The 2014 NFL Pro Bowl is the first to do away with the old format in favor of an unconferenced approach that features teams picked by Hall of Famers Jerry Rice and Deion Sanders.
Team Rice and Team Sanders were formed in the inaugural Pro Bowl Draft, which was the league's attempt at capitalizing on the fantasy football craze to garner interest in the event from fans and players alike.
Early indications show the effort has worked with players, as Miami Dolphins center Mike Pouncey says some are motivated by where they were selected, as he told Alex Marvez and Bill Polian of SiriusXM NFL Radio, via Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio:
Everyone’s excited. Some guys are mad because they got drafted later than other guys. So I think it’s gonna be a real competitive game. I know one thing, I’m gonna be going 110 percent, because I’m gonna be ready to play.”
Intriguing storylines litter the contest as teammates will clash and matchups once possible only through imagination are set to unfold. On paper, the reimagined Pro Bowl is sure to entertain.
When: Sunday, Jan. 26 at 7:30 p.m. ET
Where: Aloha Stadium, Honolulu, Hawaii
Betting Lines (via Vegas Insider):
- Over/Under: 90.5
- Spread: (-PK)
Rosters (via the NFL's Instagram):
Will Defenders Hit Teammates—Or Show Up?
Defense has never been a thing in the Pro Bowl, which would explain why one team has scored more than 50 points in each of the last three games.
This new iteration of the contest has placed a bigger importance on defense, namely defensive backs. Arizona Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson and Joe Haden of the Cleveland Browns were picked in the third round, while Tampa Bay's Darrelle Revis followed shortly after.
One has to wonder if this importance on defensive talent will actually translate to the game itself.
As one of the first names taken, Peterson represents the best about the change to the format, as he will have to line up across from teammate Larry Fitzgerald—and decide whether to hit him or not when the time comes.
As ESPN's Josh Weinfuss details, this is no ordinary practice bout between the two stars:
The two -- Peterson and Fitzgerald -- line up against each other on a daily basis in practice, but never when they’re allowed to strap on the pads and hit each other. It’ll be interesting to see how Peterson covers Fitzgerald, especially since he has such an intimate knowledge of the receiver's game.
The Peterson-Fitzgerald duel is the tip of the iceberg as far as defenders who face the tough conundrum go.
Several members of the Kansas City Chiefs' stellar defense—defensive tackle Dontari Poe, linebacker Tamba Hali and safety Eric Berry—will have to decide whether or not to hit quarterback Alex Smith, which may add injury to insult after the Utah product was the last name called in the draft.
At least Poe will be gentle with his signal-caller, as he told reporters, via NFL.com's Kevin Patra:
I won't be too violent. I know how important he is, but at the same time I'm trying to get that truck (for MVP) so we'll see how it is. I might be gentle. I got to get the sack though. I might get him the smoothest way I can, but we'll see about it.
Of course, take everything Poe says with a grain of salt. He also wants to play cornerback at some point during the game, as Reid Ferrin of the Chiefs' website details (The thought of a 346-pound tackle in coverage would stop receivers from coming over the middle, right?):
Indianapolis Colts defensive end Robert Mathis may have several open shots at quarterback Andrew Luck, the No. 1 overall pick (all that Luck does, apparently), while San Diego Chargers safety Eric Weddle will possibly find a way to get his hands on quarterback Philip Rivers.
Let's be honest—this one will come down to the passing game despite both Sanders and Rice doing their best in the draft to acquire talent to counter it.
So when making a prediction, one has to choose between two fantasy lineups that make even the best fantasy owners blush.
Which team wins?
Team Sanders features Luck handing off to Jamaal Charles and throwing to A.J. Green, Dez Bryant, DeSean Jackson and Jordan Cameron. Team Rice sees Drew Brees handing off to LeSean McCoy and throwing to Brandon Marshall, Josh Gordon, Larry Fitzgerald and Jimmy Graham.
In this case, the advantage goes to the team with the most experience under center. Brees has never had so much talent to work with, so expect Team Rice to run away with this one.
Final Score: Team Rice 55, Team Sanders 38