Tomorrow’s NFL Pro Bowl will mark the first time the league’s “All-Star” game will be played in the bye week leading to the Super Bowl. I, for one, have been pushing for this since I started watching football. The two full weeks before the biggest sporting event of the year is necessary, yet simply too much time. Now the NFL game with the most big names and outrageously big plays will be played when football is still relevant, and perhaps may even be lacking some of the goofiness of being played at “Aloha Stadium,” which may be beautiful, but makes it rather difficult for the average fan to road trip to the Pro Bowl in their tailgate-approved, bumper sticker-laden campers.
The one drawback to the Pro Bowl being before the Super Bowl is the star-studded exhibition will be missing some of its biggest and brightest stars. Both of the starting quarterbacks (Drew Brees and Peyton Manning) will be playing the week after, and therefore will miss out on the just-for-fun action. In all, more than a dozen players will not play in tomorrow’s game because of their Super Bowl appearance. However, not only will they be at tomorrow’s festivities to try and appease the fans that voted for them, but you certainly will not hear any of them complaining they can’t play in the Pro-Bowl because of that pesky post-season finale the week after.
As for the game itself, the advantage would seem to be with the AFC. Despite losing two of their top-3 receivers in Wes Welker (injury) and Reggie Wayne (SB), the American Football Conference still will trot out a starting receiving corps featuring the best wide receiver in the NFL (Andre Johnson), Chad Johnson (Still not calling him Ochocinco), and Brandon Marshall, who broke the single-game receptions record earlier this season. Although NFC starters DeSean Jackson, Miles Austin and the Giants’ Steve Smith have had undeniably great seasons, it’s tough to say they compare to the ultra-talents on the other side.
Other positions are tougher to give advantages to, with Matt Schaub, Aaron Rodgers, Chris Johnson and Adrian Peterson all being top (Or very close to it) names at their respective positions. However, the offensive lines of both teams are a different story. While the NFC’s includes ultra-talented linemen led by 9-year veteran and 7-time Pro Bowler Steve Hutchinson, the AFC’s contains some of the biggest, meanest, most brutally bruising offensive linemen in the game today. Mounting anything resembling a pass rush or run defense against a squad that has New England’s Logan Mankins, the Jets’ Alan Faneca, Cleveland tackle Joe Thomas and Denver’s Ryan Clady is not something I would ever want to be a part of.
Both defenses are solid-through, with stars and/or studs at every position. The only discernible difference lies at the cornerback position, where lockdown-corners Darrelle Revis and Nnamdi Asomugah will patrol for the AFC, while Asante Samuel and Terrence Newman will start for the NFC. Without taking anything away from the NFC’s talented starters, the NFL really only has one or two true lockdown cornerbacks at any one time (Remember when Champ Bailey and Ty Law were the only ones?), and the AFC has both of them.
The Pro Bowl always turns into a fan-friendly shootout anyway, but if these advantages give the AFC boys an extra touchdown or turnover during the first half, it may be enough of a head-start to come out on top.
Matt Schaub: 2 TD
Chris Johnson: 1 TD
Ray Rice: 1 TD
Aaron Rodgers: 2 TD, 2 Int
Adrian Peterson: 2 TD
Vernon Davis: 1 TD