GLENDALE, Ariz. -- It was an interception ripe for the taking.

At the third quarter ticked away of Sunday’s Pro Bowl, Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan was looking deep for New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham. His pass sailed high and deep as Graham cut off his route. Waiting, what looked patiently, in the end zone were Arizona Cardinals cornerbacks Antonio Cromartie and Patrick Peterson.

Once they saw the pass start sailing both took off for the end zone. Cromartie was inside. Peterson was outside.

Cromartie jumped, trying to time his leap with Ryan’s throw but the ball went right through his hands, potentially slightly tipped by him. It bounced at Peterson’s feet, falling incomplete, both their hopes of a Pro Bowl interception dropping with it. All four Cardinals were on Team Carter, which lost 32-28 to Team Irvin at University of Phoenix Stadium.

“I just dropped it,” an animated Cromartie said after the game. “Can’t say nothing about it. I just dropped it.”

Peterson picked up the ball and threw it at Cromartie, who was sitting on his knees, upset at himself for missing the pick. It was all done in jest but it was also the lightest moment of the most uncompetitive game of the season.

“He said, ‘here you go, here you go,’” Cromartie said.

Peterson wanted the pick. Badly. It would’ve been his second straight Pro Bowl with an interception.

“Definitely would’ve had that ball if he wouldn’t have tipped the ball,” Peterson said of Cromartie.

If he would’ve returned the interception for a touchdown, he could’ve given the Houston Texans' JJ Watt a run for defensive MVP of the game.

“I wanted to win the freaking truck,” said Peterson of the SUV that’s awarded to the MVP. “That was my only opportunity I had to get back to the end zone. But I didn’t get any plays tonight. But it happens.”


GLENDALE, Ariz. -- It took a little while for both Team Irvin and Team Carter to wake up during Sunday's Pro Bowl at University of Phoenix Stadium.

Tackling was replaced by glorified hugs.

Defending passes was ... well, there weren't many passes defended.

As the second Pro Bowl since 1980 not to be played in Hawaii wore on, the intensity increased and the competitiveness amped up. Team Irvin won 32-28 over Team Carter with Detroit's Matthew Stafford winning the offensive MVP and Houston's J.J. Watt taking home the defensive MVP.

Besides discovering, to no surprise, that Pro Bowlers don't like to tackle, here are five things we learned from Sunday's Pro Bowl:

Watt is that good: Consider the Pro Bowl a prelude.

The game the Houston defensive end had Sunday -- an interception, a fumble recovery, a quarterback hurry and four passes defended (second most in the game) -- earned Watt the defensive MVP but it also proved that he's the best of the best, and should win the NFL MVP and the defensive player of the year when they're handed out Saturday.

"Ha, it's pretty cool," Watt said about winning the MVP among the league's all-stars. "It's a neat opportunity. To go out of here with a new truck is pretty sweet. But it's a lot of fun."

Watt's interception came in typical Watt style. He knocked down a Stafford pass with 23 seconds left in the second quarter and the ball dropped into his hands. He didn't have a chance to return it for a touchdown because Cleveland tackle Joe Thomas brought Watt down immediately. Stafford fumbled on the first play of the third quarter, which Watt quickly recovered, all but sealing his MVP in a span of 23 seconds.

Toward the end of the game, Watt wanted to get a chance to play offense but Team Carter, led by Baltimore coach John Harbaugh, didn't call a play for him.

"Right there near the end of the game, I strolled into the offensive huddle," Watt said. "I don't know if they didn't see me or they didn't want to use me, but strolled my way back to the sideline when I didn't get the call."

Narrow uprights aren't easy to kick through: Indianapolis kicker Adam Vinatieri learned the hard way how tough it will be to kick between narrower uprights. He missed two of four extra points and a field goal from 38 yards.

Had the uprights been the regulation 18-feet wide instead of the experimental 14 feet, Vinatieri felt he would've nailed all his kicks Sunday.

