The NFL unveiled its reimagined Pro Bowl Games over the weekend, culminating with Sunday’s series of events.
This included minigames like a “Move the Chains” event that involved players pulling a 2,000-pound sled, a “Best Catch” event that pitted Detroit Lions receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown going against Buffalo Bills receiver Stefon Diggs, a “Gridiron Gauntlet” that was like an obstacle course, and three flag football games.
The event was redesigned to prevent the contact and potential injury risk that came from the exhibition game of the previous versions of the Pro Bowl. Still, the redesigned event was uneven at best, with some of the minigames like “Best Catch” lacking structure and energy.
The NFC ended up prevailing, winning the event by a combined score of 35-33.
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Here are the winners and losers from the revamped Pro Bowl Games.
To be clear, the stats in the flag football format do not mean anything. But no player had more to gain than Baltimore Ravens passer Tyler Huntley, who backed into the Pro Bowl despite throwing two touchdown passes this season. Huntley, 24, just finished his third season and is set to be a restricted free agent. Baltimore is navigating the contract situation with star quarterback Lamar Jackson, so any chance Huntley has to show his value, it’s an opportunity.
He completed 15 of 20 passes for 192 yards with four touchdowns.
Peyton Manning has no chill
If being a pitchman falls through, or if his broadcast company Omaha Productions stops fulfilling him, or if his role on the popular ESPN “Manningcast” comes to an end, it’s clear Peyton Manning can transition into coaching — if it’s something he’d want. Of course the stakes were low, but Manning still went all-in at the Pro Bowl Games, bringing in plays with the same language he used from his days back with the Colts.
He even argued with officials about the rules in the second half of the first flag football game and at the very end of the third game, when the loss cost the AFC the eventual Pro Bowl Games.
Little bros get bragging rights
Dallas Cowboys corner Trevon Diggs, representing the NFC, lined up against his older brother, Buffalo Bills receiver Stefon Diggs, who was representing the AFC. They trash talked throughout the Pro Bowl Games. But on a trick play during the second flag football game, it was the younger Diggs who got the better of the other, intercepting his older brother’s pass attempt.
That also brings us to NFC coach Eli Manning, Peyton’s younger brother, who also got to savor the victory over his older sibling.
This (still) isn’t it
Give the NFL credit for trying new things. The old format of the Pro Bowl, an actual game in which defense became optional as players wanted to avoid hits and injuries, was broken. This, however, was not necessarily better. The several events made for a disjointed viewing experience and made the scoring system a bit busy. Worse, many of the events weren’t entertaining.
The players themselves seemed to enjoy the experience and have fun — that came across on the broadcasts — but that alone didn’t translate to a compelling product. It’s incredibly difficult to elevate the stakes in events like these. While the NFL offers monetary compensation for participation and for the winning team, the league should consider drastically bumping the payday so that some of the league’s bigger names don’t skip the event. Otherwise, the outcome is what happened: It was just a forgettable event that often felt forced and sterile. Simply put, this does not offer much value (if any at all) for NFL fans.
The actual format didn’t work
All that said, there was something the league could work with. The flag football concept has potential and was actually the strength of programming. The players were without helmets so that their facial expressions and smiles could be seen. The open mics made for interesting moments when there was coaching and tactical conversation. There just wasn’t enough of it.
The NFL should scrap all the rest of the events (or bring back classics) and be better about incentivizing rewards to ensure that the game’s best show out; the winning players each earn $84,000, while the losing team earns half of that. But above all else, the stars not playing in the Super Bowl need to be present. No offense to the quarterbacks who made it, but having Tyler Huntley, Trevor Lawrence and Derek Carr represent the AFC and Geno Smith, Jared Goff and Kirk Cousins rep the NFC was never going to move the needle.
Cleveland Browns second-team All-Pro defensive end Myles Garrett reportedly suffered a dislocated toe while competing at the Pro Bowl Games. The injury is minor and shouldn’t affect his availability in the offseason workout program, but it’s just a reminder how there’s always risk any time athletes compete.