2016 NFL Pro Bowl: A Full Viewing Guide for This Year's Game
The anticipation for Super Bowl 50 is building at a frenzied pace, as the NFL's biggest game is now only one week away. Before we get to it, however, there's one more football game.
We're talking, of course, about the 2016 NFL Pro Bowl. This is the latest edition of the league's annual all-star game, which was moved a few years back to the week before the Super Bowl in order to serve as an appetizer for the Big Game.
Having the Pro Bowl a week before the Super Bowl means that fewer elected all-stars now appear in the yearly exhibition. Players who will appear in the title game obviously aren't going to attend, and those who are dealing with injuries suffered in the postseason are likely to withdraw as well.
However, this doesn't mean the event is entirely meaningless. Players are rewarded with a weeklong trip somewhere sunny and warm—and thank goodness the game is back in Hawaii this year. The fans are rewarded with the type of football shenanigans that could only come from a true exhibition game.
No, we're not likely to see a game of crisp, fundamental football, but there are still plenty of reasons to watch the Pro Bowl. We'll get to see quarterbacks throwing to guys they'd never otherwise target, teammates trying to tackle each other and probably more than a few trick plays of the bizarre variety.
This is the Pro Bowl, folks, and here's everything you need to know about this year's game.
The Game and Its History
What: 2016 NFL Pro Bowl
Where: Aloha Stadium, Honolulu
When: Sunday, 7:00 p.m. ET
The roots of the NFL's Pro Bowl go all the way back to the 1938 season, when the game was simply known as the "Pro All-Star Game." During the first five editions of the game, a team of football all-stars would face off against the league champions.
The all-star game, of course, would change—which is really a continuing theme with the game. It was suspended from the onset of World War II until the 1950 season, when it officially reappeared as the Pro Bowl.
The first 21 Pro Bowls took place in Los Angeles. The league then implemented a seven-year period of alternating sites before the game finally settled in Hawaii in 1980. The game remained a yearly tradition at Aloha Stadium until 2010, when the game was moved to the site of that year's Super Bowl and to a week before the championship game.
The game underwent another significant change in 2014, when the AFC vs. NFC format was eschewed for a fantasy-style draft involving team and player captains. This year's game pits a team assembled by Hall of Famer Jerry Rice against one drafted by Hall of Famer Michael Irvin.
The voting process for the Pro Bowl is relatively simple. NFL coaches account for one-third of all votes, and NFL players account for one-third of the votes as well. The final third comes from the fans, who are encouraged to vote as many times as they like leading up to the final selection process.
The problem with fan voting is that selections are likely based just as much on name recognition and popularity as on-field accomplishment. The same is probably true for coach and player voting to some degree, but one would think that the trio of voting groups gets things right more often than not.
Where the Pro Bowl has lost some of its luster in recent years is in the alternates system. Pro Bowl alternates are also selected through the voting process, and because many players opt out of the game for various reasons (or go on to the Super Bowl), these alternates regularly find their way into the game.
The result is that the Pro Bowl is generally a watered-down affair rather than a true exhibition of the league's top stars. Still, most of the players selected still see the Pro Bowl as an honor.
"There are a lot of great players in this league," Miami Dolphins wide receiver Jarvis Landry said during an appearance with the Finsiders, via the Dolphins' official website. "And for me, having to end the season with a Pro Bowl selection, and being able to play in this game is definitely a good way to finish my 2015-16 campaign."
For the players who are not participating in the Super Bowl, a week of fun in Hawaii is a good way to end any campaign. It probably doesn't hurt that winners of the Pro Bowl will take home $58,000, while losing players receive $29,000, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.
At one time, the head coaches of the teams that lost in the conference-championship round would go on to coach their respective conferences in the Pro Bowl. However, the selection process was changed when the game was moved to the week before the Super Bowl.
Now, the coach of the highest-seeded team to lose in the divisional round is awarded coaching rights for the Pro Bowl. This year, those coaches are Mike McCarthy of the Green Bay Packers and Andy Reid of the Kansas City Chiefs.
However, McCarthy has withdrawn due to illness.
"Head coach Mike McCarthy will not attend this week's Pro Bowl in Hawaii because of a stomach illness," the Packers' statement read."Doctors have advised him not to travel at this time. Associate head coach/linebackers Winston Moss will handle his head-coaching responsibilities at the Pro Bowl for the remainder of the week."
Moss will now be in charge of Team Irvin, while Reid will coach Team Rice.
The 2016 edition of the Pro Bowl is largely unchanged from last year's game, though the width of the goal posts has been moved back to the regulation width of 18 feet, six inches rather than the experimental width of 14 feet used last year.
However, the game will be different than the contests played in the regular season or playoffs. Changes are as follows.
