I know, I know. No “real” football fan likes the Pro Bowl. And this year, with the Deion Sanders and Jerry Rice draft, fans have even stronger views on the always controversial game.
But hey, it’s still football. Kind of.
I realized it wouldn’t be right for me to go into the weekend without writing at least one article on the subject, albeit a very meaningless one. After all, we’re here to be your football source, no matter how important the game is.
So with that being said, let’s take a look at six things to know about this weekend’s “big” game.
1. It will be an offensive showcase (pun intended).
The Pro Bowl isn’t about defense. It never is. The final score of last year’s game was 62 to 35, and the three seasons prior to that saw at least 75 points scored.
This is mostly due to defensive restrictions. A team must run a 4-3 (though Cover 2 is now allowed), there’s no blitzing, and there’s no rushing on any sort of kick. In other words, it’s a fantasy football owner’s dream come true in a game that means absolutely nothing to fantasy football owners.
We all know why the rules are in place – you don’t want someone getting hurt in the Pro Bowl. But that’s part of what makes the game so meaningless, and in turn, so offensive (you see what I did there?). Get ready for a ridiculous amount of time for passers to throw, and lots and lots of long bombs.
2. Alex Smith will be the worst quarterback on the field.
Interesting that I end the last paragraph with “lots and lots of long bombs” prior to talking about Alex Smith. Known for not looking vertical when moving the ball down the field, we’re all going to have the “pleasure” of watching the Chiefs quarterback – the last pick in the Pro Bowl Draft this year – lead an offense with a bunch of studs. Oh boy, this could get interesting.
Smith is the worst quarterback to make the Pro Bowl this year. His Passing Net Expected Points total came in at a modest 28.70 in 2013, about 13 points lower than Andrew Luck. While that’s not significant, Luck made up for his lack of passing efficiency (which ranked 14th among all passers this year) with his legs, as he was the second-most efficient rushing quarterback in the league in 2013. Alex Smith, though more athletic than people give him credit for, didn’t do nearly as much.
It'll be interesting to see how he tosses the rock to Josh Gordon, Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall.
3. His teammate, Jamaal Charles, will be the best running back.
Though LeSean McCoy finished with the highest Rushing NEP of all running backs this season - nearly three times the score as Jamaal Charles - it was Charles who finished as the best overall running back, thanks to his receiving skills. Charles added more points through the air than every running back in the league when looking at Reception NEP (number of points added on receptions only), and actually, Charles' total was the fourth-best we've seen over the last 15 years. This, I'm sure, is why a lot of folks talked about him being an MVP candidate this season.
4. The two best kickers made it.
Yes, we have Net Expected Points data for kickers, too. This year, Justin Tucker and Stephen Gostkowski, the two kickers representing the position in the Pro Bowl, finished as the top-two kickers according to the data. Tucker added 40.41 points for the Ravens this year, while Gostkowski added 40.08. If I were to do any more analysis on this, I'd probably lose any credibility I may have. Though I'm sure I already have considering I'm writing about the Pro Bowl.
5. Josh Gordon is the best wideout playing.
Calvin Johnson edged out Gordon in terms of Reception Net Expected Points this season, but Megatron won't be in Hawaii for the Pro Bowl. Therefore, Josh Gordon's the default best wide receiver playing on Sunday.
We all know Gordon was great this year, but I don't think folks understand just how impressive his season was. With mostly Jason Campbell and Brandon Weeden playing quarterback, Gordon still put together the fourth-highest Target NEP in the entire NFL. If you're unfamiliar, Target Net Expected Points looks at the number of points added by a wide receiver on all targets. That includes incomplete passes and interceptions, not just drops. And considering those quarterbacks, you know there were plenty of horrible passes.
Let me put it this way: Gordon is the only receiver in the top 25 in Target NEP who played with a quarterback (or set of quarterbacks) that posted a negative Passing NEP. And, as we all know, Cleveland quarterbacks didn't just play "barely" below expectation - they were completely awful.
If there's one thing to look forward to with the Pro Bowl, it's that we get to see another game from Josh Gordon this year.
6. It probably won’t be that entertaining.
In the end, I'm sure plenty are going to opt to watch Cops or House Hunters International instead of the game. We all know that the real football will be happening a week from Sunday - Super Bowl Sunday.