A fourth San Diego Chargers player will receive an invite to the 2012 Pro Bowl.
It's only a question of which one.
Based on the result of Sunday's AFC Championship, either Chargers running back Ryan Mathews or wide receiver Vincent Jackson will lock up a Hawaii roster spot for the Jan. 29 All-Star game.
If the New England Patriots defeat the Baltimore Ravens to advance to the Super Bowl, all eight of their Pro Bowl picks — including wide receiver Wes Welker — will bypass Honolulu to prepare for the Feb. 5 title game in Indianapolis.
Jackson, a first alternate, would supplant Welker for his second career Pro Bowl nod.
Likewise, if the Ravens win Sunday in Foxborough, Mass., running back Ray Rice will not appear in the Pro Bowl.
Mathews is a second alternate, but with Denver Broncos running back Willis McGahee, the first alternate, already assuming the spot of the Houston Texans' injured Arian Foster, Mathews is on-deck for his first career Pro Bowl trip.
Free safety Ed Reed would also not participate in the Pro Bowl, moving Chargers free safety Eric Weddle into the AFC's starting lineup. Weddle, named first-team All-Pro by the Associated Press earlier this month, is locked into his first career Pro Bowl.
Jackson played through abdominal, hamstring and groin injuries to start all 16 games. The 2009 Pro Bowler caught 60 passes for a team-high 1109 yards and nine touchdowns. He is an impending unrestricted free agent, but Chargers general manager A.J. Smith is comfortable pursuing a long-term contract with Jackson this offseason, team sources have said.
Mathews, a trade-up 2010 first-round selection, took a leap forward in his second season.
He nearly doubled his play count from 291 to 532, avoiding serious injury and improving in pass protection and ball security. His yards per carry jumped from 4.2 to 4.9 and was at 5.6 over the course of his final five games played.
He rushed 222 times for 1091 yards with 50 receptions for 455 yards — all career highs. His six touchdowns in 14 games were one short of his rookie total.
Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers, tight end Antonio Gates and Weddle were voted to the AFC Pro Bowl roster in December. Center Nick Hardwick is a third alternate.