NFL Pro Bowl Preview - Team Rice vs. Team Sanders
By John McMullen, NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - The NFL's attempt at reinventing the Pro Bowl kicks off Super Bowl week in Honolulu on Sunday when the NFL's best square off at Aloha Stadium.
For the first time, the Pro Bowl will be utilizing an "unconferenced format," and several rules have been changed in an effort to add excitement to a game long criticized for its lack of competitiveness.
The game of football really doesn't lend itself to an All-Star format and many observers have politicked for the game's removal from the NFL schedule.
However, the contest does remain a success as a television vehicle, with last year's encounter being watched by an average of 12.2 million viewers, making it the most-watched All-Star game in American sports for the fourth consecutive year.
Gone is the familiar AFC-NFC dynamic that has existed since 1971, replaced by Pro Football Hall of Famers Jerry Rice and Deion Sanders serving as alumni team captains for the two Pro Bowl squads.
Rice and Sanders began shaping the 2014 Pro Bowl rosters on Tuesday.
Rice won a coin toss and had his choice of active player captains, choosing New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees and St. Louis defensive end Robert Quinn, as the first members of Team Rice, and leaving Houston defensive lineman J.J. Watt and Kansas City running back Jamaal Charles as captains for Team Sanders.
Team Sanders led off the draft process by taking Detroit defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh first and following that up with another pair of interior linemen, Tampa Bay's Gerald McCoy and Kansas City's Dontari Poe. Team Rice took Dallas DT Jason Hatcher and a pair of teammates in Buffalo DTs Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus.
The other selections made by Team Rice on Tuesday were Brees' teammates in New Orleans, offensive guards Jahri Evans and Ben Grubbs, along with Philadelphia Eagles guard Evan Mathis, center Ryan Kalil and fullback Mike Tolbert of the Carolina Panthers, New York Jets center Nick Mangold, Arizona Cardinals special teams stalwart Justin Bethel, St. Louis Rams punter Johnny Hekker and Indianapolis Colts long snapper Matt Overton.
Other selections by Team Sanders were Baltimore Ravens guard Marshal Yanda, New England Patriots guard Logan Mankins, Chicago Bears guard Kyle Long, Miami Dolphins center Mike Pouncey, Cleveland Browns center Alex Mack, Oakland Raiders fullback Marcel Reece, New England Patriots special teamer Matthew Slater, Miami Dolphins punter Brandon Fields and Panthers long snapper J.J. Jansen.
On Wednesday Sanders got things rolling by selecting Indianapolis quarterback Andrew Luck and Carolina signal-caller Cam Newton with his first two picks, while Rice took New Orleans tight end Jimmy Graham and Philadelphia running back LeSean McCoy with his first two selections.
Other picks by team Sanders included Arizona cornerback Patrick Peterson, Dallas wide receiver Dez Bryant, Cincinnati wide receiver A.J. Green, Tampa Bay cornerback Darrelle Revis, Carolina linebacker Luke Kuechly, Kansas City safety Eric Berry, Miami cornerback Brent Grimes, Carolina defensive end Greg Hardy, Pittsburgh wide receiver Antonio Brown, Houston tackle Duane Brown, Washington tackle Trent Williams, Kansas City outside linebacker Tamba Hali and Green Bay running back Eddie Lacy.
He also selected San Diego safety Eric Weddle, Kansas City tackle Branden Albert, Jacksonville linebacker Paul Posluszny, Buffalo outside linebacker Mario Williams, Baltimore outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, Washington running back Alfred Morris, Philadelphia wide receiver DeSean Jackson, Chicago cornerback Tim Jennings, Baltimore kicker Justin Tucker, Minnesota kick returner Cordarrelle Patterson, Cleveland safety T.J. Ward, Dallas tight end Jason Witten, Cleveland tight end Jordan Cameron and Philadelphia quarterback Nick Foles.
"You could make a decision based on what you want or you can make a decision based on what you need," Sanders said while indicating he didn't want to get caught up making selections in response to Rice.
