It’s Team Rice versus Team Sanders at this year’s Pro Bowl in Honolulu. Which team has the advantage, and how will the new format affect the NFL odds?
Jason’s record on his final NFL picks for 2013-14, up to January 23 inclusive:
1-1 ML (+0.71 units)
It’s a whole new ball game, folks. The 2014 Pro Bowl takes place this Sunday (7:30 p.m. ET, NBC) at its usual location of Aloha Stadium in Honolulu, but that’s about the only familiar thing you’ll see from the NFL’s annual All-Star exhibition. It’s no longer NFC vs. AFC; this year, they’ve switched to a playground draft format (much like the NHL did in 2011), with the two teams being selected by Hall of Fame members Jerry Rice and Deion Sanders.
That’s not all. The teams will be allowed to play Cover 2 and press defenses, and not just man-on-man. There will be no kick-offs, but there will be a two-minute warning and a change of possession at the end of every quarter. The 40-second clock? That’s a 35-second clock now. This, plus some other assorted rule changes, should give us a somewhat livelier game than we’ve seen in recent years. And if that doesn’t work, they can always mandate full-on violent tackling for next year’s Pro Bowl.
Rice I Win, Sanders You Lose
So if you’re a proper degenerate and you want to bet on the Pro Bowl, what should you do? Pretty much the same as every other year, or with any other NFL exhibition game: Focus on the quarterbacks. The “final” rosters were completed on Wednesday (there are always changes), although if you couldn’t wait until the draft was over, a handful of online sportsbooks had the Pro Bowl listed as a pick ‘em. Hey, in a world where people place their NFL picks on the Super Bowl coin toss, why not.
Rice (who got to pick first) and Sanders were given a pool of Pro Bowl nominees from which to choose, and they started on Tuesday with the selection of the team captains: Drew Brees and Robert Quinn for Team Rice, and Jamaal Charles and J.J. Watt for Team Sanders. Also, Ron Rivera will be coaching Team Rice, while Chuck Pagano will do the honors for Team Sanders. As usual, none of the Super Bowl participants will be allowed to play in Honolulu. Aloha ?oe.
Big Men on Campus
So we know Brees is playing on Team Rice. What about the rest of the quarterbacks? Glad you asked. Here they are, in order of uniform number:
Team Rice QBs: Drew Brees, Alex Smith, Philip Rivers
Team Sanders QBs: Cam Newton, Nick Foles, Andrew Luck
That’s an interesting mix. Let’s turn to the DVOA stats at Football Outsiders to see how these six men compare:
Foles: No. 2 passing, No. 13 rushing
Rivers: No. 3 passing, No. 27 rushing
Brees: No. 5 passing, No. 9 rushing
Luck: No. 16 passing, No. 4 rushing
Newton: No. 19 passing, No. 23 rushing
Smith: No. 21 passing, No. 10 rushing
Hmm. Newton’s rushing DVOA grades out pretty low for a guy that ran for 5.3 yards per carry this year. And Brees looks like a dual-threat by comparison, but he only rushed 35 times for 52 yards. Anyway, Team Rice has two gunners in Rivers and Brees, plus a dink, dunk and scramble artist in Smith, while Team Sanders has three guys who represent the new NFL with both their arms and their feet. Interestingly, Team Sanders also has Pagano’s own QB with the Indianapolis Colts, as well as Rivera’s QB with the Carolina Panthers.
I can see the more mobile quarterbacks having a field day at Aloha Stadium. They’ll be able to run around at their leisure without having to worry so much about having their knees taken out from under them, Robert Griffin-style. This game is still a pick ‘em as we go to press, with most of the books yet to open, but I’ll make Team Sanders my early NFL bet, and I’ll be back later in the week with an update.NFL Pick: Take Team Sanders PK at 5Dimes