This past week was the week leading into the Super Bowl LVIII in Las Vegas on Sunday, February 11th, which means it was Pro Bowl week in the NFL. The NFL holds multiple challenges on the Thursday and Sunday of the week, then has a final flag football game.
Pro Bowl week had 10 challenges, which consisted of Gridiron Gauntlet, Tug of War, Best Catch, Move the Chains, High Stakes, Precision Passing, Closest to the Pin, Snap Shots, Dodgeball, Madden and Kick-Tac-Toe. Each challenge would award the winning conference 3 points toward the flag football game on Sunday.
The Pro Bowl kicked off with a punt-returning challenge where each conference had 5 players catching punts while holding two footballs already. If you catch a football, you cannot drop it for the next round. The last man standing wins. The teams in this challenge were Rasheed Shaheed, Sam Laporta, Nick Bellore, Daron Bland, and Devon Witherspoon for the NFC side. With Miles Killebrew, Marvin Mims Jr, Justin Simmons, Roquon Smith, and Denzel Ward for the AFC. The match began between Killebrew and Laporta from the start, with the latter having the advantage with the longer arms. Killebrew pulled off an insane catch on his 6th ball, putting one ball between his legs while catching the other simultaneously. This show of skill won the AFC the first contest, but this lead would not last. (NFC 0 – 3 AFC)
Following the high-stakes challenge, there was a passing challenge for quarterbacks. Precision passing includes multiple targets varying in difficulty and value. The player with the most points at the end wins points for their conference. The teams in this challenge included Baker Mayfield, Geno Smith, and Jalen Hurts for the NFC, CJ Stroud, Gardiner Minshew, and Tua Tagovailoa for the AFC. Most QBs struggled except for Baker Mayfield and CJ Stroud, who met up in the finals. During the face-off, both showed exceptional skill, but Baker edged out Stroud, beating him by one point to win the challenge for NFC. (NFC 3 – AFC 3)
Closest to the Pin
Showing off their multiple sport skills, the next challenge was a golf challenge where each team had 5 players drive a ball as close to the hole as possible. The closest to the pin wins it for their conference. The NFC side consisted of Darius Slay, Jaylon Johnson, Jake Ferguson, Julian Love and Bryan Anger. They would face Alex Ingold, Raheem Moster, Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, AJ Cole and Kyle Hamilton for the AFC. All teams struggled, but Bryan Anger ended up having the best shot, sealing it for the NFC and giving them the lead on Thursday. (NFC 6 – AFC 3)
Snapshots is a challenge for the long snappers, where they line up and attempt to snap the ball through various holes varying in difficulty and value. Lining up for the NFC were Jason Kelce, Eric Mccoy, and Andrew Depoala and across from them were Ryan Kelly, Tyler Linderbaum and Ross Matiscik from the AFC. The NFC’s slow start indicated more importance being held in the final challenge on Thursday. Andrew Depoala had words for that as he went for nine points in his final round to give the NFC a 14-11 lead winning them the challenge. (NFC 9 – AFC 3)
The Offense vs Defence dodgeball game this year was more for fun as the NFC had already sealed their win in Snap Shots, but the show must go on. With the NFC handling both the AFC’s defense and offense, winning both rounds. (NFC 12 – AFC 3)
It sounds like this challenge: Tic-Tac-Toe but with kicking. Who else would lead the AFC except Justin Tucker of the Baltimore Ravens? Leading the NFC with his leg would be Brandon Aubrey of the Dallas Cowboys. Aubrey looked to have an advantage at the start, even having a chance to win. But Tucker hit two straight to seal it for the AFC. (NFC 12 – AFC 6)
Move the Chains
In this challenge, each team had five big men pull weights from a wall and then drag said wall across a line by pulling a first-down marker. The AFC team had Will Anderson Jr, Terron Armstead, Jermain Johnson, Laremy Tunsil and Kevin Ziegler and would face NFC’s Demarcus Lawrence, Penai Sewell, Tyler Smith, Montez Sweat and Tristan Wirfs. This is not the most glamorous challenge, but the NFC showed up and won another challenge for their squad. (NFC 15 – AFC 6)
One of the lesser entertaining challenges is the Madden game, where two players from each conference play each other in EA’s Sports Madden NFL 24, swapping who controls the team at half. Controlling the AFC side was David Njoku for the first half, Tyreek Hill for the second half against the NFC’s Puka Nacua for the first half, and Micah Parsons for the second half. The game was a blowout, with Puka and Micah beating David and Tyreek 36-15. (NFC 18 – AFC 6)
