Squawka NFL

The Pro Bowl explained: Lowdown on the NFL’s All-Star showcase

By Tayyib Abu

Published: 12:00, 3 February 2022

Last Sunday, the Cincinnati Bengals and Los Angeles Rams emerged as champions of their respective conference. On Sunday, February 13, the world will watch with excitement as the two sides square off in the Super Bowl, with the Vince Lombardi Trophy on the line.

However, before the Big Game gets underway, there is the small matter of the Pro Bowl. The NFL’s All-Star Game takes place on the Sunday between the conference championship games and the Super Bowl, and is always a fun affair. This year, the game will take place in the home of the Las Vegas Raiders, Allegiant Stadium.

What is the Pro Bowl?

As mentioned above, the Pro Bowl is the NFL’s version of an All-Star game, a concept popularised by Major League Baseball, which held its first All-Star game in 1933. The idea proved successful as fans flocked to the event, and the All-Star game became a staple of American sporting calendar. The powers-that-be in football took note, and followed suit. The inaugural Pro Bowl, featuring the best players from American Conference and the National Conference, took place in 1950, at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, with the American Conference emerging victorious.

The first 19 Pro Bowls all took place at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Following the AFL-NFL merger in 1970, the Pro Bowl went through a nomadic period, pulling up in Texas, Louisiana, Florida, and Washington before finding a new home on the picturesque island of Hawaii. With the exceptions of 2009 (Miami) and 2014 (Arizona), from 1979 until 2015, Aloha Stadium in Hawaii hosted every Pro Bowl. Following the return of conferenced games in 2016, Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Florida has hosted the end-of-season party.

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The Pro Bowl’s spot on the calendar differs from those of the All-Star games in Major League Baseball, the NBA, and the NHL. Each of the other major U.S. sports leagues hold their All-Star games in the middle of their respective seasons. However, the NFL’s 18-week (previously 17) regular season, in which teams have varying bye weeks, makes it tricky to schedule a one-off midseason game in the middle of the season. This calendar is not, for instance, MLB’s mammoth 162-game slate.

One of the few changes made to the format came in 2013, when the NFL scrapped the AFC vs. NFC rules for a draft. Once all Pro Bowl players were announced, honorary captains and legendary NFL figures selected players in a manner that harked back to playground games. While the players enjoyed the unpredictability, fans found it harder to follow. Thus, the league scrapped the idea in 2016 and returned to the traditional AFC vs. NFC model.

One Pro Bowl adjacent event that’s proven extremely popular is the skills showdown. The NBA’s skills showcase exhilarates fans and TV viewers alike, as the best players battle in an obstacle course comprised of various skills from the sport. The NFL is now trying to similarly adapt Pro Bowl week to showcase more of the skills that make NFL players so electrifying to watch. One event to look out for this year is the best catch contest, in which two wide receivers battle one another, in front of a panel of judges, to see who can make the toughest and most entertaining catch. Like the slam dunk contest, which highlights the NBA’s annual All-Star Weekend, this event promises to provide plenty of highlights.

How does Pro Bowl voting work?

Pro Bowl voting comprises three elements. One-third of the votes come from fans, while coaches and players make up the remaining two-thirds, with each vote weighted equally. Thus, players’ and coaches’ votes don’t carry more weight than those of the fans. This system is prone to criticism, as fan voting tends to be weighted to highly-visible, big-market teams. For example, players from franchises like the Dallas Cowboys and the Pittsburgh Steelers, which boast the largest fanbases in the NFL, tend to attract more votes almost by default than players from a team like the Los Angeles Chargers.

AFC Roster

The AFC’s Pro Bowl roster is headlined by quarterbacks Justin Herbert of the Los Angeles Chargers (who will start the game), the Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson of the Baltimore Ravens, with the league’s top vote-getter, Indianapolis Colts running back Jonathan Taylor, and Nick Chubb of the Cleveland Browns joining them in the backfield. Cincinnati running back Joe Mixon was also selected, but will not take part, as he’s got bigger fish to fry next weekend. He is replaced by Steelers star rookie Najee Harris.