Selections by Team Rice were headlined by Cleveland cornerback Joe Haden, tackle Joe Thomas and wide receiver Josh Gordon, Chicago wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, Kansas City cornerback Brandon Flowers, Cincinnati linebacker Vontaze Burfict, New Orleans defensive end Cameron Jordan, San Francisco safety Eric Reid, New York Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie, Dallas running back DeMarco Murray and tackle Tyron Smith, Kansas City outside linebacker Justin Houston, Buffalo safety Jairus Byrd and Chicago wide receiver Brandon Marshall.
He also took Miami defensive end Cameron Wake, Carolina tackle Jordan Gross, Kansas City linebacker Derrick Johnson, Washington outside linebacker Brian Orakpo, Arizona outside linebacker John Abraham, Chicago running back Matt Forte, Arizona wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, Tennessee safety Alterraun Verner, New England kicker Stephen Gostkowski, Kansas City returner Dexter McCluster, New York Giants safety Antrel Rolle, Atlanta tight end Tony Gonzalez and Kansas City quarterback Alex Smith.
"I'm looking for the guys that are really hungry and want to put on a show in Hawaii," said Rice.
Additionally, Team Sanders traded linebacker Robert Mathis to Team Rice for Orakpo.
This marks the fifth consecutive year in which the Pro Bowl will be held one week prior to the Super Bowl, thereby removing members of the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos, who will meet in Super Bowl XLVIII in East Rutherford, N.J. on Feb. 2.
The 44-man teams are comprised of 21 offensive and 18 defensive players plus five specialists, including a long snapper. Team Sanders will be led by head coach Chuck Pagano and the coaches from the Indianapolis Colts while Ron Rivera and the Carolina Panthers' coaching staff will guide the Team Rice Pro Bowl team.
"I think it's going to be easier to deal with Chuck and coach Pep (Hamilton) and the familiarity with those guys," Luck said after being drafted to play under his coach and offensive coordinator. "I'm excited to play."
Last year, the NFC set a single-game Pro Bowl scoring record by defeating the AFC, 62-35. Minnesota Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph, a late entrant for Gonzalez, was named the game's MVP with a touchdown and 122 yards receiving on five receptions.
Other highlights included Watt lining up at wide receiver and retiring Green Bay Packers center Jeff Saturday switching sides for one play to snap to his longtime teammate Peyton Manning.
Each player on the winning Pro Bowl team receives $53,000, while each on the losing end earns $26,000.
This will be the 34th time in the past 35 years in which the Pro Bowl will be held at Aloha Stadium, with the 2010 edition having taken place at Miami's Sun Life Stadium.
Prior to the AFL-NFL merger, the leagues held separate All-Star games after the season from 1961-69. The NFL had its own Pro Bowl from 1951-60, while the league champion competed against an assembled group of top players between 1938-42.
PRO BOWL PRIMER
In addition to the above changes, several other aspects of the Pro Bowl will be new in 2014:
-Offensive and Defensive MVPs: Media covering the game will choose two game MVPs this year -- one offensive player and one defensive player. Each MVP will be presented with a new GMC vehicle and an MVP medallion to commemorate the achievement.
-A two-minute warning will be added to the first and third quarters and the ball will change hands after each quarter. This is expected to increase the opportunities for quarterbacks to direct more two-minute drills.
-No Kickoffs: The coin toss will determine which team is awarded possession first. The ball will be placed on the 25-yard line at the start of each quarter and after scoring plays.
-The defense will be permitted to play cover-2 or press coverage. In previous years, only man coverage was permitted, except on goal-line situations.
-Beginning at the two-minute mark of every quarter, if the offense does not gain at least one yard, the clock will stop as if the play were an incomplete pass. This rule was enacted to make the team with the ball attempt to gain yardage toward the end of each quarter.
-The game clock will start after an incomplete pass on the signal of the referee, except inside the last two minutes of the first half and the last five minutes of the second half.
-A 35-second/25-second play clock will be adopted instead of the typical 40- second/25-second clock.
-The game clock will not stop on quarterback sacks outside of the final two minutes of the game. Currently, the game clock stops in these situations outside of two minutes of the second and fourth quarters.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Team Rice 49, Team Sanders 42
01/23 14:18:45 ET