Next came a relay race/obstacle course that included running through walls, lifting a glass and steel partition, tire flipping, and a tip drill challenge with a final sled push. Each team had one player for each, except for the sled push, which had two players. For the AFC, there was Will Anderson, Deforest Buckner, Wyatt Teller, Josh Allen (Jaguars), with Terron Armstead and Laremy Tunsil finishing it off against Demarcus Lawrence, Kenny Clark, Chris Lidstrom, Aidan Hutchison, with Penai Sewell and Tristin Wirfs for the NFC. This was close throughout the contest, but the NFC pulled ahead on the sled push to confirm their win against the AFC. (NFC 21 – AFC 6)
This year, the NFL changed the best catch from live on the field to a pre-recorded video. You get three tries to catch the ball. After that, you still need to finish. This is a head-to-head match between Puka Nacua (NFC) vs. David Njoku (AFC). Puka decided to go for a waterboarding catch that he got on his second try. David Njoku tried a backflip off of a rope catch that probably would’ve won, but he failed all 3 of his attempts, making Nacua the winner. (NFC 24 – AFC 6)
Tug of War
The final challenge was a tug-of-war challenge. This was best of three with a five versus five game. The first round had Bryan Anger, Kenny Clark, Landon Dickerson, Lane Johnson, and Chris Lidstrom for the NFC and Deforest Buckner, AJ Cole, Dion Dawkins, Quenton Nelson, and Wyatt Teller for the AFC. The NFC won this round and headed into the second round with the chance to end it early. Derrick Brown, Danielle Hunter, Aidan Hutchison, Dexter Lawrence, and Tyler Smith of the AFC came up against Trey Hendrickson, Jermain Johnson, Justin Madubuike, Quinnen Williams, and Kevin Ziegler of the NFC. In this round, it was all Aidan Hutchison as he led the NFC to sweep the AFC 2-0 in the Tug of War challenge. (NFC 27 – AFC 6)
The flag football game has replaced the Pro Bowl game entirely, with the challenges blending together to start the game. In this case, the NFC has a 12-9 advantage to start the game. The AFC started with the ball, and on the first drive, Tua found Tyreek Hill for a long touchdown for the AFC, making it 15-12. Jalen Hurts then answered with a throw to Ceedee Lamb for the NFC with a 2-point conversion going to D’andre Swift.
The next score would come after a stop on 4th down from the AFC, where Jamar Chase found the endzone. The NFC then hit a field goal to bring their score to 22-19. The AFC quickly found the endzone to make it 27-22. On a long drive, Geno Smith tossed an interception to Denzel Ward in the endzone, giving the AFC a chance to make it a 2-score game. CJ Stroud rolls out left and makes a beautiful throw on the run to Jamar Chase for his second touchdown, bringing the lead to 11. Amon-Ra St.Brown then came down and scored with a 2pt conversion going to DK Metcalf to bring it within three.
The AFC then pulled a double pass where Keenan Allen found Evan Engram for six and an extra two going to Engram, bringing it to 41-30. Patrick Surtain then picks off the NFC QB and takes it back for a touchdown, making the score 47-30. However, this did not last for long as the NFC brought it back and took the lead 48-47 in the 3rd quarter. Sauce Gardiner then picks off Geno Smith, which ends in a Keenan Allen touchdown for the AFC, giving them the lead again 53-48.
Ceedee Lamb had words for this as he scored his 3rd touchdown, and Amon-Ra helped out with the 2 pointer. Keenan Allen answers one more time with his 3rd touchdown, which makes it 59-58 for the AFC. This one-point lead is spoiled by Jamhyr Gibbs, who scores to make it 64-59. The AFC had a chance to win it but ended up getting stopped. But on the last drive, the NFC quarterback gets picked off by Kyle Hamilton, giving the AFC a chance to win again. But they come up short, losing the game 64-59.
Overall, it’s the same old Pro Bowl, something to watch when bored but not exactly something you look forward to. Some of the challenges are fun, and they do their best for what limits you have playing the sport of Football, but the whole event continues to feel underwhelming. The flag football game was entertaining, but it’s not a Football game. I may be asking for too much out of the Pro Bowl, but it still feels like more could be done to improve the experience for viewers.