In the first year of the NFL's fantasy-style Pro Bowl, the 2014 rosters are set. Hall of Famers Deion Sanders and Jerry Rice assembled their teams during a two-day draft earlier this week and are slapping together a game plan for Sunday's contest (7 p.m. ET, NBC) in Honolulu, Hawaii.
Wednesday's spectacle was a light-hearted affair that featured Sanders taking Andrew Luck with the first pick and Rice drafting Jimmy Graham to reunite him with quarterback and team captain Drew Brees. From there, selected players came out of the green room to the stage to shake hands with their new coaches. Visit NFL.com for complete interactive depth charts for both sides.
Sunday's contest will be something of an experiment, as some teammates will face each other in live action, albeit slowed down, for the first time since training camp. In the end, it's just a meaningless exhibition, so there won't be much contact involved. But there are still some interesting positional matchups to keep an eye on when the teams face off in Aloha Stadium.
Panthers Go Head-to-Head
Of all the NFL teams who have players on opposite Pro Bowl squads, it appears the Carolina Panthers and Kansas City Chiefs have the most likelihood to cross paths. While Kansas City and Team Rice linebackers Justin Houston and Derrick Johnson might have to get through tackle Brandon Albert to tackle Jamaal Charles, Carolina has potential matchups across the board.
No surprise, Team Sanders linebacker Luke Kuechly figures to be in the middle of the action. The inside 'backer is expected to line up opposite center Jordan Kalil and fullback Mike Tolbert, who will be blocking for the Team Rice running game led by LeSean McCoy, Matt Forte and DeMarco Murray.
While Kuechly and his fellow Panthers lock horns in the middle of the field, defensive end Greg Hardy and offensive tackle Jordan Gross could be facing one another on the edge of the line when Team Rice has the ball.
While Hardy said he didn't really care one way or the other whether Newton became his Pro Bowl friend or foe, Kuechly was keenly aware of the possibilities as he waited to hear his name called.
"It's a relief," Kuechly said. "I don't want to see him in the open field. What do I do? Do I try to hit him?"
Funny how Hardy didn't seem to mind, though.
Team Rice WRs vs. Team Sanders CBs
A lot of pride will be on the line whenever Drew Brees, Philip Rivers or Alex Smith is leading the Team Rice offense.
Rice is widely known as the greatest receiver of all time (don't ask Randy Moss), while Sanders made his name as Prime Time, the NFL's elite shutdown cornerback during his heyday. So who's going to win the battle between Rice's receivers and Sanders' cornerback brethren?
Team Rice's top wideouts include Josh Gordon, Alshon Jeffery, Brandon Marshall and Larry Fitzgerald, a formidable foursome of big-bodied talents. Tasked with slowing them down will be corners Darrelle Revis, Patrick Peterson, Brent Grimes and Tim Jennings.
It's a salivating matchup of football skills that should lead to some high-profile one-on-one battles. The size on Team Rice is impressive, but when you can bring in Grimes and Jennings for the dime package on Team Sanders, the scales look even. According to Pro Football Focus, Grimes didn't allow a passing touchdown all year, while Jennings followed up his nine-interception campaign in 2012 with four more in 2013.
QB Andrew Luck vs. Team Rice Secondary
Rice kept it in the San Francisco 49ers family on Wednesday when he drafted safety Eric Reid. In essence, Reid is a replacement for his 49ers teammate and fellow safety Donte Whitner, who declined an invitation after Seattle Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor became Super Bowl-bound.
As the No. 1 pick (again), Luck will have huge expectations riding on his shoulders. OK, not really, but it will be interesting to see if he can expose Reid and Buffalo Bills safety Jairus Byrd in the Team Rice secondary. Cornerbacks Brandon Flowers, Joe Haden, Alterraun Verner and Antonio Cromartie will have to try to slow down a Team Sanders receiving corps that features A.J. Green, Dez Bryant, DeSean Jackson and Antonio Brown.
Luck will also have the benefit of his head coach Chuck Pagano and the Colts staff on the sideline, so keep an eye on No. 12.
TE Jordan Cameron vs. DE Cameron Jordan
Seriously, how often do you see two players with opposite names going head-to-head? There's a good chance that Cleveland Browns tight end Jordan Cameron could be locked up with New Orleans Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan when Team Sanders has the ball on Sunday. The two coaches gave name enthusiasts one to watch by splitting up these two players.
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