After three seasons experimenting with a playground-style Pro Bowl where captains chose teams from a pool of the league’s top players, the NFL is returning to the traditional AFC-vs.-NFC format for its 2017 all-star game.
There are a couple of new wrinkles: The Pro Bowl will be held in Florida instead of Hawaii, and in the days leading up to the game there will be a “Pro Bowl Skills Showdown” that — hopefully — might be as cool as the old “NFL’s Fastest Man” and QB-challenge competitions I remember from when I was a kid.
Another Pro Bowl tradition is having a lot of players who are voted into the game being replaced by alternates. Often it’s due to injuries. But also, since good players usually come from good teams, and good teams usually make the playoffs, several Pro Bowlers will be unavailable because they’re still playing or they just finished a grueling playoff run.
Last year, the Panthers (10) and Patriots (7) had the most players selected to the Pro Bowl, but none participated in the contest after the Panthers made it to the Super Bowl and the Patriots advanced to the AFC title game.
This year, that may not be a problem. The Raiders lead the way with seven Pro Bowlers, but now that QB Derek Carr is out with a broken leg, it would be a surprise if Oakland makes it to the AFC title game. The team with the next-highest number of Pro Bowlers is the Falcons, with six. As talented as they’ve been, however, Atlanta has seen the NFC title game just twice since 2004. For one reason or another, historically they come up short in the postseason.
Teamwork was the theme when taking a look at this year’s Pro Bowl defensive backs. Four sets of secondary teammates made the roster:
Strong safety Eric Berry and cornerback Marcus Peters of the Kansas City Chiefs (AFC); cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Chris Harris of the Denver Broncos (AFC); strong safety Landon Collins and cornerback Janoris Jenkins of the New York Giants (NFC); and free safety Harrison Smith and cornerback Xavier Rhodes of the Minnesota Vikings (NFC).
The rest of the Pro Bowl DBs are Chargers CB Casey Hayward, Patriots FS Devin McCourty and Raiders FS Reggie Nelson in the AFC; and Seahawks CB Richard Sherman, Cardinals CB Patrick Peterson and Packers FS Ha Ha Clinton-Dix in the NFC.
There are no glaring snubs in the secondary, but I wouldn’t have minded seeing Texans safety Quintin Demps get a nod. He’s in a six-way tie for second in the league with five interceptions, and he’s been a big part of a Houston defense that has basically carried an offensively-challenged squad to an AFC South title.