Each team will be comprised of 43 players. Last year's Pro Bowl featured 44-man rosters, while regulation games feature 46 active players.
Change at Quarters
A two-minute warning has been added to the first and third quarters, and possession will change after each quarter.
A coin toss will determine the game's opening possession. Teams will start with the football at their 25-yard line at the start of each quarter and following change of possession after a scoring play.
Inside of two minutes in each quarter, the clock will be stopped whenever an offense fails to gain yardage, as if the play were an incomplete pass.
Outside of the two-minute mark, the clock will run after an incomplete pass on the signal of the referee.
A 35-second/25-second play clock will be used instead of the typical 40-second/25-second clock.
Teams have two timeouts per quarter. If a team has one unused timeout left over at the end of an odd quarter, it can carry it over to the next quarter. However, it can't carry over from one half to next or from the fourth quarter into overtime.
Since the Pro Bowl no longer features the old AFC vs. NFC format, captains selected teams via a fantasy-style draft. This year's draft took place on January 27 at Wheeler Army Airfield in Wahiawa, Hawaii. The event was held as part of the league's military appreciation campaign.
Michael Irvin was assisted in drafting by team captains Devonta Freeman of the Atlanta Falcons and Geno Atkins of the Cincinnati Bengals. Jerry Rice was assisted by captains Odell Beckham Jr. of the New York Giants and Aaron Donald of the St. Louis Rams.
A number of players—primarily offensive linemen, defensive linemen, fullbacks, inside linebackers and special teams players—were pre-selected on January 26.
Wednesday's draft was for the skill-position players, defensive backs and pass-rushers. Team Irvin selected Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson with the first overall pick. Team Rice selected New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning with its first pick.
Quarterbacks: Eli Manning (Giants), Derek Carr (Raiders), Tyrod Taylor (Bills)
Fullback: John Kuhn (Packers)
Wide Receivers: Odell Beckham Jr. (Giants), Amari Cooper (Raiders), T.Y. Hilton (Colts), Jarvis Landry (Dolphins)
Tight Ends: Gary Barnidge (Browns), Travis Kelce (Chiefs)
Offensive Tackles: Kyle Long (Bears), Joe Staley (49ers), Joe Thomas (Browns)
Offensive Guards: Richie Incognito (Bills), Logan Mankins (Buccaneers), Josh Sitton (Packers)
Centers: Nick Mangold (Jets), Eric Wood (Bills)
Defensive Ends: Everson Griffen (Vikings), Cameron Jordan (Saints), Khalil Mack (Raiders)
Defensive Tackles: Fletcher Cox (Eagles), Aaron Donald (Rams), Gerald McCoy (Buccaneers)
Outside Linebackers: Elvis Dumervil (Ravens), Tamba Hali (Chiefs), Julius Peppers (Packers)
Inside Linebackers: Clay Matthews (Packers), Bobby Wagner (Seahawks)
Cornerbacks: Vontae Davis (Colts), Brent Grimes (Dolphins), Marcus Peters (Chiefs), Jason Verrett (Chargers)
Safeties: Mike Adams (Colts), Eric Berry (Chiefs), Charles Woodson (Raiders)
Punter: Johnny Hekker (Rams)
Kicker: Josh Brown (Giants)
Return Specialist: Tyler Lockett (Seahawks)
Long Snapper: Morgan Cox (Ravens)
Special Teamer: Cedric Peerman (Bengals)
Quarterbacks: Russell Wilson (Seahawks), Teddy Bridgewater (Vikings), Jameis Winston (Buccaneers)
Running Backs: Devonta Freeman (Falcons), Todd Gurley (Rams), Latavius Murray (Raiders)
Fullback: Patrick DiMarco (Falcons)
Tight Ends: Tyler Eifert (Bengals), Delanie Walker (Titans)
Offensive Tackles: Branden Albert (Dolphins), Tyron Smith (Cowboys), Andrew Whitworth (Bengals)
Offensive Guards: David DeCastro (Steelers), Zack Martin (Cowboys), Marshal Yanda (Ravens)
Centers: Alex Mack (Browns), Travis Frederick (Cowboys)
Defensive Ends: Ezekiel Ansah (Lions), Michael Bennett (Seahawks), Carlos Dunlap (Bengals)
Defensive Tackles: Geno Atkins (Bengals), Calais Campbell (Cardinals), Jurrell Casey (Titans)
Outside Linebackers: Anthony Barr (Vikings), Lavonte David (Buccaneers)
Inside Linebackers: NaVorro Bowman (49ers), Derrick Johnson (Chiefs)
Cornerbacks: Adam Jones (Bengals), Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (Giants), Richard Sherman (Seahawks), Desmond Trufant (Atlanta Falcons)
Safeties: Malcolm Jenkins (Eagles), Reshad Jones (Dolphins), Harrison Smith (Vikings)
Punter: Sam Koch (Ravens)
Kicker: Dan Bailey (Cowboys)
Return Specialist: Darren Sproles (Eagles)
Long Snapper: Jon Weeks (Texans)
Special Teamer: Justin Bethel (Cardinals)
Pro Bowl Storylines
We all go into the Pro Bowl knowing that it's going to be an exhibition of talent and not a full-on NFL contest. However, that doesn't mean there are no storylines worth watching.