"The only one I had [a] question on was the last field goal and [punter Kevin] Huber, my holder, said, ‘Oh, for sure that was good,'" Vinatieri said. "I know the other ones all would've been good. I probably would've made all my kicks today and walked out of here feeling a little happier than I am right now. A little discouraged, or a little upset with myself. I also got to look back and go, 'I definitely need to work on some skinny posts' if we're going to be doing this stuff."

Team Carter kicker Cody Kicker from the Eagles made both his extra points, which were moved back to the 17-yard-line, but he didn't have a field-goal attempt. Even though he was perfect, Parkey wasn't a fan of the smaller target.

"They're picking on us," he said. "We're already the odd balls on the team. They're picking on us even more."

Pro Bowl needs a skills competition: It wasn't just the fans -- in person and on TV -- that was wondering when the players on the field would start tackling and playing real football. Arizona special teamer Justin Bethel noticed his teammates were going easy.

"It started off kinda slow," Bethel said. "I was sitting here like, ‘This ain't football.' But it started picking up."

The lackluster effort at the beginning begged the question to be asked: Is the Pro Bowl worth having?

In its place there should be a skills competition and from the skills some of the players showed throughout the week, it would make for must-see TV. Watt was making field goals during practice and Odell Beckham Jr. hit a 45-yarder during warm-ups Sunday.

Watt wasn't a fan of the idea, however.

"I enjoy it the way it is now," Watt said. "Those decisions are left to people much higher up than I am."

But Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson -- who has also played receiver, quarterback, wildcat quarterback and punt returner -- would rather see a seven-on-seven game than a full-blown game.

"I think so because that's what it is," he said. "I'd love to see it become a seven-on-seven. I think I'd be pretty good at it. I'd sit on a couple routes a little more. I know it's a passing route, and in seven-on-seven. It would only give you a couple routes anyway.

"I think it would be a lot more fun."

Jimmy Graham warned them: With 9 minutes, 51 seconds remaining in the first half, New Orleans Saints tight end broke his touchdown celebration out of league-imposed mothballs. Graham reeled in a 6-yard scoring pass from Stafford in the back right corner of the endzone, his first of two scoring catches in the game.

But after the catch he jogged down the end line and then dunked the ball over the crossbar. It was the first time he had done what had become the signature scoring celebration for the former University of Miami basketball player since he was fined $30,000 for dunking over the crossbar twice this past August in a preseason game against the Tennessee Titans.

"I did it, I asked them [the NFL], said I wanted to do it. I mean, I told them I'd be gentle," Graham said. "Hopefully they won't fine me."

Graham's celebration was outlawed by the NFL this past offseason, specifically categorized with other taunting penalties in which the ball is used as a "prop." The league's competition committee specifically addressed the celebration last March after Graham had knocked goal-posts ajar on two separate occasions.

Technically, by league rules Graham could be fined for Sunday's celebration for unsportsmanlike conduct.

"I hope they don't," Graham said. "I don't think I even nudged [the crossbar] when I did it."

Bend it like Beckham Jr.: The New York Giants rookie wide receiver has become must-see for his acrobatic work catching passes. His improbable one-handed snag on "Sunday Night Football" this past season, against the Dallas Cowboys, quickly made it onto a T-shirt.

And Beckham, who had fans buzzing in pregame warm-ups Sunday with a variety of one-handed catches, added a diving grab on a Stafford throw in the first half. And a former accomplished junior soccer player -- he has said had drawn interest from USA Soccer growing up in New Orleans -- also booted a 45-yard field goal during warm-ups Sunday, a kick that sailed down the middle of narrowed uprights.

The kick would have been good from more than 50 yards.

"Man, I had a great time participating in all of this," Beckham said. "I was just trying to have as much fun as possible, in warm-ups, in the game, the whole week."

