The familiar AFC vs. NFC format is among the many Pro Bowl tweaks this year.
Using the AFC-NFC conference divider in the NFL Pro Bowl might have been a convenient ploy, but it did not always send the most deserving players to Hawaii. The conferences are often strangely imbalanced, and that can manifest itself in some head-shaking Pro Bowl rosters. Take 2010, for instance, when Vince Young and David Garrard made the AFC roster as alternates due to the utter dearth of alternatives.
However, with the new Pro Bowl format in 2014, this will no longer be an issue. The NFL has taken a page from the NHL (When was the last time we heard that?) and changed the Pro Bowl into a fantasy draft-style selection process. Jerry Rice and Deion Sanders will captain their eponymous squads, with the draft taking place January 22 on NFL Network, four days before the actual game.
The Pro Bowl's ratings have done well because the country will gladly guzzle anything even remotely resembling football, but commissioner Roger Goodell has openly threatened to eliminate the low-quality game. According to NFL.com, the change was made in an effort to unearth a new way to keep fans engaged:
"As players, we wanted to keep the Pro Bowl to honor excellence in individual performance and connect with the fans in a different environment," [Domonique] Foxworth said. "To do that, I worked with a group of players to map out new ideas."
"We were very receptive to the ideas that Domonique and the players put forth," said NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. "From there, our office worked closely with him in developing the concept. The players made it clear that they wanted to continue the Pro Bowl and were committed to making it better than ever. We think these changes will enhance the game for both fans and players."
The fantasy draft is the most obvious change to the Pro Bowl and should produce more deserving titles. So revisiting 2010, when a bevy of replacement quarterbacks were needed, the new format could have allowed NFC players such as Kurt Warner and Eli Manning to step in. Warner and Manning had clearly superior 2009 seasons to Garrard and Young, but they were hindered by the loaded NFC field.
Those aren't the only changes to the format, however. Below are small but noticeable changes designed to goose the fan experience of the Pro Bowl and enliven a game that Goodell is trying to move off the chopping block. These are mostly intended to speed up the game and require teams to run more offensive plays.
The two-minute warning fans are accustomed to seeing at the end of halves will now also occur in the first and third quarters. As a result, there will be a possession change after each quarter, rather than continuous possession after the first and third quarters. This is intended to increase the number of up-tempo two-minute drills that occur, changing up the typical gameplay pace.
This also has consequences for roster composition. Now, the coin toss will determine which team receives the first possession. The ball will then be placed on the 25-yard line, something that applies to both scoring plays and end-of-quarter situations.
However, there is now no longer a kick returner slot, as there will now be an additional defensive back. That news had Josh Cribbs less than amused:
Pro Bowl 2014 #keepkickoffs— Josh Cribbs (@JoshCribbs16) July 31, 2013
The defenses are now allowed to play press-man coverage and Cover 2. That's a change from the typical mandate of only vanilla man coverages, with the exception of goal-line packages.
There will be more alterations for the last two minutes of each quarter. Beginning at the two-minute mark of every quarter, the clock will stop if the offense does not gain at least one yard, much like an incomplete pass. This essentially eliminates the possibility of endgame kneel-downs, though coaches often ignore that in real games by calling meaningless halfback draws.
What do you think of the new Pro Bowl format?
Ironically, however, the game clock will now start after an incomplete pass on the referee's signal. The only exception to this is the last two minutes of the first half and the last five minutes of the second half. In addition, a 35-second/25-second play clock will be adopted instead of the typical 40-second/25-second clock.
Finally, one more clock-related note: The game clock will not stop on quarterback sacks outside of the final two minutes of the fourth quarter. In real games, the game clock stops in these situations outside of two minutes in the second and fourth quarters.
*Info via NFL.com