The annual NFL Pro Bowl ignites a full array of opinions and emotions. Many people could live without it and actually think the event is a phenomenal waste of time. Others enjoy watching players, who battled one another during the season, unite and compete together.
This year’s Pro Bowl takes place in a new venue in Orlando, Florida. It also contains many players who had some pretty awesome performances in 2016. Sadly for Dallas fans, the Cowboys were eliminated in the divisional playoffs. But this now means we get to watch one of the league’s best offensive trios take the field one final time this season.
Additionally, some of the league’s finest defenders and a quarterback playing in his 10th Pro Bowl will also be on hand. This brings us to make some fun bold predictions for Sunday’s All-Star game.
1. The game will actually be exciting
The last few years (2014-16), the Pro Bowl turned into fantasy football reality television. It was kind of a cute experiment in 2014 when Pro Football Hall of Famers Jerry Rice and Deion Sanders chose NFL player captains. In turn, those captains drafted their teams fantasy football style.
In 2015, the same format was followed, as it was once again in 2016. Only this last time, Team Michael Irvin completely dominated Team Rice in a lopsided 49-27 victory. A lot of appeal for the Pro Bowl went down the drain and the game marked history as one of the most-boring All-Star games to date.
There were also a lot of younger NFL players competing because of the astronomical number of veterans who either snubbed the event or were physically unable to participate. So much so, that young quarterbacks Teddy Bridgewater and Tyrod Taylor were called as last resorts.
This year’s game features many more veterans and also reverts back to the old AFC versus NFC format. The rosters look pretty loaded and fans who watch should actually see some exciting plays on the field.
2. Cordarrelle Patterson and Tyreek Hill both hit the jackpot in return scores
It was quite thrilling to see both of these return specialists put their legs to use to achieve some awesome returns in 2016. This is obviously why the pair was chosen to represent their respective conferences.
Patterson was responsible for 801 total return yards including a touchdown and a 107-yard sprint (watch here). Hill was amazing in his rookie season, tallying 976 all-purpose return yards and scored three total touchdowns, including a couple tremendous runs (watch here and here).
Both talented speedsters could be primed to rack up some substantial return yardage when defenders take it just a bit easier on them this Sunday. The Pro Bowl doesn’t allow kick returns, so Patterson and Hill will have to do their scoring on punt returns alone.
3. NFC defense combines for four interceptions
Both conferences feature some red-hot defenders who put on some incredible shows in 2016. On the NFC side, corners like Janoris Jenkins, Richard Sherman, Patrick Peterson and Xavier Rhodes could prove troublesome. These elite-level defenders combined for a ton of big-time plays during the regular season.
The quarterbacks we are calling out to land the ball in the wrong hands include Philip Rivers, Andy Dalton and Alex Smith. Rivers actually led the league with 21 interceptions while Dalton and Smith each had eight.
Surely an errant pass or four could be snagged by one of these elite defenders to provide for some good laughs.
4. Denver Broncos receivers total three touchdowns
Broncos’ fans will get their favorite dose of receivers when both Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas compete for the AFC. Thomas replaces an originally selected Antonio Brown who declined to participate.
Demaryius Thomas going to Pro Bowl replacing Antonio Brown #9sports
— Mike Klis (@MikeKlis) January 24, 2017
Both receivers surpassed the 1,000-yard receiving mark in 2016 and combined for a total of 169 receptions and 2,115 yards. The number that doesn’t add up to all this production was the lowly 10 combined touchdowns scored between the two receivers.
Lack of scoring was an issue all season long for Denver. This is why the thought of Thomas and Sanders scoring three total touchdowns, while playing only a partial game, is quite a stretch. We will see if this holds true now that they will be catching from some more experienced quarterbacks.
5. Doug Baldwin lines up at quarterback
Speaking of quarterbacks, Baldwin was one of only eight non-quarterbacks to record a passing touchdown during a regular game. In a cool trick play, Baldwin reversed roles with quarterback Russell Wilson and passed for this glorious 15-yard touchdown (more on that here).
So, might we see more trickery out of Baldwin when he suits up for the NFC team on Sunday? Baldwin is not in the starting lineup for the Pro Bowl and neither is quarterback Dak Prescott. Prescott has wheels and Baldwin has passing skills, so how fun would it be to see the two swap positions and pull off a similar play?
It is the Pro Bowl after all, and anything could happen.
6. Drew Brees rediscovers his favorite target
Brees will appear in his 10th career Pro Bowl after being called upon to fill in for the originally selected Matt Ryan. Surely Brees would love to be playing in the Super Bowl versus the Pro Bowl, but that is not the way the cards were dealt this season.
This means that Brees will now sling the rock to a select group of guys, including Seattle Seahawks tight end Jimmy Graham. It should be enjoyable to see the pair playing on the same team once again.
During a three-year span with the Saints from 2011-14, Graham caught 355 passes for 4,396 yards and 46 touchdowns, making him one of the best pass-catching tight ends of his era. He was also a fantasy juggernaut.
Clearly, Brees and Graham had a unique chemistry — one that not many quarterbacks and tight ends share. Therefore, we might see some fun Brees to Graham action. Perhaps even an infamous Graham goal post dunk will be an added bonus.
7. Ezekiel Elliott and Jordan Howard pile up 300 yards
These two rookie running backs absolutely went to town in 2016. Elliott dazzled and finished the season as the league’s top rusher after averaging 108.7 yards per game. Howard also sweetly surprised in his rookie season, recording 1,313 rushing yards.
If both Elliott and Howard were on the same NFL team during the regular season, there would not be enough game time for either to showcase their full array of talent. The duo performed that well.
But in a slightly more jovial and less tense atmosphere like the Pro Bowl, they could stand to combine for some mega yardage.
8. Over or under 90? We will take the over
Mega yardage typically leads to more points during the NFL Pro Bowls. But during the last three Pro Bowls when the conferences were blended, the total points per game never surpassed 80.
Now that the game is back to its familiar AFC versus NFC format, the total points scored could be back on the rise. There is not any guarantee to this. But it is worth noting that the average points scored during the prior three Pro Bowls (2011-13) was 97.6 per game.
That is a lot of end zone action. This year’s cast of receivers, running backs and tight ends should make this happen.
9. Justin Tucker earns the offensive MVP award
Speaking of scoring, we are going out on a limb and predicting that the best kicker in 2016 earns the offensive MVP award.
Tucker had a career-best season after making a league-high 38 field goals. He missed only one when it got blocked. And his longest on the season was a 57-yarder. Tucker was perfect when it came to extra points made, nailing every single one of his 27 attempts.
Tucker’s Ravens unfortunately finished 2016 with the 17th-ranked offense. But Tucker certainly earned his fair share of points and also rescued the offense on several occasions when it failed to find the end zone.
We are already predicting a high-scoring affair on Sunday. This means lots of extra points made by Tucker, some field goal action and perhaps even a game-winning kick.
10. Xavier Rhodes wins the defensive MVP award
We briefly touched on Rhodes earlier in this article. The fourth-year corner was invited to his first Pro Bowl after a remarkable 2016 campaign. During the course of 14 games, Rhodes tallied a career-high five interceptions. One was returned for a 100-yard touchdown when he picked off Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer in Week 11 (more on that here).
The interception made for quite the bone-headed play by Palmer. But watching Rhodes take the catch to the bank en route to leaving his opponents in the dust was quite priceless.
It is bold, but we are going to say that Rhodes manages another glorious pick-six on Sunday. Such a play could earn him defensive player MVP honors.