Beckham led Team Irvin with 89 yards on his five receptions, including the 48-yarder from Stafford. Beckham had 75 of his receiving yards in the first half. reporter Jeff Legwold contributed to this story.
The New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons aren’t exactly “besties.” But when Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan needed a touchdown late in Sunday night’s Pro Bowl, he didn’t let the NFC South’s oldest rivalry get in his way.

On fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line, Ryan went with an option he’s seen work plenty of times from the other sideline. He fired a pass into Saints tight end Jimmy Graham’s breadbasket -- despite Graham having Arizona Cardinals cornerback Antonio Cromartie draped all over him.

It turned out to be the game-winning score for Team Irvin in a 32-28 victory over Team Carter.

It was the second touchdown of the night for Graham -- and it was followed by Graham’s second dunk of the night (no word yet on whether Graham will be fined for his illegal TD celebration of choice, though the NFL confirmed earlier in the day he and other players would be “subject” to the same fines as if it were a regular-season game).

Graham, who caught three passes for 30 yards overall, wasn’t the only Saints player who shined in an exhibition game that turned out better than most of New Orleans’ regular-season games this year.

Saints running back Mark Ingram also played a key role in the Team Irvin victory (named for honorary captain Michael Irvin). Ingram ran for a game-high 72 yards on 11 carries while visibly continuing to relish his first Pro Bowl experience throughout the night.

Former Saints running back Darren Sproles also came up big for the winning side with three rushes for 42 yards, six catches for 79 yards and a fumble recovery -- even though he was technically voted in as a special teamer.

Saints quarterback Drew Brees wound up on the losing end for the team captained by Cris Carter, despite throwing two touchdown passes (a 21-yarder to Green Bay’s Jordy Nelson and a 10-yarder to Carolina’s Greg Olsen) and a 2-point conversion pass to Indianapolis’ T.Y. Hilton.

Brees completed 13 of 21 passes for 163 yards. He also threw one interception -- though in Brees’ defense, it was a spectacular pick by Miami’s Brent Grimes, who ripped the ball away from Hilton in the end zone.
videoAndy Dalton still hasn't won a game in January.

With 3:10 remaining in Sunday night's Pro Bowl at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, the Cincinnati Bengals quarterback had a chance to lead a dramatic comeback drive that would have given his team the win and an additional $27,000 in his and his teammates' pockets.

None of that would happen, though.

After generating momentum and getting his offense into the red zone, Dalton effectively ended Team Carter's (coached by Hall of Fame receiver and ESPN analyst Cris Carter) hopes at winning 13 plays later when he delivered a poorly-thrown pass that fell several yards away from the two pass-catchers that were in its vicinity. Rushed by four defensive linemen, including his Bengals teammate Geno Atkins, Dalton delivered the throw off his back foot while trying to avoid the rush.

The incomplete pass, thrown with 53 seconds left in the game, sealed the 32-28 win for Team Irvin (coached by Hall of Fame receiver Michael Irvin).

Only once on the drive did Dalton target his Bengals teammate, A.J. Green. It was one of three passing attempts Green drew from Team Carter's quarterbacks. He didn't catch a single one of them. Defended by Miami Dolphins cornerback Brent Grimes on all three plays, Green had a tough time generating enough space to make a catch. The lone target he had from Dalton landed well short of his feet as Dalton felt Grimes stepping up for an interception, and decided to throw short so the corner couldn't complete the pick-off.

Dalton completed four of his first five throws on the final drive -- all screens or other short routes to running backs Alfred Morris or Justin Forsett. After Forsett's 13-yard reception put Team Carter at Team Irvin's 19, Dalton missed on four-straight passing attempts, including the one to Green. Officially, Carolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen was credited with being targeted on Dalton's last incompletion, but the fourth-down throw was headed toward both he and Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Antonio Brown.

Dalton, voted the seventh alternate by fans in December, was added to the Pro Bowl roster last week after the Super Bowl quarterbacks were forced into missing the game, and also after Baltimore's Joe Flacco bowed out because of the birth of his child. The Bengals' signal-caller who signed a six-year contract extension in August went 9-for-20 for 69 yards Sunday. He was sacked once, had a 54.0 passer rating and averaged 3.5 yards per completion.

