Pro Bowl + Games, for better or worse?

Raiders player Josh Jacobs’ hot take on the new Pro Bowl format: “This sh** is stupid.” 

But maybe not entirely. 

Transitioning from the Pro Bowl (1951-2022) now to the Pro Bowl Games this season, the National Football League (NFL) tried something new: replacing the traditional tackle football game in which most players would play half-heartedly, the Pro Bowl Games now features three 7-on-7 flag football games along with the addition of Pro Bowl Skills Showdowns in the days leading up to the main event.

Points were scored across every event, with up to 24 points available in the minor events. The first two flag football games awarded six points each to the winning conference’s total score. Both teams’ total scores were carried into the final game, which decided the overall winner.

At the end of the week’s skills competitions and the final flag football game, the National Football Conference (NFC)  defeated the American Football Conference (AFC) by a score of 35-33.

In the end, the reception towards the event saw fans believe this to be the most entertaining Pro Bowl in years. With a record 58,331 fans in attendance, the new format seems like it is here to stay. 

Additionally, the NFL’s Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) rewards players on the teams in any AFC-NFC Pro Bowl Game with $88,000 if they win, or $44,000 if they lose, incentivizing the event. However, what keeps most players from giving their full effort at the star-studded game is the risk of getting injured in a game that does not benefit them nor their team in any significant way. For teams like the Bengals, 49ers, Jaguars, and Cowboys who are fresh out of a loss in the playoffs, the last thing players want to do is play in a game designated for teams who did not play well enough to even make it there. 

With that aside, the Pro Bowl is simply intended to be a fun sporting event in preparation for the Super Bowl the following week. Celebrating the all-stars of the regular season, fans enjoy seeing them come together as a conference to show off their competitive fire through the skills that the Pro Bowl Games were able to highlight this year.

Specifically, fans found “Kick-Tac-Toe” to be their personal favorite, as snappers, kickers and punters were able to display their kicking accuracy in a game of tic-tac-toe. Moreover, games like Gridiron Gauntlet, an obstacle course requiring skills from multiple positions, saw the crowd going wild as the teamwork of the AFC prevailed in the end. Sticking with tradition, the annual game of Dodgeball had spectators out of their seats as well.  Even crossing into golf, the Longest Drive competition had players entertain fans with their all-around athleticism smacking golf balls over 300 yards away. 

If anything, the Pro Bowl is simply a time for the game’s strongest players of the season to enjoy some light-hearted fun together. If transitioning to flag football can take out the significant risks of top players injuring themselves during post-season competition, the NFL should keep it that way. 

Decreasing the risk of injury on the playing field lets players have more fun–which is the exact kind of entertainment the NFL needs to get fans ready for the Super Bowl. For instance, watching Ja’Marr Chase hit the griddy after his two touchdowns and run into the crowd to sign autographs in a bucket hat and sunglasses is exactly what brings the Pro Bowl that extra boost of spirit that it has needed for so long.

With an opportunity to watch a light-hearted season-finale sporting event and see the season’s top players bond with one another and show off their natural talent in never-seen-before events, the Pro Bowl Games are here to stay.

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