Facing decreasing interest in its annual all-star game, the NFL decided to shake things up for the 2014 Pro Bowl. In an attempt to infuse some energy into a game that has had the intensity of an over-40 rec league in recent seasons, a host of changes have been installed -- implementation of an unconferenced, fantasy-style draft being chief among them. The question is, is it enough to actually make the Pro Bowl interesting?
Exciting or not, the game -- which kicks off at 7:30 p.m. ET from Honolulu, Hawaii -- will at least be novel. Rather than simply being placed on an NFC or AFC squad, this year's players were divvied up in an old-school pickup-game draft, with Pro Football Hall of Famers Deion Sanders and Jerry Rice serving as captains.
Removing conference constraints does open up some interesting teammate pairings. On Team Rice, for instance, you'll get to see New Orleans' Drew Brees -- the top pick of the fantasy draft -- throwing to Josh Gordon of the Browns. On Team Sanders, Carolina's Cam Newton will be handing off to the Chiefs' Jamaal Charles, while Detroit's Ndamukong Suh rushes the passer on the same D-line as J.J. Watt of the Texans and Mario Williams of the Bills.
The new selection process also gives fans the chance to see teammates on opposite sides. Team Sanders' Patrick Peterson could end up covering his Cardinals mate, Larry Fitzgerald. Team Rice offensive tackle Jordan Gross may have to block fellow Panther Greg Hardy. Since half of Kansas City's passing-rushing attack is on Team Sanders, we may even get to see some Chief-on-Chief sack action if they can get to Team Rice's Alex Smith.
Brees and Rams defensive end Robert Quinn will serve as Captains for Team Rice, which is coached by Ron Rivera and his Panthers staff. Other notable members of the team include Eagles running back LeSean McCoy, Saints tight end Jimmy Graham and Chiefs linebacker Justin Houston.
The captains of Team Sanders, which is coached by Chuck Pagano and the Colts staff, are Watt and Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles. Colts outside linebacker Robert Mathis and wide receivers Dez Bryant of the Cowboys and A.J. Green of the Bengals also highlight the roster.
The league's attempt at freshening up the Pro Bowl extends beyond the selection process. Among the various rule changes for the game itself are:
- The addition of a two-minute warning to the first and third quarters.
- The removal of kickoffs -- teams automatically start with the ball at their own 25-yard line after each scoring play.
- The game clock will resume after incomplete passes, except in the last two minutes of the first half and the last five minutes of the second half.
- A 35/25-second game clock instead of the usual 40/25.
These rules are designed largely to promote offense and keep up the pace -- in general, to increase excitement that has been notably absent in recent years. The tweaks could make for an interesting new take on the Pro Bowl. Or we could see the same old boring scrimmage with new team configurations. We'll find out on Sunday night.