Five things to watch for in the 2014 NFL Pro Bowl


KAPOLEI, Hawaii -- The first nonconference Pro Bowl kicks off Sunday between Team Sanders and Team Rice at Aloha Stadium.

The new format has NFL players in Hawaii buzzing about going up against teammates and playing alongside men from opposite conferences.

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So, without further ado, here are five things to watch for in Sunday's exhibition:

1) Teammates hitting teammates

It will be interesting to see if some defensive players take it easy on their own teammates. We already discussed whether or not Robert Mathis would crush Andrew Luck if given the opportunity. Will Cleveland Browns safety T.J. Ward crush receiver Josh Gordon if the two meet over the middle? How hard might Justin Houston go after Jamaal Charles? The new format was designed to manufacture intrigue. We will see if the players go along.

2) Snubbed players

During Wednesday's draft, several players seemed miffed that they were picked late (or in some cases assigned). There was trash talk after the draft was over, indicating the process might motivate the late picks to play harder than in past Pro Bowls. It seems some of the bitterness has worn off, but if Alex Smith starts slinging it Sunday and then gives us some Richard Sherman-esque taunts, we'll know he took being the last pick as a slight.

3) Deion vs. The G.O.A.T.

Deion Sanders and Jerry Rice have been badgering each other all week about matching up Sunday. We will see if all their bloviating gets them on the field for a faceoff.

4) Tony Gonzalez's final curtain call

The future Pro Football Hall of Fame tight end will play his final snaps between the lines Sunday. At last year's Pro Bowl, the teams allowed retiring center Jeff Saturday to switch teams and take one final snap from Peyton Manning. It will be interesting to see if Panthers coach Ron Rivera calls any special plays for Gonzalez.

5) SuperCam

Everything about the Pro Bowl screams "Cam Newton for MVP." It's hard enough for players to tackle Newton when they are trying. In a game in which defenders aren't known to tackle, Cam shouldn't be on the ground much. Ted Ginn Jr. is not one of his top wide receivers in the Pro Bowl, so Newton's stats should improve right off the bat. The quarterback also has added incentive to show off against Rivera, Mike Shula and the rest of the Carolina Panthers' coaching staff. Don't be surprised to see Cam displaying his Superman celebration liberally in Hawaii.

We handed out awards for the 2014 coaching class and talked all the latest headlines in the latest "Around The League Podcast."