For years, the NFL has struggled to find the right balance with the Pro Bowl.
2023 offers the latest change in format.
With the Pro Bowl coming at the end of the season, the NFL has long found it difficult to attract both players, and fans, to the event. With many players opting out for injuries or other reasons, and players in the game itself shying away from contact — with good reason — the game had had become a very watered-down version of the product we see during the regular season, and especially the playoffs.
In recent years, the NFL incorporated skills challenges and other side events, such as dodgeball, to try and showcase the athleticism of the athletes while not exposing them to further injury. But there was still the matter of the game itself.
Now, the league has changed the format yet again. Here is what to expect from the 2023 Pro Bowl, and perhaps beyond.
The Pro Bowl Games – Thursday events
This year, the Pro Bowl has shifted to a Pro Bowl Games format, with events taking place over two days, leading up to 7-on-7 flag football games, rather than the traditional game, on Sunday.
The first night of competition takes place on Thursday night, with the following events:
- Pro Bowl Dodgeball
- Lightning Round
- Longest Drive
- Precision Passing
- Best Catch – First Round
Pro Bowl Dodgeball
This is a three-round event, consisting of four teams with five players each. In the first round, the AFC Offense will face off with the AFC Defense, to determine the AFC representatives. The second round will see the NFC Offense take on the NFC Defense to determine the NFC representatives.
In the final round, the AFC representatives will square off with the NFC representatives to determine the winner.
According to NFL.com, three points will be awarded to the winning conference.
The next event is the lightning round, which sounds like something right out of Nickelodeon. Each conference will designate 16 players to participate in this three-round, elimination challenge, and the remaining player will secure three points for their conference.
In the first round, “Splash Catch,” two-player teams from each conference compete by playing catch with water balloons from increasing distances. Each tandem that completes all their tosses advances to the second round.
The second round is “High Stakes.” In this stage, the players who advanced will try and field punts from a JUGS machine.
The final round is “Thrill of the Spill.” In this event, the remaining players will try and hit targets aimed above the head of a coach from the opposing conference. The first team to hit the target — and dump a bucket of water on an opposing coach — wins the event, and three points for their conference.
From Topgolf to the Pro Bowl. In this event, four players from each conference form a team. Each participant gets three golf swings, working off a tee. The player with the longest drive, that stays in-bounds wins three points for their conference. According to NFL.com, this event is pre-recorded and will air on Thursday night.
In this competition, the participants will engage in a one-minute accuracy challenge, trying to hit moving targets with their throws. At the end of each one-minute period, each passer will then attempt a longest-throw challenge to earn extra points.
Best Catch – First Round
In the Best Catch competition, two players from each conference will participate in an event designed to showcase their creativity. In the first round, the players will execute their “best catches” at “iconic venues around Las Vegas.”
A fan vote will determine which player advance to the final on Sunday. According to NFL.com, this event is pre-recorded and will air on Thursday night.
The Pro Bowl Games – Sunday events
The Pro Bowl Games conclude on Sunday with four more skills challenges, as well as three different 7-on-7 flag football games. At the end, the winning conference will be determined.
- Best Catch – Finale
- Gridiron Gauntlet
- Move the Chains
- Kick Tac Toe
- 7-on-7 Flag Games
Best Catch – Finale
The two remaining players in Best Catch will compete in front of a panel of celebrity judges to determine a winner. The winner secures three points for their conference.
Players from each conference will participate in this relay-style event aimed to showcase “strength, speed, and agility.” It is a four-stage event, each covering 40 yards in length. Each segment “includes a series of breakaway walls, a section of climbing over walls and under tables, a tire run and a blocking sled carrying a Legend coach across the finish line.”
The winning team secures three points for their conference.
Move the Chains
Four teams of five players — two teams from each conference — compete in this event, a side-by-side “weighted wall pull that will showcase their strength, speed and ingenuity.” Players have to pull a heavily-weighted wall ten yards as quickly as possible, using first-down chains.
The team that wins the best-of-three playoff secures three points for their conference.
Kick Tac Toe
Let’s get the specialists involved!
In this event, each team’s kicker, punter, and long snapper participate in a large-scale tic-tac-toe competition. The first team to either create a connecting line of three squares, or hit five squares total, wins. According to NFL.com, this event is pre-recorded and will air on Thursday night.
Flag Football Games
Three flag football games will be played, all using a 7-on-7 format. The first two will be factored into the scoring, along with the results of the various skills events, to set the stage for the finale of the weekend, the final flag football game.
The winner of the flag football game — incorporating the scoring from the previous events that we will outline in a minute — will be named the champion of The Pro Bowl Games.
Pro Bowl Games scoring format, explained
So here is how the scoring works.
First, the winning conference from each of the eight skills events — Dodgeball, Lightning Round, Longest Drive, Precision Passing, Best Catch, Gridiron Gauntlet, Move the Chains, and Kick Tac Toe — secures three points for their team. A total of 24 points are available over the eight events.
Second, two flag football games are played on Sunday, with the winning team earning six points for their conference. A total of 12 points are available over these two games.
Finally, the points accumulated from the eight skills events, and the first two flag football games, will serve as the starting score for the final event of the week, the third flag football game. The team that ends up winning the third and final flag football game will win The Pro Bowl Games.
So, for example, say the AFC wins Dodgeball, Lightning Round, Longest Drive, Precision Passing and Best Catch. That would give them 15 points, and the NFC nine points.
Then, the teams split the first two flag football games, giving each conference six points.
That means the starting score for the third and final flag game would be AFC 21 and NFC 15. From there, the game is played, and if the NFC can make up that six-point deficit, they would win The Pro Bowl Games. If not, the AFC would be crowned champions.