Joining Mixon on the selected-but-absent list is his teammate, rookie superstar Ja’Marr Chase. Interestingly, like Mixon, Chase will be replaced by a Pittsburgh Steeler: Diontae Johnson. The rest of the AFC’s receiving corps is comprised of Tyreek Hill of the Chiefs, Stefon Diggs of the Buffalo Bills, and Keenan Allen of the Chargers, with the Ravens’ Mark Andrews and Travis Kelce of the Chiefs (the AFC’s second-highest vote getter, and third-highest overall) as the tight ends.

Chargers rookie offensive tackle Rashawn Slater caps an impressive debut season with his first Pro Bowl appearance on the starting offensive line.

The AFC’s defense is headlined by Defensive Players of the Year candidates Myles Garrett (of the Cleveland Browns) and T.J. Watt (Steelers). Other notables on this side of the ball will include Las Vegas Raider Maxx Crosby, Tennessee Titans star Jeffery Simmons, Joey Bosa and Derwin James of the Chargers, Darius Leonard of the Colts, and Tyrann Mathieu of the Chiefs. The most significant omissions on this AFC side probably come at safety, where neither Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer, despite helping the Buffalo Bills to the best defense in football, were selected.

NFC Roster

The NFC, will feature Kyler Murray (Arizona Cardinals), Kirk Cousins (Minnesota Vikings) and Russell Wilson (Seattle Seahawks) at quarterback. While this is a potent trio of signal callers, it’s worth noting that Cousins and Wilson are in as replacements for the Packers’ Aaron Rodgers and the newly-retired Tom Brady. Joining them in the NFC’s offensive backfield are running backs Dalvin Cook (Vikings), James Conner (Cardinals) and Alvin Kamara (New Orleans Saints).

Meanwhile, the receiving corps will feature yet another Viking, Justin Jefferson, along with Deebo Samuel of the San Francisco 49ers and Mike Evans of Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who is replacing Green Bay’s Davante Adams. The NFC’s tight ends are George Kittle of the 49ers and Kyle Pitts of the Atlanta Falcons. Of course, 2021 record-smasher Cooper Kupp was also named to the squad, but will also be replaced due to the Rams’ upcoming date with the Bengals.

On defense, the NFC will feature a pass rush anchored by Niners’ standout Nick Bosa, Brian Burns of the Carolina Panthers and Cameron Jordan of the Saints. Big names elsewhere on the line include Washington’s Jonathan Allen and the Bucs’ Vita Vea, who’s replacing the biggest defensive name of all: the Rams’ Aaron Donald.

Other defensive headliners for the NFC include Chandler Jones of the Cardinals, Shaq Barrett and Antoine Winfield Jr. of the Bucs, the Cowboys’ presumptive Defensive Rookie of the Year Micah Parsons, and cornerback Marshon Lattimore and Darius Slay, of the Saints and the Philadelphia Eagles, respectively. However, the NFC will be without arguably the conference’s top two corners: Jalen Ramsey of the Rams, who will be on Super Bowl duty, and Trevon Diggs of the Cowboys, who is one of a plethora stars choosing to skip the Pro Bowl (as is the case every year), after a grueling 18-game season and play-off action.

Pro Bowl Facts

  • Tom Brady is the player with the most Pro Bowl selections. The three-time MVP’s 15 nods are more than enough to give him the record. It should be noted, though, that Brady has actually rarely taken part in the game, as his teams have often been in the midst of Super Bowl runs. Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson is the youngest player to start a Pro Bowl.
  • Hall of Famer Peyton Manning holds the records for passing attempts, completions, and passing yards in the Pro Bowl. Bears legend Walter Payton holds the Pro Bowl record in rushing yards, while former Vikings star Adrian Peterson has scored the most Pro Bowl touchdowns.
  • The highest point-scorer in Pro Bowl history is former Philadelphia Eagles kicker David Akers, with a mark of 57 points. Akers’ former head coach (and current Kansas City Chiefs head man) Andy Reid has coached the most Pro Bowls (six), though former Steelers head coach Bill Cowher has actually been more successful, with four victories in four tries.

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