Like Green, Atkins didn't have any statistical contributions. The Bengals' other Pro Bowl selection, punter Kevin Huber, had one 56-yard punt that traveled to the opposing 6 before the return team tried to bring it back with a lateral. The return only went for eight yards.

Dalton still hasn't won a game in January. He entered the Pro Bowl 0-5 in regular-season and playoff games in the month. His latest January loss was his 26-10 loss at Indianapolis on Jan. 4.
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- In a span of 23 seconds, Houston defensive end J.J. Watt may have earned himself a new car and a new trophy.

Watt all but secured Pro Bowl defensive MVP honors by intercepting Detroit’s Matthew Stafford with 23 seconds left in the second quarter and then recovering a Stafford fumbled on the first play of the third quarter.

Watt, who had one interception and five fumble recoveries to go along with his 20.5 sacks this season, picked off Stafford at the line of scrimmage. He knocked down Stafford’s pass, which dropped into his hands. Cleveland tackle Joe Thomas tackled Watt.

The MVP receives a new SUV.
PHOENIX -- Don't bother asking Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman if he's the best cornerback in the NFL.

He won't answer such questions.

A reporter asked Sherman that question during Sunday's Super Bowl media availability at the Arizona Grand Resort and Sherman scoffed.

"I don't really answer preschool questions," Sherman said. "So, you improve your line of questioning and then we'll talk."

A reporter followed up by asking Sherman if his response meant he was "intimating" the answer was obvious -- that he was, in fact, the best corner in the league.

"I wasn't intimating anything," Sherman said. "I like journalists. I don't like people who just throw out dumb questions and try to incite controversy and let the story write itself.

"I like people who dig deep and research and actually have some journalistic credibility."

Sherman was initially asked to compare himself to New England Patriots cornerback Darrelle Revis and Sherman tried to take the high road.

"I don't measure my game to anybody's," he said. "I don't have a great answer for that question. I think my game measures up pretty well to myself."
PHOENIX -- I spent some time at Seattle Seahawks' media availability on Sunday, as they arrived a day earlier than the New England Patriots. One of the topics that came up was the Seahawks' view of the underinflated football issue as it relates to a distraction.

Sixth-year veteran defensive end Michael Bennett was decisive in his viewpoint, calling the entire issue "propaganda" that is meant to be "inflating the game."

Bennett then elaborated on what he meant.

"It's just talking about all the things that are not really important; talking about the balls, talking about, 'Did something happen in 2006?'" he said. "It's not really talking about what's ahead, what Tom Brady has accomplished this year, what Robert Gronkowski has accomplished this year, what Bill Belichick has done over the last five years as a coach; always winning his division, getting a chance to play in the AFC championship.

"It's not talking about the things that Russell Wilson has done. [Richard] Sherm[an], Marshawn Lynch and the records they're [achieving]. ...

"... It's really just about two great teams playing. I think a lot of people are shying away from that aspect of it. The Patriots are arguably one of the best teams of this decade and we're starting to try to catch up to where they're at, what they've done the last 10 years. Bill Belichick is one of the best coaches of all time, so I think people are forgetting that.

"It's too much about the balls and stuff and hopefully everyone starts to talk about the game."

Bennett doesn't think the Patriots will be knocked off track by any distraction.

"I heard Bill say he's more worried about the task at hand. I heard [Brady] say that they're worried about that and [Gronkowski] said the same thing, so I think it's one of those things where they're not too worried about it. I think the media is more worried about it than [them]," he said.

Live blog: 2015 NFL Pro Bowl

January, 25, 2015
Jan 25
Join reporters Mike Sando, Jeff Legwold and Josh Weinfuss from Glendale, Arizona, for live coverage of the Pro Bowl as Team Irvin takes on Team Carter.

