Bowler is again playing like one, leading with NFC with 1,217 receiving yards.

Four receivers will represent the NFC, and as of Nov. 30, Detroit's Calvin Johnson and Green Bay's Greg Jennings ranked in the top 10 of voting regardless of position or conference.

Others who could challenge Smith for a spot include proven veterans like Larry Fitzgerald (Arizona) and Roddy White (Atlanta) and up-and-comers like the New York Giants duo of Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz as well as Jordy Nelson of the Packers.

QB CAM NEWTON: Three quarterbacks will make the squad, and Aaron Rodgers of the Packers and Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints appear to be locks as top-six vote-getters overall as of Nov. 30.

!The race for the third spot should be fascinating, and Newton came make as good a case as anyone with 15 touchdown passes as well as his 13 rushing touchdowns, an NFL record for quarterbacks.

The NFC East can claim three candidates based on a mix of statistics and popularity (Eli Manning, Tony Romo and Michael Vick), and Matthew Stafford of the Lions could compete for the spot as well.

C RYAN KALIL: Last season, Kalil became the first Panthers offensive lineman to make back-to-back Pro Bowlers when he was added as an injury replacement.

This year, he's a strong candidate to earn one of the two roster spots available to centers via voting. He's been pivotal to the Panthers quietly ranking fifth in the NFL in rushing yards.

With Newton and running backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart sharing the load, the Panthers' best shot at showcasing their running game in the Pro Bowl may well be via linemen.

LT JORDAN GROSS: Gross was voted onto his second Pro Bowl team last year despite the offense's lack of success last season, so he's got to be in the mix again this season.

Like Kalil, Gross has helped the Panthers top 100 rushing yards in a team-record 11 consecutive games.

TE GREG OLSEN/JEREMY SHOCKEY: If the first-year Panthers could be voted in as a package deal, they'd deserve some serious consideration, with 73 catches for 913 yards and seven touchdowns between them.

They could cancel each other out, however, in voting. Jimmy Graham of the Saints has to be a lock, with the other spot more up for grabs among the likes of Atlanta's Tony Gonzalez and Dallas' Jason Witten.

And on the defensive side of the ball…


CB CHRIS GAMBLE: The eight-year veteran isn't putting up numbers that will blow away voters – with three interceptions – but his head coach is blown away.

"If people want to talk about Pro Bowl players, I will say this: On defense, some people ought to start talking about is Chris Gamble," Panthers head coach Ron Rivera said Monday. "I don't think Chris has gotten the kind of recognition he deserves. We've asked him to cover the number ones, and for the most part he's done a pretty doggone good job."

Gamble was key to holding a trio of NFC Pro Bowl candidates – Fitzgerald, Jennings and Johnson – to a modest total by their standards of 10 catches for 206 yards and one touchdown.

DE CHARLES JOHNSON: He burst onto the scene with 11.5 sacks last season and is on a similar pace this season with nine sacks through 13 games.

Johnson has 17 sacks over his last 20 games dating to last season, but Jared Allen (17.5) of the Minnesota Vikings and DeMarcus Ware (15) of the Cowboys have similar numbers just this season. If they claim two of the three spots, there would be a long list battling for the final spot.

LB JAMES ANDERSON: Based on NFL tackle totals (individual teams come up with different totals through film study), Anderson ranks third in the NFC with 117 stops.

London Fletcher of the Washington Redskins and Chad Greenway of the Vikings have bigger numbers, and players like San Francisco's Patrick Willis and Chicago's Brian Urlacher have bigger reputations.

Still, it's hard to measure how valuable Anderson has been to a defense that had lost fellow starting linebackers Jon Beason and Thomas Davis for the season by Week 2.

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