To most, the NFL Pro Bowl is a joke.
While it's an intriguing idea on the surface, pitting the league's best players against each other in an entertaining exhibition, it doesn't often pan out like expected. With participants typically more focused on avoiding injury rather than playing hard, it looks more like a watered-down practice than anything else.
But last year's version offered some hope.
With the introduction of the fantasy draft, the game was given a breath of life. Teammates playing against each other and Hall of Famers getting their players fired up resulted in increased competitiveness and an entertaining 22-21 contest.
Here's a look at everything you need to know about this year's game.
Captains Cris Carter and Michael Irvin will select two teams from the available player pool, which can be found here in its entirety.
First, a coin flip will give one of the Hall of Fame captains the option to either select their choice of a player-captain tandem (J.J. Watt and Antonio Brown or Joe Haden and DeMarco Murray) or the first overall selection. They will then get 60 seconds per pick to fill our their teams.
While some picks (interior linemen, guards, centers, fullback, special teamers) will be made during a predraft selection, the rest of the draft will be televised Jan. 21 at 8 p.m. ET on the NFL Network.
Full position requirements and draft rules can be found here.
Pro Bowl Date: Sunday, Jan. 25, 2015
Time: 8 p.m. ET
Location: University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Arizona
Live Stream: WatchESPN
The theme of this year's game: The Replacements.
Whether it be due to injury, other engagements (read: Super Bowl) or a complete disinterest in the game, four of the six original quarterbacks have been replaced. Three of the six running backs have been replaced. Four of the eight wide receivers have been replaced, and one of the replacement wide receivers has been replaced, per ESPN.com.
CincyJungle.com's Josh Kirkendall put it simply:
With the amount of talent and depth in the NFL, this normally isn't such a big deal. That is, until Andy Dalton gets a Pro Bowl nod.
The Bengals QB threw for 3,398 yards and 19 touchdowns, which I suppose is OK if you're into mediocrity. But then there were the 20 turnovers (17 interceptions, three fumbles lost), 3.5 percent interception rate (fourth-worst in the NFL) and 83.5 QB rating (25th in the NFL), per Football-Reference.com.
As ESPN's Matthew Berry noted, even seventh alternate was too high for The Red Rifle, who resembled more of a red BB gun in 2014:
But while Dalton's selection represents what is wrong with the entire process, that doesn't mean there will be a lack of entertaining players in Glendale.
Watt is the most dominant player in the NFL, and whether it's the Super Bowl, the Pro Bowl or a PE class with first graders, he simply isn't wired to take plays off.
Odell Beckham is another player capable of putting on a show. We all know about his aptitude for spectacular and unbelievable catches, but he seems intent on taking the game seriously.
“It is definitely awesome,” he told Giants.com's Michael Eisen. “It is something that means a lot to me, and I am definitely going to cherish the moment. I’m very excited to be going to the Pro Bowl."
Essentially, that's what you want: players to care about the game. A good way for that to happen is to feature young stars who are looking to make a name for themselves on the national stage, and this game has that in droves. Not counting special teamers, there are 28 players who are either making their first Pro Bowl appearance or are younger than 24 years old.
Twenty-eight players ready to show they belong.
Players like Justin Forsett, Jordy Nelson, Luke Kuechly, Chris Harris, Golden Tate, Calais Campbell and others all seem like good candidates to play at 100 percent.
And that's why this year's Pro Bowl, despite all the absences, will continue to shed the boring label.