Just in case you couldn’t fathom an entire Sunday without football, the NFL has you covered this weekend. The 2016 Pro Bowl is scheduled to kick off at 7 p.m. ET on Sunday night at Aloha Stadium in Hawaii, and will be televised live on ESPN.
For the third straight year, the NFL’s version of an All-Star game will be played with mixed rosters, eschewing the traditional AFC vs. NFC battle. Instead, the league now picks two honorary captains, who then choose their teams and round out the rosters in a fantasy draft. This year’s captains are two Hall of Famers, Michael Irvin and Jerry Rice.
The first overall pick of the draft was Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, selected by Irvin to headline his squad. Wilson, named to his third Pro Bowl in four seasons, is certainly deserving of the honor. He put up career-best numbers across the board and led the league in passer rating.
He’ll be surrounded by a bevy of talented playmakers, including a wide receiver corps that features four of the top eight guys on the receiving yardage leaderboard: Julio Jones(first), DeAndre Hopkins (third), Allen Robinson (sixth) and A.J. Green (eighth).
The first pick by Team Rice was another quarterback, Eli Manning, who was selected to his fourth Pro Bowl after throwing a career-best 35 touchdowns in 2015. He should be thrilled to be paired up with his teammate Odell Beckham Jr., as the two players formed one of the most dynamic receiver-quarterback duos in the league.
While Manning doesn’t have the same depth of talent at receiver as Wilson does, he arguably has the more balanced offensive roster. Team Rice is stacked at running back with the league’s first- and second-ranked rushers, Adrian Peterson and Doug Martin, who combined to run for more than 2,800 yards this season.
The running joke of this year’s Pro Bowl is that it should be renamed the Replacement Bowl because so many guys declined to participate in the game. Players often choose not to attend for different reasons, including injuries and if they are playing in the Super Bowl next week. The final tally was 133 players that were either voted in or added as alternates, the most in NFL history and easily surpassing the previous record of 119 set in the 2010 game.
The attrition at quarterback was significant. Wilson was the only signal caller voted in who remained on the roster, after Cam Newton (for obvious reasons), Tom Brady,Carson Palmer, Aaron Rodgers and Ben Roethlisberger all backed out. The final quarterback picked as a replacement, Jameis Winston, was actually the eighth alternate at the position.
Despite the watered-down rosters, there will still be a boatload of exciting players on the field. Plus, there is a good chance that the game could be competitive. Blowouts were the norm with the traditional rosters, but the two contests played so far under the new “unconferenced” format were decided by a combined five points. Before Team Rice’s one-point victory in 2014, there hadn’t been a Pro Bowl decided by fewer than seven points since 2007.
Several reasons for the lower-scoring are the following rules changes to spice up the game. The clock runs after incomplete passes, possession changes at the end of each quarter, and there are no kickoffs as each team starts each possession at its own 25-yard line.
This time around, Irvin’s team look to win for the second straight season, while Rice is back trying for another victory. Irvin’s squad is listed as a one-point favorite at most books, while the total is set at 71. Obviously there are no players from the Panthers and Broncos playing in this game with Super Bowl 50 on deck, as the Bengals are the most represented team with seven players (six on Team Irvin).