On New Year's Eve, I made the bold statement on "Chicago Tribune Live" that Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte should be headed to Hawai'i as one of the NFC's best running backs.
Nobody else on the panel agreed with me.
Here are the numbers to back up that statement.
First, the basics. Last week, the NFC named the three running backs that will represent the conference at the Pro Bowl: Minnesota's Adrian Peterson, St. Louis' Steven Jackson and the starter, Atlanta's Michael Turner.
Those are not the three best running backs in the NFC.
If you look at the most basic statistics by which running backs are measured - gross rushing yards - here are the top contenders for the three spots in the NFC:
- Turner, ATL - 317 att, 1,304 yds
- Peterson, MIN - 269 att, 1,267 yds
- Ahmad Bradshaw, NYG - 261 att, 1,213 yds
- Jackson, STL - 319 att, 1,196 yds
- LeSean McCoy, PHI - 207 att, 1,080 yds
- Matt Forte, CHI - 222 att, 978 yds
If all we care about is rushing yards, then Jackson bumped Bradshaw of the Giants out a position he rightfully deserves.
However, as anyone who understands the game of football will tell you, there is more that goes into playing the game than gross rushing yards.
Let me circle back and state that I disagree with two of the three players headed to the Pro Bowl for the NFC.
Peterson is the best running back in the NFL, and has put these numbers up in one game fewer than the others on this list; he missed the game against the Bears because of injury.
My opinion is that the second back that should be in Hawai'i for the NFC should be McCoy from the Eagles. He leads the backs on this list with 78 receptions already this year, and has the most total gross yards on the list (1,672).
After Peterson and McCoy, though, my argument is that Forte is certainly deserving of a spot in the game. For the sake or that argument, here is my case that Forte is more deserving than Bradshaw, Jackson or Turner.
Forte vs. Turner
Turner has been voted the starter, but my opinion is that he shouldn't be headed to the game. Of the six players on this list, Turner has the lowest average total yards per game (92.6), and the fewest receptions (12 in 15 games). He defines the term "one-dimensional back."
Forte, on the other hand, is averaging 97.7 total yards per game this year, and his average yards per touch (5.53) is 31 percent more than Turner (4.22). Forte also has more total yards from scrimmage (1,465) than Turner (1,389), despite Turner leading the conference in rushing yards.
Forte vs. Bradshaw
Bradshaw is one of only two backs in the NFC with more than 1,600 total yards this year, there are a number of key statistics in which Forte is better than half of the Giants' rushing attack. And both are major numbers.
First, Forte has more total touchdowns this year (nine) than Bradshaw (eight). If football is about putting the ball in the end zone, Forte has had a better season.
Secondly, Bradshaw is the worst among the backs on this list at hanging onto the ball. He was benched a couple weeks ago, and has disappeared onto the bench in more than a couple games this year because of his butter fingers. He has fumbled the ball seven times this year, losing six; that's three times as many turnovers as Forte (two). If the game of football is about hanging on to the rock, Forte is better there as well.
So while Bradshaw has more gross yards, the two most critical parts of the game - scoring and hanging onto the ball - favor Forte. Forte's average yards per touch is also more than a full half yard more than Bradshaw (4.96).
Forte vs. Jackson
There are a number of areas where Forte is more impressive than Jackson. First, like Turner, Forte averages more than a full yard per touch more than Jackson (4.27). Also, of the six backs on this list, Jackson has the fewest touchdowns (six), compared to Forte's nine.
Going into this season, there were few players in the league that were asked to carry their teams as much as Jackson, and he will try to lead his sub-.500 Rams into the playoffs on Sunday night. With a rookie starting quarterback, Jackson should have seen the end zone more than six times this year.
The bottom line is simple: with 13 receiving yards and 22 rushing yards against Green Bay on Sunday, Forte will become not only the second running back in the NFC with 1,000 rushing and 500 receiving yards this year, but only the second in the history of the Bears franchise to accomplish the two feats in the same season.
The other: Walter Payton.
While nobody questions Peterson's placement in the game, it should have been McCoy and Forte going to the Pro Bowl with him. The numbers don't lie.
All Bears fans should hope that this argument is rendered worthless on January 23. The Pro Bowl will be played the week between the respective conference championship games and the Super Bowl, and players headed to the Super Bowl are not eligible to play in the annual all-star event.