I personally did not watch the Pro Bowl this year. I caught a bit of it on the side, but I didn't watch it intently, and after Arian Foster caught a few passes whilst the defensive linemen stood straight up in their pass rush, I was pretty well done with it.
The Pro Bowl has two real problems: a lack of intensity and terrible timing. Now of course, other All-Star games aren't played with reckless abandon either. Baseball has chosen to award home field advantage in the World Series based on their game, which gives it the facade of meaning even if home-field advantage isn't worth much in MLB. Basketball and hockey both play All-Star games that also don't have much emphasis on defense, but I'd argue it's much easier to put on a show for fans in those two games.
Football is the sport where that intensity matters more than any other. This is shown by the smaller number of games the teams play and the increased number of injuries per game that the NFL has over the others. Add in the fact that the game takes place at the end of the year, where everyone's giveadamn is already busted, and there's no reason that anyone should take this game seriously.
Behind the jump, one man's solution to the Pro Bowl problem.
Lets first acknowledge that this game is never going to mean anything without proper motivation. To reach the intensity required to really make this a good idea, there is going to have to be a massive reward for the winning team. Home field advantage in the Super Bowl, to the winner of the game, as they do in baseball, would be a good start to fixing the problem.
However, when you really break down the motivations, by the time an All-Star game is a feasible idea, most players already know whether they're on a Super Bowl contender or not. What does someone like Ndamukong Suh have to gain by trying to get his 2-8 team home field advantage in the Super Bowl? Furthermore, this would require bucking the Super Bowl's long-time tradition of being at a neutral site, which I'm uncomfortable with.
I think it would be fair to say that from an empirical standpoint, the AFC has been better than the NFC the last few years overall. The suckulence that is the NFC West has made that a mathematical fact over the past four-five years. Seattle's playoff upset against the Saints not withstanding, they were a terrible regular season team and probably did not deserve to actually get into the playoffs. While that result didn't hold up in the Pro Bowl, it's not like anyone on either team was actually caring enough to make that mean anything.
So here's the proposal: add a week to the regular season, and start it a week earlier. The Pro Bowl is played after every team has played at least eight regular season games. While there will obviously be some injuries, everyone will be in playing shape and should have no problems getting ready for the game if they are given a motivation. The proper motivation? The losing conference loses a playoff spot and the winning conference gains one.
In theory, the better conference top-to-bottom will take the game, and that will open things up for a team that is empirically better to slide into the playoffs on the other side of the bracket. It's hardly a perfect solution, because one can argue that if you want to actually play an intense NFL game, the coaches would have to be given complete control of roster construction and enough time to actually meld the playbooks. But it's one of the very few ideas I can come up with that actually gives both sides motivation enough to try to win the game.
That alone makes it an upgrade on our current version, which might as well just be replaced by an NFL skills challenge with how little the players care about it. Would the pass rushers actually care about getting to the quarterback in this game, knowing that it could be the difference between the playoffs and a golf course in January?
Yes, yes they would.