**Xavien Howard** is where he belongs.
He's in the Pro Bowl. As a starting cornerback. Sharing the stage with the best the league has to offer.
It became official Tuesday night when the league announced its Pro Bowl teams, but it can't be regarded as much of a surprise considering the level that Howard has played at this season.
We saw signs his first two seasons, clear indications that this had a chance to be a special player, those two interceptions against Tom Brady on a Monday night last season opening so many eyes.
But this season Howard has taken things to an entirely different level. It's not only the seven interceptions that are still tied for the league lead even after Howard missed the last two games with a knee injury. It's much more than that. It's how he shuts down so many of the top receivers, how he plays with such confidence and consistency and how he does things, maybe just by anticipating, that separates himself from so many other players.
We knew he was elite before this. But a Pro Bowl only validates it. This is his first, but you've got to believe it won't be his last. Not if he stays healthy and certainly not if he continues on his current course.
Howard was the only player on the team to receive this honor Tuesday night. But that doesn't mean others don't deserve it nor does it mean there won't be additional Dolphins players added. Between injuries and Super Bowl responsibilities, there are always players added.
Tunsil is having an excellent season, though right now nobody on the offensive line is in good spirits after giving up nine sacks to the Vikings. Still, if you look at Tunsil's entire body of work you'll see a top-tier left tackle that does well against the best.
Alonso has put up Pro Bowl numbers this season: 121 tackles, three interceptions, three forced fumbles and one fumble recovery. Granted the defense as a whole has been inconsistent, but Alonso has remained steady throughout, enjoying one of the best seasons of his six-year career.
Thoughts on the Playoffs...
Some thoughts on the NFL as the season winds down and the playoff picture comes into better focus:
I thought I had this figured out heading into last weekend's games. Sure looked like the four best teams were the Rams and Saints in the NFC and the Chiefs and Patriots in the AFC.
So what happens? The Rams lose at home to the Eagles, the Saints narrowly escape Carolina, the Chiefs lose at home to San Diego and the Patriots lose at Pittsburgh for their second straight defeat.
Uh, so much for having this figured out.
Truth is, what the scores from the past couple of weeks have shown us is that this race to the Super Bowl is remarkably wide open. The teams we thought were the best have drifted back toward the pack, while others are now making a late season statement.
The hottest team in the league right now is the Los Angeles Chargers, winners of four straight. But they aren't even winning their division, the tiebreaker favoring the Chiefs with both teams currently at 11-3. As for the NFC, even after losing two of their last three games and producing only one touchdown against Carolina on Monday night, I'm going to stay with the Saints because they figure to get home field advantage and as we all know they are so much better in the Superdome. Keep an eye out, though, for the Bears.
But let's not get too far ahead of ourselves. There are some intriguing divisional races to settle over the next two weeks. Have you checked out the NFC East where the Cowboys, Eagles and Redskins are separated by just one game and who knows how that'll play out? Or how about the AFC North where the Steelers hold a half-game lead over the Ravens with the Browns – yes those Browns – still mathematically alive.
Crazy season. Probably going to get even crazier over the final two weeks with 19 of the 32 teams still in the playoff mix, including the Dolphins.
Press me right now and I'll go with a Saints-Chargers Super Bowl. But keep in mind I'll always have the delete button near by.