The Last Ride of Charles Woodson
Perhaps the biggest reason to watch the 2016 Pro Bowl is to bear witness to the final game of legendary Oakland Raiders safety Charles Woodson.
Woodson, who has spent 18 seasons as a cornerback and as a safety with the Raiders and with the Green Bay Packers, announced last year that the 2015 season would be his last. After finishing the season with 74 tackles, five interceptions and one forced fumble, he gets to end his final tour in the Pro Bowl.
If you weren't lucky enough to see Woodson play on a regular basis, his greatness and his approach to the game should become apparent when you hear the man speak of what he wants his legacy to be.
“I want people to say that I left it all out on the field, nothing more and nothing less,” Woodson said, per Randy Covitz of ESPN.com. “I gave the game everything I had. Every Sunday that I went out and played the game, I gave it 100 percent effort. That is all you can ask for [from] anybody."
We'll get to watch Woodson one last time. Though no one would blame him if he doesn't give it 100 percent in the exhibition, few should be surprised if that's exactly what he does. Since it's the Pro Bowl, we might even get to see him do it on offense and on special teams.
Teammates vs. Teammates
If you're not interested in celebrating Woodson's impressive career (shame on you!), you might enjoy the Pro Bowl's battles between regular-season teammates.
On Sunday, we might get to witness Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie pick off Eli Manning. We might see Khalil Mack tackle Latavius Murray or Everson Griffin sack Teddy Bridgewater.
The novelty of having teammates compete against each other isn't only exciting for the fans, either. At least, that's the impression given off by Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman.
"I'm gonna jam his little chest," Sherman said of going up against Seattle receiver/returner Tyler Lockett, per NFL Media's Conor Orr. "He knows it. He knows it. I know what he said (about me) but he's also an eighth grader."
Considering these guys probably rarely get the chance to go full force against each other in practices, players might actually cherish the idea of battling their teammates on a national stage.
OK, so the players don't take the Pro Bowl all that seriously. In a way, this is what adds to the charm and the attraction.
We're probably going to see defensive players on offense, wide receivers throwing footballs and offensive linemen getting red-zone targets. Oh, and we'll probably see plenty of bizarre trick plays that coaches would never dare attempt in a real NFL game.
Miami Dolphins receiver Jarvis Landry hinted as much Saturday, via the NFL on ESPN's Twitter account. "Got a great game plan going in for Team Rice," Landry said. "Couple unexpected passes from a couple different guys, so..."
We're not likely to see a lot of traditional, fundamentally sound football Sunday. Since we're talking about the Pro Bowl, though, we'll take the non-traditional stuff.
Because one of the big storylines for this year's Pro Bowl is the amount of players selected but not attending, here's a look at all of them. Members of the Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos, of course, are skipping the Pro Bowl to appear in Super Bowl 50.
Running Backs: LeSean McCoy (Bills), Jonathan Stewart (Panthers)
Fullback: Marcel Reece (Raiders), Mike Tolbert (Panthers)
Tight Ends: Rob Gronkowski (Patriots), Greg Olsen (Panthers)
Offensive Tackles: Jason Peters (Eagles), Trent Williams (Redskins)
Offensive Guards: Mike Iupati (Cardinals), Trai Turner (Panthers)
Centers: Ryan Kalil (Panthers), Mike Pouncey (Dolphins)
Defensive Ends: Chandler Jones (Patriots), J.J. Watt (Texans), Muhammad Wilkerson (Jets)
Defensive Tackles: Kawaan Short (Panthers)
Linebackers: Jamie Collins (Patriots), Thomas Davis (Panthers), Von Miller (Broncos), Justin Houston (Chiefs), Luke Kuechly (Panthers), DeMarcus Ware (Broncos)
Cornerbacks: Malcolm Butler (Patriots), Josh Norman (Panthers), Chris Harris Jr. (Broncos), Patrick Peterson (Cardinals), Darrelle Revis (Jets), Aqib Talib (Broncos)
Safeties: Kam Chancellor (Seahawks), Tyrann Mathieu (Cardinals), Reggie Nelson (Bengals), Earl Thomas (Seahawks)
Kicker: Stephen Gostkowski (Patriots)
Special Teamer: Matthew Slater (Patriots)