The NFL Pro Bowl is dead. Long live the NFL Pro Bowl Games.
After declining TV ratings and years of complaints from bored fans, the NFL switched the format of its annual all-star game in a big way in 2023. Gone is the traditional 11-on-11 football game with lots of substitutions, little defense and a general lack of excitement.
Replacing it is the newly reimagined Pro Bowl Games featuring several skills competitions leading into Sunday’s seven-on-seven flag football tournament, coached by the Manning brothers — Hall of Famer Peyton Manning and two-time Super Bowl champ Eli Manning. The brothers are also coproducing the games through their Omaha Productions company.
Much like the famed improv show Who’s Line Is It, Anyway?, everything at this year’s Pro Bowl is made up and the points don’t matter. But if you’re intent on keeping score at home, the AFC ended Thursday with a 9-3 lead over the NFC after an initial round of completion, which included precision passing and dodgeball.
» READ MORE: ‘What else do I have to do?’ Javon Hargrave is among the Eagles’ Pro Bowl snubs despite his 10 sacks.
There are 12 more points up for grabs today — three for each of the four remaining skills competitions. The conferences will then face off in two flag football games, with six points each on the line.
All those scores will be combined heading into the third and final flag football game, which will end up determining which conference ends up winning the Pro Bowl Games. Beyond bragging rights, nothing is at stake on Sunday — it’s just an exhibition meant to pass the time during the long wait for Super Bowl LVII next weekend.
The Pro Bowl action gets underway this afternoon on ESPN, ABC, and Disney XD at 3 p.m. Eastern from Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, and is scheduled to last four hours. The Pro Bowl Games will also stream on ESPN+, and air in Spanish on ESPN Deportes.
Here’s everything you need to know to watch the 2023 NFL Pro Bowl flag football tournament:
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AFC vs. NFC
Where: Allegiant Stadium, Las Vegas, Nev.
TV: ESPN, ABC, Disney XD (Kirk Herbstreit, Pat McAfee, Robert Griffin III, Marcus Spears, Laura Rutledge)
Streaming: ESPN app (requires authentication), ESPN+, fuboTV, YouTube TV, Hulu + Live TV, Sling TV, and DirecTV Stream (all require a subscription)
Mobile: NFL+ (requires subscription)
Sunday’s Pro Bowl schedule
Coverage begins on ESPN and ABC at 3 p.m. Eastern. Here’s the schedule:
Best catch: The two finalists from Thursday — as voted on Twitter using #BestCatch and the player’s name — will compete in front of celebrity judges Sunday to determine the winner. The competitors are Justin Jefferson of the Minnesota Vikings, Stefon Diggs of the Buffalo Bills, Amon-Ra St. Brown of the Detroit Lions, and Denver Broncos cornerback Patrick Surtain (who flew like Superman on a zipline over Fremont Street for his grab).
Gridiron gauntlet: Five players from each conference will compete in a relay race featuring 40-yard dash with an inflated parachute, a series of breakaway walls, a blocking sled, and other challenges.
Kick-tac-toe: In this prerecorded event, kickers, punters, and long snappers compete in a large-scale game of tic-tac-toe.
Move the chains: Two teams from each conference will compete by pulling a heavily weighted wall 10 yards as quickly as possible using first-down chains.
Flag football games: The AFC and NFC will face off in three seven-on-seven flag football games. The quarterbacks for the AFC will be the teamless Derek Carr, Trevor Lawrence of the Jacksonville Jaguars and Tyler Huntley of the Baltimore Ravens. On the NFC side, it’s Kirk Cousins of the Minnesota Vikings, Geno Smith of the Seattle Seahawks, and Jared Goff of the Detroit Lions.
Don’t expect to see any Eagles players at the Pro Bowl
The Eagles led the NFL with eight players selected for this year’s Pro Bowl: Jalen Hurts, Miles Sanders, A.J. Brown, Jason Kelce, Landon Dickerson, Lane Johnson, Haason Reddick, and Darius Slay.
But with the team traveling to Arizona Sunday for Super Bowl LVII, you won’t see any Birds players on the Pro Bowl field for flag football. The same goes for the Chiefs, who have seven Pro Bowlers: Patrick Mahomes, tight end Travis Kelce, left tackle Orlando Brown, left guard Joe Thuney, center Creed Humphrey, defensive tackle Chris Jones, and punter Tommy Townsend.
There also won’t be any Chicago Bears players competing in the Pro Bowl Games Sunday, but not because they’re busy. For the second time in five years, the Bears didn’t have a single player selected for the Pro Bowl.
» READ MORE: ‘The best tackle there is’: Eagles’ Lane Johnson earns a 4th Pro Bowl nod and sets the standard at the position
TV ratings up for Thursday’s Pro Bowl skills challenges
Thursday’s NFL Pro Bowl Skills Challenge averaged 1.06 million viewers on ESPN, a 23% increase compared to last year and the largest audience for the event since 2018, according to Sports Media Watch.
That’s not bad, considering the skills competition has only been around since 2017. The NFL hopes that level of interest carries over to Sunday’s Pro Bowl, which will culminate with a flag football game for the first time since its inception in 1951.
Here are the Pro Bowl’s TV ratings for the past 10 years as measured by Nielsen, according to Sports Business Journal:
ESPN will have a big presence at the Super Bowl
ESPN isn’t broadcasting the Super Bowl until 2027 (a first for parent company Disney since Al Michaels and the late John Madden called Super Bowl XL on ABC in 2006.), but the network will have a hefty presence in Arizona this week and the weekend.
Starting Wednesday, nearly all the network’s daily shows — including Stephen A. Smith’s First Take, NFL Live, and This Just In — will broadcast live from Historic Old Town Scottsdale, which is about half an hour east of State Farm Stadium.
Leading up to the Super Bowl on Sunday, ESPN will air Postseason NFL Countdown from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. After the game, they’ll turn to longtime broadcaster Chris Berman to anchor a special non-ESPN+ edition of Primetime, joined by Booger McFarland and Hall of Famer Steve Young.
ESPN will also broadcast Super Bowl LVII internationally to more than 125 countries and territories outside the U.S. though Monday Night Football announcers Joe Buck and Troy Aikman won’t be on the call. Instead, Steve Levy, Dan Orlovsky and Louis Riddick will broadcast the game for Australia and New Zealand audiences.