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Labriola on the quest, Pro Bowl vs. All-Pro

Ready or not, here it comes:

  • Bill Parcells was coaching the New York Giants at the time, when NFL Films captured him exhorting a group of his linemen in the bench area during an important game. “Hey, fellas, this is what you work all offseason for,” Parcells told them. “This is why you lift all them weights. This is why you do all that (bleep).”
  • For the Steelers, what they “worked all offseason for,” why they “lifted all them weights,” why they did “all that (bleep)” starts on Sunday at Heinz Field. The 2017 NFL Playoffs began last weekend with the Wild Card Round, but for the top two seeds in each conference the playoffs will begin this weekend with the Divisional Round.
  • As the No. 2 seed in the AFC, the Steelers enjoyed all the perks that come with a first-round bye in a single-elimination tournament last weekend, and their quest begins at 1 p.m. on Sunday with a rematch. On Oct. 8, the Jacksonville Jaguars came to Pittsburgh and handed the Steelers their most decisive loss of the regular season, and on Sunday they’ll try to duplicate the feat they pulled off in 2007 when they became the first non-division opponent to beat the Steelers twice in Pittsburgh in the same season.
  • If the Jaguars pull it off, it would be a significant upset, an upset that would go beyond whatever the point spread might indicate, and it would serve to end a quest that started for the Steelers almost immediately after the scoreboard clock inside Gillette Stadium registered triple zeroes after the 2016 AFC Championship Game.
  • The New England Patriots remain the elephant in the room, the thorn in the Steelers’ side, but just as they didn’t lose focus against the Bengals and the Ravens on the way to facing the Patriots in the regular season, the Steelers must not allow themselves to be sidetracked by the Jaguars in this postseason.
  • Jacksonville should be expected to arrive in town riding a wave of perceived disrespect, and if that manifests itself in some chippiness during the early parts of the game, or during some critical moments in the game, the Steelers cannot retaliate. They cannot deviate from being the kind of team – poised, resilient, non-self-destructive – that has allowed them to find themselves in the position they are in right now.
  • So, how does a guy end up being voted Associated Press first-team All-Pro and not get voted to the Pro Bowl at all? Not as a starter. Not as a reserve. Nothing.
  • The AP’s All-Pro team consists of 11 guys on offense, 12 guys on defense – broken down into four defensive linemen, three linebackers, four defensive backs, plus an extra cornerback as a nod to sub-package football – and five guys on special teams, which include a punter, placekicker, punt returner, kickoff returner, and a coverage guy.
  • In other words, if you’re first-team All-Pro at center, or quarterback, or left tackle, or tight end, you’re being recognized as the best in the NFL at your position, because there is only one selected. This differs slightly from wide receivers, edge rushers, cornerbacks, safeties, etc., where there are two selected.
  • You get the idea, and clearly being voted first-team All-Pro is significantly more prestigious than making the Pro Bowl, even though some media outlets will refer to every player voted to the Pro Bowl as an All-Pro. Mistakenly, I might add.
  • So how did Cam Heyward pull off this unusual feat of being ignored by Pro Bowl voters while in the same season ace the test the All-Pro voters use?
  • Players/coaches and fans don’t vote for the All-Pro team, that’s how.
  • Having a fan voting component is a nice touch if the goal is engagement, but expecting fans to be able to discern the best right guard in the NFL, or to go much beyond basic statistics in picking among the skill position players, or to understand why Heyward, as a 3-4 end, should be compared with interior defensive linemen such as Aaron Donald and not with the 4-3 ends such as Calais Campbell or Eversen Griffin is asking too much. All it does is serve to muddy the proceedings.
  • And the player/coach voting component might even be worse.
  • Fans might have this notion that when NFL players and coaches get together to vote for the Pro Bowl, it’s all done with thoughtfulness plus a level of understanding of the sport and what it takes to excel within the sport that civilians just cannot have. But that’s often not the case at all.
  • Sometimes, players and coaches from a particular team might decide to get together and vote for a guy at a particular position they all know isn’t deserving and has no chance at winning. Why? Because players/coaches cannot vote for guys on their own team, and so voting for some nobody with no chance keeps votes away from the guy who might be their teammate’s top competition at that position.
  • Using this absurd example to explain how this can work, the Patriots get together and in an effort to help Tom Brady make the Pro Bowl as the AFC quarterback they all vote for Jay Cutler. By not voting for the guys who would be Brady’s closest competitors, they’re essentially voting for Brady.
  • The NFL recently announced its schedule for the 2018 regular season games to be played in London, and even though the Steelers weren’t selected they could be affected.
  • The schedule: Seahawks vs. the Raiders on Oct. 14; Eagles vs. the Jaguars on either Oct. 21 or 28; and the Titans vs. the Chargers on either Oct. 21 or 28.
  • How this impacts the Steelers is that with the Raiders already scheduled for an overseas game in London, it’s highly unlikely they also would be scheduled for a 2018 game in Mexico City. The Steelers are scheduled to play a road game vs. the Raiders in 2018, and now that seems like it won’t be moved out of the United States.
  • But that’s next season. In about 48 hours, the Steelers will be embarking on a different version of the same quest Parcells was referring to in that NFL Films sound bite. And it would behoove them to take his words to heart, with maybe one nod to what’s become relevant today.
  • “Hey, fellas, this is what you work all offseason for. This is why you lift all them weights. This is why you do all that (bleep).
  • “Dilly-dilly.”
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