Pro Bowl 2014: Top Storylines to Monitor in Team Sanders vs. Team Rice

Chris RolingFeatured ColumnistJanuary 25, 2014

USA Today

With the inaugural Pro Bowl draft all wrapped up, the 2014 Pro Bowl showdown between teams picked by Hall of Famers Deion Sanders and Jerry Rice is set to commence on Sunday, Jan. 26, at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu, Hawaii.

The new format is meant to reinvigorate a game that has come under fire in recent years for its monotony and lack of effort from players. 

On paper, what fans have in store is two star-studded lineups with matchups they would have never been able to see with the old NFC vs. AFC format. This has opened up a whole new realm of storylines and reasons to watch, which was exactly the goal the league set out when it flipped the script on its All-Star game.


Will New Process Breathe Life Into Old Tradition?

January 23, 2014; Honolulu, HI, USA; Team Sanders fullback Marcel Reece of the Oakland Raiders (45) runs with the football against linebacker Terrell Suggs of the Baltimore Ravens (55) during practice for the 2014 Pro Bowl at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hicka
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Excitement for the NFL's star-centric spectacle has waned in recent years, with most players showing up (if at all), taking it easy to avoid injury, collecting a paycheck and going home.

There is an argument to be made that the new draft format will do away with the sluggish contests of old. After all, how many pros are going to be happy with their draft spot in comparison to other pros?

Miami Dolphins center Mike Pouncey spoke to Alex Marvez and Bill Polian of SiriusXM NFL Radio, via Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio, and shed some light on how the draft has changed the attitudes for some:

I really think it's gonna be competitive, honestly. Because we’re doing walk-throughs in practice and the defensive line, they’re going full speed. They’re not even letting us block them in practice. 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.

Pouncey may be on to something—if a player is angry over where he was selected and enters the game with a chip on his shoulder, the game may turn out to be a highly entertaining affair.

For some, like Baltimore Ravens kicker Justin Tucker, the bump in pay for being on the winning team is an incentive that has done its job. Via Ryan Mink of the Ravens' website:

It’s double the pay if you win; so I’m kind of all about that. I’m not ashamed to say it. There’s a good number of guys going out there where the numbers to them are inconsequential. I can tell you going into a third year of [an undrafted rookie] contract with no signing bonus, I’m pretty pumped up and I’m going to try to do my part to win that game.

According to Andrew Brandt of Sports Illustrated's Monday Morning Quarterback, losers will make $26,000, while winners will see a bump to $53,000. While the escalating clause is an old staple, it appears to still be an effective incentive.

Keep an eye on the game throughout to see if players are simply going through the motions or actually playing with intensity. This is especially the case on the defensive side, which has received much of the criticism in recent years.

Defense was actually a big factor in the early rounds of the draft, with cornerbacks Patrick Peterson and Joe Haden coming off the board in the third round, starting a run on defenders. This shift in emphasis may mean a more balanced contest as opposed to the shootouts of yesteryear.


The Friendly Fire Potential

January 23, 2014; Honolulu, HI, USA; Team Sanders quarterback Nick Foles of the Philadelphia Eagles (9, top left) stands behind center Alex Mack of the Cleveland Browns (55, second from left) during practice for the 2014 Pro Bowl at Joint Base Pearl Harbo
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Teammates never had to worry about harming one another in the Pro Bowl when the sides were split by conference.

Things are much different now.

This new dynamic where defenders can end up against their own quarterback has to drive head coaches insane. Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera was thrilled to find out defensive end Greg Hardy and quarterback Cam Newton were drafted to the same team:

Others coaches are not as fortunate, such as Andy Reid of the Kansas City Chiefs. His quarterback, Alex Smith, faces a triple threat as defensive tackle Dontari Poe, linebacker Tamba Hali and safety Eric Berry will all line up on the opposite side.

The same goes for Indianapolis Colts coach Chuck Pagano, who saw defensive end Robert Mathis get traded at the end of the draft, which means he will line up across from Andrew Luck.

This also extends to individual matchups at various levels. Arizona Cardinals wideout Larry Fitzgerald will line up across from the aforementioned Peterson. Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green has to keep his head on a swivel for fear of being lit up by linebacker Vontaze Burfict.

The list goes on, but fans get the idea—an overzealous defender may or may not take it easy on a member of his offense, who is normally off limits in practice.


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