Despite all the offseason discussion and criticism surrounding the NFL's all-star game, there will be one played next year. The NFL has announced that the Pro Bowl will be played in Hawaii on Jan. 27, 2013, which is the week before the Super Bowl.
What's baffling though is that no steps whatsoever seem to be planned to make the game more competitive. It's one of the NFL's worst kept secrets that the Pro Bowl is a joke, basically a relaxed flag football game played at half-speed by whichever of the NFL's elite and sort of elite players feel inclined to travel to Hawaii.
But then again, last year's Pro Bowl did average a respectable 12.5 million viewers, so maybe that explains the NFL's reluctance to change.
While it is a certainty that many players named to the Pro Bowl won't be there, it's still a tremendous honor, especially for those new players who get to make the trip for the first time in their career.
Over the past few years the Baltimore Ravens have been among the league leaders in Pro Bowl players. With that trend likely continuing in 2012, here are five players that could make their first Pro Bowl this year.
One position where there is usually a lot of change at the Pro Bowl from year to year is wide receiver. This is because there are so many good quarterbacks and a lot of them seem to really spread the ball out in their passing attacks.
The AFC had a lot of change in Pro Bowl receivers during the 2011-2012 season thanks to players like Mike Wallace and A.J. Green making it to their first Pro Bowl appearances.
But the days of the elite, game-changing receivers are not yet over. With players like Calvin Johnson in Detroit and Larry Fitzgerald in Arizona, we are still seeing some special receivers in the NFL.
And if the better parts of last season were an indication of the future, Baltimore's own Torrey Smith could join that elite group someday.
Smith had an excellent rookie season bringing in 50 catches for 841 yards and a Ravens-rookie record of seven touchdowns. His NFL debut was unforgettable as he took his first three catches all the way to the end zone against the St. Louis Rams.
Smith also scored the game-winner in an epic 92-yard drive that ultimately gave the Ravens the season sweep against the Steelers and the division title.
Smith's highlights show that he is unlike any receiver the Ravens have ever had. He's the deep threat they were supposedly getting in busts like Demetrius Williams and Dante Stallworth. Smith also opens things up for Ray Rice as defenses need to account for him in the secondary, which provides more room for one of the most talented backs in the NFL.
Smith does need to work on his route running, as he's not nearly as good at the shorter routes. If he does that, he can surpass Anquan Boldin and become the Ravens top receiver. This could even lead to his first Pro Bowl season, which amazingly would make him the first receiver in Ravens history to receive this honor.
The departure of Ben Grubbs this season leaves a void on the Ravens offensive line. It's a pretty sizable one too, since Grubbs was a very reliable player and a Pro Bowler himself. Now either second-year player Jah Reid or rookie Kelechi Osemele will have to start instead at left guard.
This means, as a whole, the Ravens offensive line needs to step up. Grubbs is going to be replaced by a young player who will need some veteran leadership so that he can adjust to being a starter in the NFL.
The Ravens offensive line is getting older with both Bryant McKinnie and Matt Birk in their 30s and near the end of their respective careers. The only sure thing seems to be right guard Marshal Yanda. Yanda made his first Pro Bowl last year and is a consistent player that is among the best guards in the league.
This leaves Michael Oher. The only starting offensive lineman on the Ravens with a movie and a book about him, Oher has yet to live up to his high expectations after being drafted in the first round in 2009. Mostly this is because of his tendency to draw flags for false starts.
If you take that away though, Oher could finally reach his potential and become a great right tackle. It's hard to get into the Pro Bowl as an offensive lineman, since few people know them by name. Most years this usually results in the same players getting named to the Pro Bowl.
But Oher already has name recognition, thanks to his amazing story presented in The Blind Side. So if he minimizes false starts and protects Joe Flacco a little better, he could make his first Pro Bowl in 2012.
When people mistake you for a mountain, that's usually a good indication that you're a very big player. This is the case with Terrence "Mount" Cody who weighs about 349 pounds. Even among defensive tackles, that's very big.
Last year was Cody's first year as a full-time starter. He was able to get 34 tackles while starting every game of the season.
Still, Cody could definitely do better, especially when people consider his profile in college. Mount Cody was one of the star players on an Alabama team that won the 2009 BCS title game thanks to a suffocating defense.
Cody has zero sacks in his NFL career, which is something that will have to change for him to make a Pro Bowl. But there's a lot of reason to believe he's up for the challenge, considering he'll have full schedule of offseason training activities and he's the unquestioned starter.
If he can increase his production, Cody could continue the Ravens tradition of having big defensive linemen that are nearly impossible to run against.
It's actually pretty surprising to think that Lardarius Webb has yet to make a Pro Bowl. Although he was good in his first two seasons, Webb took his play to another level in 2011. He finished fourth on the team with 67 tackles and he led the team with five interceptions.
Yet even then, Webb couldn't get in the Pro Bowl. The AFC is pretty stacked at the position with Darrelle Revis, Jonathan Joseph and Champ Bailey all basically perennial Pro Bowlers. Therefore it's going to take a special season for Webb to make his first Pro Bowl.
As the Ravens unquestioned number one cornerback, Webb has the potential to make this happen. Not only is he good at taking away the ball, he's great at defending it. Opposing quarterbacks had a average rating of 55.6 when they threw the ball against him and he did not allow a single touchdown either.
His recent deal of $50 million over six years indicates that the Ravens feel this way as well. With the uncertainty surrounding Ed Reed's retirement status, it's even arguable that Webb is the most valuable player in the Ravens secondary. Another season like 2011 would go a long way into the rest of the NFL accepting Webb as an elite cornerback.
Normally I would hesitate to consider a rookie for Pro Bowl status. This is because no matter how high they were drafted, all rookies are unproven at the NFL level, and no one knows how they will adjust to being a professional football player.
However I think that Courtney Upshaw is one of those unique players that could potentially make enough of a difference in his first year that he is rewarded with a Pro Bowl trip.
Upshaw's circumstances are certainly unique. He was drafted in the second round, ideally to compete for the starting outside linebacker position that was vacated by Jarrett Johnson's departure to free agency. Of course now with the Terrell Suggs injury, Upshaw will likely start at outside linebacker, only on the other side, as he tries to make up for Suggs' pass-rushing skills.
Looking back, it seems like it was providence that the Ravens drafted Upshaw. He was supposed to be a first-rounder originally, but a poor combine and bad interviews caused him to drop to the second. With him being the best player on the Ravens board, they picked him up, not knowing what would happen to Suggs within the next 48 hours.
Upshaw has big shoes to fill, but he should still be successful in his rookie season. During his senior year at Alabama, Upshaw led the team with 8.5 sacks and had a team-best 11 quarterback hurries. If he can bring those kind of numbers to the NFL, Upshaw may be good enough to start opposite Suggs whenever the reigning defensive player of the year returns from injury.