NFL infuses Pro Bowl with points system, flag football

The NFL has finally stopped pretending its All-Star game is a real game and is breathing life into the exhibit with Sunday’s Pro Bowl games.

LAS VEGAS (AP) — The NFL has finally stopped pretending its All-Star game is a real game and is breathing life into the exhibit with Sunday’s Pro Bowl games.

Not playing two-handed football for the first time – not that much two-handed football has been played in recent years, more like two-handed touch. Flag Football is now the marquee event.

Will the dramatically different format work? That’s what the league hopes for. Instead of a winner take-all game, a series of events – each earning three points – lead to three flag football competitions to determine the winning conference.

Two hometown Las Vegas Raiders AFC players weren’t entirely sold on the format. Running back Josh Jacobs even called it “stupid.”

“You have to find a way to make it actually make sense, because I don’t like that,” Jacobs said. “Send all family members on vacation and call it a day.”

Defensive end Maxx Crosby was one of the few who treated last year’s Pro Bowl as a real game. He had two sacks, three tackles for losses and three passes batted to win defensive MVP in the AFC’s 41-35 win.

“It’s all about being with the boys,” Crosby said. “The Pro Bowl is a blessing and a dream come true, so I don’t take it for granted. … We’ll see what happens next year. I hope we can play some football.”

Two NFC players offered more favorable ratings.

“I think the format is cool because it’s less taxing on the body,” Green Bay Packers cornerback Jaire Alexander said. “A lot of guys ended the season injured and they come out here and run around with some flags. Who wouldn’t like that?”

“It’s fun,” said New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley. “Especially for a guy like me, when I’m in a flag football game and the skills challenge, I’m competitive. You feel like a little kid again. And hopefully it will put a smile on the faces of fans and young children.”

Four Skills events were held on Thursday and the AFC will be looking to continue their five-game winning streak after taking a 9-3 lead by winning the Precision Passing competition, the three-event blitz round and the Long Drive win. The NFC won in dodgeball.

Sunday brings the end of the skill part: the best catch final, an obstacle race, a special team game called Kick-Tac-Toe, and a strength contest. Then the two conferences play each other in two flag football games, each worth six points.

The total score from all competitions is the score for the third and final game of flag football.

A clear scoring system during the competition would help. Those watching ESPN on Thursday could keep up because the network regularly updated viewers, but there was no scoreboard at the Raiders’ facility, nor any announcements about what events were about to begin — nor any results afterward.

Sunday shouldn’t be a problem. The result was already on the scoreboard on the media day on Saturday.

This isn’t the first time the NFL has been trying to figure out what to do with the Pro Bowl. It was successful in its early years after moving to Honolulu in 1980, and offered players a working vacation that many were actually looking forward to.

The game stayed there until 2009 when public and player interest waned. Then the NFL started moving it — it’s been in six cities, including a return to Aloha Stadium five times over a six-year period.

Las Vegas is hosting for the second straight year, and there has been no announcement about the future of the Pro Bowl after this season. With next year’s Super Bowl being held at Allegiant Stadium, it’s unlikely the NFL would want to play both in the same venue so close together.

Sunday will go a long way in setting the longer-term direction.

Regardless of location or format, many top stars tend to drop out. Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen cited an elbow injury as the reason for missing this year’s event, but he played golf in the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.

The AFC had to go deep down the alternate quarterback roster to fill its roster with Tyler Huntley and Derek Carr. Huntley played in five games for the Baltimore Ravens this season, and Carr was benched by the Raiders with two weeks left.

Not that the Pro Bowl is talentless. The AFC’s receiving corps of Ja’Marr Chase, Stefon Diggs and Tyreek Hill is the definition of an all-star group. There are also recognizable names in both rosters such as Barkley, Derrick Henry, Justin Jefferson, Christian McCaffrey, Minkah Fitzpatrick, Roquan Smith, Micah Parsons and Fred Warner.

But the biggest stars might be the two coaches – brothers Peyton and Eli Manning.

AP NFL: and NFL infuses Pro Bowl with points system, flag football

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