Pro Bowl 2014: Predicting Game's Top Performers

Jeremy FuchsCorrespondent IIIJanuary 26, 2014

Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) looks to pass against the San Francisco 49ers during the first half of a divisional playoff NFL football game, Sunday, Jan. 12, 2014, in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
John Bazemore/Associated Press

The 2014 Pro Bowl takes place at 7:30 p.m. ET on Sunday, January 26th, and as befits a game featuring the very best the NFL has to offer, there should be a number of fantastic performances.

But how can you pick which player is going to play the best? 

You can take out any defensive players—the Pro Bowl in an exhibition, not a game of utmost importance. With no player wanting to get injured, the hitting is going to be light, the coverage soft and the pass rush stagnant.

So look for the offensive players to really shine through in the glorious Honolulu weather. But which players will be the best?

We'll take out the guesswork for you and give you three players who have a chance to be the game's top performer. 


Cam Newton, QB, Carolina Panthers

Chuck Burton/Associated Press

We all know that there is not going to be much defense. There's going to be a lot of yards and a lot of big plays.

There's no better big-play quarterback than Cam Newton, which is why I think he's going to have a huge game.

The 24-year-old threw for 3,379, 24 touchdowns and 13 interceptions while leading Carolina to the playoffs.

Newton knows that this game isn't going to be very physical, but he's willing to be competitive, telling Joseph Person of the Charlotte News & Observer:

It’s a physical sport. And it’s hard to simulate something when you’re trying to protect a person’s career. You’re trying to chop a guy or you’re trying to tackle a guy low, horse-collaring a guy. You don’t want anyone to leave Hawaii injured, that they have to sit out next year. You’ve got to play smart, have fun. But at the end of the day ... you’ve got to be competitive as well.

This Pro Bowl should be better for Newton than the 2012 Pro Bowl, where an anonymous AFC player told Pete Prisco of CBS Sports: "He was a total ----hole. Who did he think he was? He acted like the big s---. Here he was at his first game and he acted like he was the star. Guys didn't like that."

That should be behind him. This year, Newton established himself as one of the league's best quarterbacks. He had a fine 61.7 completion percentage, better than his career average of 59.8 percent. He also rushed for 585 yards and six touchdowns.

It's a testament to his improvement as a passer that Newton only had six rushing touchdowns. In his rookie season, Newton rushed for 14 touchdowns, signifying that the Panthers were not as comfortable with him throwing the ball.

Not this year. Newton had the best touchdown-to-interception ratio of his career. It's a major reason why the Panthers made the playoffs.

With defenses backing off and not playing as physical, look for Newton to throw for a lot of big plays and potentially win MVP.


DeMarco Murray, RB, Dallas Cowboys

ARLINGTON, TX - NOVEMBER 28:  DeMarco Murray #29 of the Dallas Cowboys runs the ball against the Oakland Raiders at AT&T Stadium on November 28, 2013 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

DeMarco Murray is a better player than given credit for. 

He rushed for 1,124 yards on just 217 carries this season, averaging a healthy 5.2 yards per carry. He also added nine touchdowns.

It could be argued that the Cowboys didn't use Murray enough. For example, in a crucial late-season loss to the Green Bay Packers, Murray rushed for 134 yards on just 18 carries. The 'Boys could've used his yardage late in the game.

But the Cowboys seemed pleased with his performance. As Jason Garrett told David Helman of “DeMarco Murray had a very good year for us – stayed healthy for the most part. If he had stayed healthy in other years he probably would have similar numbers and similar production."

And for his part, Jerry Jones likes how the position is set up, telling Helman: "I like where we are at running back, and it would have to be a pretty unique situation – but those are there in the draft – to draft another running back. But we’ve got some pretty good competition there, especially if we want to keep a fullback on the roster.”

Murray has the speed to get to the outside, and he should be able to bust some big runs by timid corners. While the game will feature a lot of passing, you can't abandon the run—even in a glorified exhibition. 

I think that Murray will break off a few big runs and score a pair of touchdowns. The rest of the NFL world will take notice at his talent.


A.J. Green, WR, Cincinnati Bengals

CINCINNATI, OH - DECEMBER 22:  A.J. Green #18 of the Cincinnati Bengals hauls in the touchdown pass during the game against the Minnesota Vikings at Paul Brown Stadium on December 22, 2013 in Cincinnati, Ohio.  The Bengals defeated the Vikings 42-14.  (Ph
John Grieshop/Getty Images

If we're predicting Cam Newton to have a big game, then it follows that one of his receivers will also have a big game.

Enter A.J. Green.

The 25-year-old had a monster season for the Cincinnati Bengals, catching 98 passes for 1,426 yards and 11 touchdowns. According to Pro Football Focus, Green had the most yards on deep passes in the league:

That fits in perfectly with this game. The secondary is probably going to play a very passive zone, and Green should be able to blow by Team Rice cornerbacks like Antonio Cromartie and Alterraun Verner.

Other than Calvin Johnson, A.J. Green is the best receiver in the game, and he's been woefully underserved by Andy Dalton. Playing with an unique and talented quarterback like Cam Newton should see his stats go through the roof.

Look for Green to put up a few scores and make all the highlight reels.