Pro Bowl selections: New England Patriots

Sharing some thoughts on the New England Patriots' Pro Bowl selections:

Who's in: Quarterback Tom Brady, left guard Logan Mankins, cornerback Aqib Talib, special-teamer Matthew Slater.

Key stats: This is Brady's ninth Pro Bowl berth, tying offensive lineman John Hannah for most in team history. ... For Mankins, this is his sixth Pro Bowl berth, and fifth in a row. ... This is Talib's first Pro Bowl. ... Slater gets his third straight nod.

Who cashed in: Talib. By earning a Pro Bowl nod, he reaches a $500,000 incentive in his contract. Slater gets an additional $300,000.

A case could be made for: Kicker Stephen Gostkowski. He's been excellent this season, but Denver's Matt Prater and Baltimore's Justin Tucker earned the two selections.

Others on the outside looking in: At safety, Devin McCourty could have made a strong case for a third spot alongside Earl Thomas (Seahawks) and Eric Weddle (Chargers), but it went to Jairus Byrd (Bills) -- probably more based on reputation. The NFL announced its selections as "unconferenced" this year, meaning that Patriots were competing against players from both the AFC and NFC. ... Defensive end is a tough position to crack, so while Chandler Jones has had an excellent season, it was going to be hard to break through. ... At punt returner, Julian Edelman is one of the best in the business but the spots went to Antonio Brown (Steelers) and Dexter McCluster (Chiefs).

Final thoughts: Brady, Talib and Slater were locks from this viewpoint. Slater is the new Larry Izzo. As long as he's healthy, he's going to keep ringing up Pro Bowl trips. Mankins, who has a well-earned reputation as one of the best in the game, was a tougher call because guards aren't always the first players your eyes are drawn to. But after some rocky moments this season (e.g. Oct. 27 vs. Miami), he's been playing at an elite level down the stretch.

Click here for the complete Pro Bowl roster.