Following tonight's Bengals-Steelers matchup on Monday Night Football, all NFL teams will have played at least half of their schedule. And, while some teams have surprised, (Raiders, Chiefs, Giants) others have disappointed (Cowboys and Vikings).
Beyond the surprising collapse of the Cowboys and resurgence of the rest of AFC West are the surprise players. Pro Bowl voting is upon us and beyond the easy check marks in Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, we need some people to vote for.
Here are 10 names that may surprise you with their stats, but they deserve your vote nonetheless...
LaRod was drafted as a running back in the seventh round back in 2009. While his opportunities out of the backfield have been few and far between, that hasn't stopped him from flourishing in the return game.
Despite Howling's few touches on offense, he has been one of the most productive Cardinals this season. He leads the league with 1,060 return yards. Who's second? That would be Darren Sproles with just 798 yards in five fewer returns.
Howling has not only been able to get his offense great field position regularly, but he has also provided instant offense on two occasions, one of which was returned 102 yards.
Stephen-Howling is emerging as the next great returner in the NFL, following such breakout X-Factors as Dante Hall, Devin Hester, and Josh Cribbs.
He most certainly deserves Pro Bowl consideration.
Welcome back Osi (and the rest of the Giants' defense). After going into the NFL's equivalent of hiding following their Super Bowl win and subsequent playoff berth in 2008, the New York Giants are back in a big way.
Osi and the rest of the crew once again strike fear into almost every quarterback they go against. Nobody has done it better than Osi. Umenyiora has recorded eight sacks and an astounding seven forced fumbles through eight games, that latter number leads the league.
The group that was at one time referred to as the New York Sack Exchange have returned from their Great Depression of defense to once again rule the NFL sack leader boards.
Osi's play certainly warrants Pro Bowl consideration.
Despite the up-and-downs of the Jacksonville Jaguars this season, which is consistent with the franchise, David Garrard is quietly putting together a very nice season under center.
Garrard has never been a huge yardage or touchdown pass guy, but his accuracy has allowed him to keep his job. That has never been more evident than this season. Garrard is projected at just over 2,000 yards, but his QB rating is fourth in the NFL at 98.8 behind only Philip Rivers, Vince Young (Yep, Vince Young), and Michael Vick.
His tendency to consistently hit his receivers right in the hands has earned him the second highest completion percentage among active quarterbacks at 67.8.
While Garrard may not dazzle with his TD or yardage numbers, his accuracy and decision-making make this QB one of the smartest in the league. Such skills deserve consideration for higher accolades.
This former 2008 first rounder out of Kansas is finally coming into his own as one of the better cover corners in football. A freak athletically, Talib uses his speed and quickness to keep him in every play, which allows for big-play potential.
Talib has nabbed five passes this season, including one return for a touchdown. The Buccaneers have been one of the surprise teams this season and Josh Freeman gets most of the credit, as he should, but a lot of the credit should go to this young, developing defense of which Talib is a key piece.
Talib sits behind just DeAngelo Hall, who collected four of his picks in one game. Talib should get the nod for being the more consistent ball thief.
Never heard of him? Don't worry, you're not alone. This undrafted sack artist out of Penn St has gone from tearing up the CFL to trailing only Clay Matthews in sacks this year.
Wake's 8.5 sacks are good for second in the NFL for one of the league's hungriest players. Wake was picked up after running train on CFL quarterbacks, pickup up 39 sacks in his first two years. His skill set seems to have transferred well. Already surpassing the sack total from his rookie season, his ceiling appears to be very high.
Of all NFL defensive linemen, this guy should be at the top of the ballot. And, there is no telling how many sacks he will end up with given the extremely large chip on his shoulder.
Fantasy owners know all about Bradshaw's big play potential, and NFL viewers this season have been treated to quite a few feats of excellence by this lightning bolt out of the Giants' backfield.
Bradshaw has usurped Brandon Jacobs as the every down back for the Giants because of his speed and explosiveness. He has not disappointed thus far with 765 yards rushing, trailing only Arian Foster and Adrian Peterson.
His lack of size and use of Jacobs around the goal line account for his low TD total of just five, but Bradshaw does lead the league in runs of over 20 yards.
A player with Ahmad's explosiveness and vision belongs in Hawaii in February.
This former second round pick by the Denver Broncos is now surging in the emerging young Lions' defense. Despite his size, Smith has been all over receivers this season and has quarterbacks looking elsewhere for completions.
Smith is second in the NFL with five picks, one returned for a touchdown. He has great hands and despite his size, he is still very physical in tight coverage. With all the rule changes geared towards helping offensive players, it can be tough to be a corner in this league, but Smith has carved out a niche for himself on the edge.
He, along with the rest of the Lions' D, needs more publicity for his stellar play. A strong Pro Bowl candidacy should be underway very shortly.
Marcedes Lewis has finally arrived. It took long enough. This former first rounder out of UCLA had been mired in mediocrity for the first few years of his career. Those who knew of his physical prowess and athleticism have been baffled as to why things hadn't yet clicked for the young tight end.
Five years into his career, Marcedes Lewis has finally decided to show up. This year, Lewis has proved to be the red zone threat the Jags thought he was always going to be. Marcedes is fourth in the NFL with seven TD catches. His size and athleticism make for an excellent target in the red zone and he has caught over half of David Garrard's TD throws.
Late arrival or not, Marcedes should be rewarded for finally coming into his own as one of the best TEs in the NFL.
Jerod Mayo is a beast. That's the best way I can describe it. Since the moment he stepped on the field for the Patriots two years ago, Mayo has been an artiste in the trade of tackling, amassing 228 in his first two years.
Mayo leads the NFL in tackled with 96, 13 ahead of second place linebacker Chad Greenway. Despite not being a sack machine, Mayo is still one of the most feared run stoppers in the NFL. In the mold of Ray Lewis, once Mayo hits you, you're going down. He has great size for the position and his pound-for-pound one of the strongest players in the league.
Mayo looks like the heir apparent to Ray Lewis as the next baddest man in the NFL. His tackling totals warrant a starting Pro Bowl spot.
Upon the separation of Brandon Marshall and the Denver Broncos, many wondered who would step up in Denver as the new No.1 target for Kyle Orton. That challenge was answered by the resurgent Brandon Lloyd.
After showing great promise in San Francisco, Lloyd spend four years in NFL limbo bouncing from the 'Skins to the Bears and last year to the Broncos.
Best. Pickup. Ever.
Lloyd leads the NFL with 878 receiving yards and is averaging a shocking 20.9 yards per receptions, five yards more than his best receiving season. Lloyd's jumping ability has always been one of his biggest tools and Kyle Orton is making him use it. Lloyd is one of the big reasons for Orton's output of excessive passing yards.
Lloyd's numbers speak for themselves. This receiver has my vote and is an early favorite for Comeback Player of the Year.