On January 22, two members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame will choose up sides for the Pro Bowl like they're playing in a schoolyard. Jerry Rice and Deion Sanders will be alumni captains of Team Rice and Team Sanders, and they'll be aided by two fans who won a fantasy football competition to decide this year's Pro Bowl squads. Rice and Deion have the final say, but here's how they should select.
With the new format there is no AFC and NFC, so it could see teammate battling against teammate in the NFL's version of a Civil War.
The way the Pro Bowl draft is formatted, there are two pairs of player-captains, one on offense and defense in each pair. The winner of a coin flip on Jan. 21 can choose one of the captain groups or the first pick. For sake of argument, I have Rice winning the coin flip, and he won't hesitate to grab two players in one go.
By rule, Sanders cannot pick himself to play all positions, so here are the top 10 players chosen for the new unconferenced Pro Bowl.
1. Team Rice chooses offensive captain Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans Saints
2. Team Rice gets defensive captain Robert Quinn, DE, St. Louis Rams
Team Rice will start out with the highest offensive vote-getter and the second-highest defensive vote-getter, being Drew Brees and St. Louis Rams defensive end Robert Quinn. The real coup here is getting Brees, however, at least for Rice. Though no offense to Quinn, who led all DEs with 19 sacks.
Since Peyton Manning is in the Super Bowl, Brees is the next best thing. I'm assuming that Tom Brady will find a minor health issue to blame for sitting out the Pro Bowl. Rice knows how important Joe Montana and Steve Young were to his own success, and he'll start his team out with a fantastic QB (and a great DE).
3. Team Sanders receives offensive captain Jamaal Charles, RB, Kansas City Chiefs
4. Team Sanders receives defensive captain J.J. Watt, DE, Houston Texans
By virtue of Team Rice choosing the captain group of Brees and Quinn, Team Sanders is automatically awarded the first selection and the other captain group consisting of the second-highest offensive player and highest defensive player in votes. It's a pretty good pair in Jamaal Charles and J.J. Watt.
While Charles saw his rushing yards and average decline slightly, he still went for 1,287 and 5.0 yards per carry. He also doubled his receptions and finished with 693 receiving yards. His scoring was particularly gaudy with 19 TDs, 12 on the ground and seven through the air.
Watt's numbers fell off from 20.5 sacks and 16 passes defended a season ago, but 10.5 and seven aren't too shabby.
5. Team Sanders selects Cam Newton, QB, Carolina Panthers
While Sanders was a defensive player, quarterback is still the most important position on the field. Newton is exactly the sort of player you want for the Pro Bowl with its light hitting and wide-open scoring. He can run, throw and ideally give you that crazy highlight scramble touchdown that looks like old Auburn footage.
One benefit of the new format is that division rival QBs can start against each other.
6. Team Rice selects A.J. Green, WR, Cincinnati Bengals
With Calvin Johnson shut down for the season due to finger surgery, Rice will take the next best receiver on the board.
Through three NFL seasons, Green has been a stud from the get-go. He's eclipsed 1,000 receiving yards each time and set a career high with 1,426 yards this season. His 11 touchdowns matched his 2012 mark and put him at 29 for his career, meaning he needs "only" 180 more TDs to break Jerry Rice's all-time record of 209.
7. Team Sanders selects Patrick Peterson, CB, Arizona Cardinals
Patrick Peterson is the new "Neon Deion." He plays great defense as a coverage corner and snagged three interceptions with offenses looking away from him. He also uses his elite speed to return kicks just like Sanders used to do.
For proof of Peterson's prowess at that, simply recall his insane game-winning 99-yard punt return score in 2011.
Who fields a punt there?!
8. Team Rice selects Jimmy Graham, TE, New Orleans Saints
Yeah, Rice is taking more receivers, and they're going to run the West Coast offense all day long. Graham is 6'7" and 260 pounds of athleticism, and his track record of durability makes him the best pass-catching tight end in the game.
He hauled in 16 touchdowns this season, and in the Pro Bowl you can basically post him up in the end zone. Don't forget that the starting QB on Team Rice is Graham's NOLA teammate, Drew Brees.
9. Team Sanders selects Dez Bryant, WR, Dallas Cowboys
After all, he owes him one. In 2009 while Bryant was at Oklahoma State, he was declared ineligible for the season for being untruthful about a dinner he had at Sanders' home. Sanders used to mentor Bryant, but that relationship ended amidst Bryant's serial misbehavior.
A selection here would be a fitting reward for Bryant's 93-catch, 13-TD campaign, both career-high marks.
10. Team Rice selects Luke Kuechly, LB, Carolina Panthers
Luke Kuechly eats tackles for breakfast. And dinner. He might have a sub sandwich for lunch. After recording 164 tackles and two interceptions as a rookie, he notched 156 tackles and four INTs in his second year. He anchored a ferocious Carolina Panthers defense that came up just short in the divisional playoffs.
|First 5 on Team Rice and Team Sanders|
|Team Rice||Team Sanders|
|Drew Brees, QB||Jamaal Charles, RB|
|Robert Quinn, DE||J.J. Watt, DE|
|A.J. Green, WR||Cam Newton, QB|
|Jimmy Graham, TE||Patrick Peterson, CB|
|Luke Kuechly, LB||Dez Bryant, WR|