Sunday, November 29, 2020

NFL Pro Bowl: What’s the point?

It seems every year now, the NFL’s Pro Bowl gets less and less media hype and attention. What was once an award for a players hard work during the season, is becoming nothing more than a gimmick to pass the time before the Super Bowl. 

For many fans, the highlight of the Pro Bowl is by far the skills showdown. This carnival-like attraction sees players from around the league pitted against each other in skill-based challenges. It allows players to show-off skills like their toe-drag swag without the pressures of a game. In some cases it can allow players to show off outside of their position groups – like WR Jarvis Landry beating QB Lamar Jackson in the precision passing challenge.

The main event sees top talent from both conferences battle it out in an All-Star game. However, anyone that has witnessed this matchup in previous years will know that this is nowhere near as gladiatorial as it sounds. In fact, the game has been previously described as if players were “hitting each other as though they were having a pillow fight”.

With the ever-present risk of injury, along with some of the league’s biggest names pre-occupied with their Super Bowl preparations, what’s the point of it? 

The answer is perhaps more about innovation than fan-service. 

Recently the Pro Bowl has been used as a way for the NFL to try and test new rules and technology, without the high-stakes of a regular season match. This year, the league are testing two new rules: a 4th and 15 onside recovery attempt, and revisions on the false start rules. 

The onside recovery attempt was narrowly rejected by the owners and coaches last season, but with successful onside kicks becoming a rarity, it looks more likely than ever that the NFL could adopt this rule. A variant of the rule was used in the now defunct AAF and was met with a warm reception.

Jamal Adams celebrates at the 2019 Pro Bowl, held in Orlando, Florida.
The Pro Bowl is back in Orlando, Florida again this year.

With player safety becoming more and more prevalent, it’s important for the league to have a chance to test new rules and regulations designed with safety in mind. The Pro Bowl gives the league and players a chance to do just that in a game setting.

So even if you don’t plan on watching Sunday’s potential snooze-fest, it’s important to remember that it could your first opportunity to see future rule changes in action. 

For more on the NFL, click here.

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