A few quick thoughts on the news -- brought to you by ESPN's Adam Schefter -- that talented yet troubled receiver Josh Gordon could be suspended for the 2015 season after failing another league-administered drug test, this time for alcohol. Before this week, Gordon had twice violated the league's substance-abuse policies.

Gordon made Browns' decision to cut ties easier: The likelihood of Gordon staying on the roster seemed bleak even before this news. The only way the Browns would have kept Gordon was if they couldn't create a trade market for him. Now that market is gone, but the point is moot and the decision easy: move on, better off without him.

[+] EnlargeJosh Gordon
DavidDermer/Diamond Images/Getty ImagesJosh Gordon has failed another drug test and now will be subject to a one-year suspension, according to league sources.
That last part is weird to say about a team with a wildly talented receiver at a thin position, but the Browns' offense looked disjointed when Gordon returned from a 10-game suspension. Five of quarterback Brian Hoyer's 13 interceptions came during his first seven quarters playing with Gordon. The Browns started 6-3 with a group of overachieving receivers led by Miles Austin and Andrew Hawkins. Gordon was dominant the year before with about 117 receiving yards per game, but there's no promise he'll ever return to that form.

Gordon has been arrested and charged with driving while impaired, has been suspended twice by the NFL, and has missed team meetings, which prompted the Browns to suspend him late last season. There's no way to bring that hit list back to the locker room.

The Browns don't need to act now, and unless Gordon wins a grievance, he'll still be under his rookie deal in 2016. But they must go forward knowing he's not in the plans.

Browns should outline clear plan for the outside receiver position: The Browns' current receiving corps includes two slot receivers at 5-foot-8 or shorter (Hawkins and Taylor Gabriel) and an undersized situational receiver (Travis Benjamin, 5-10).

Yep, time for Ray Farmer to get to work.

The general manager passed on receivers from a historically good 2014 receiver class and he'd do the franchise a disservice if he doesn't address the need in free agency or the draft. The list of free agents includes top-shelf playmakers who will likely stay home (Denver's Demaryius Thomas, Dallas' Dez Bryant) and plenty of other impact guys (Philly's Jeremy Maclin, Baltimore's Torrey Smith, San Francisco's Michael Crabtree). Get something done, either in the open market, in the first three rounds of the draft or both.

Was Gordon worth it? The Browns gave up a second-round draft pick for Gordon, who gave Cleveland 35 games, 161 catches, 2,754 yards and 14 touchdowns.

Was he worth it? Probably. He was worth the risk. He was the league's best receiver in 2013. It didn't work out. But the team got production from him.

Hope Gordon gets better: It's tough to see talented guys struggle off the field. It's not fun to watch it unfold. I hope he gets the right people around him, because from what I've heard, that's a big part of the problem.

Does Bill Belichick's science pass muster?

January, 25, 2015
Jan 25
During Saturday's impromptu meeting with reporters, Bill Belichick said more than once that he wasn't a scientist. But he sure sounded like someone who had been buried in his lab conducting experiments when detailing measures he and members of his staff took to simulate the team's steps to prepare game balls.

Their conclusion was that part of their preparation process -- perhaps the way they rub down the balls to get them to the preferred texture -- raises the air pressure inside the balls, findings a real “science guy” called into question (see video above).

“We simulated a game-day situation in terms of the preparation of the footballs and where the balls [were] at various [points] in the day or night, as the case was Sunday,” Belichick said Saturday. “I would say that our preparation process for the footballs is what we do -- I can’t speak for anybody else, it’s what we do -- and that [preparation] process we have found raises the PSI approximately 1 pound [per square inch]. That process of creating a tackiness, a texture, the right feel, whatever that feel is, a sensation for the quarterback, that process elevates the PSI approximately 1 pound [per square inch] based on what our study showed, which was multiple footballs, multiple examples in the process as we would do for a game. It’s not one football.


Who's science regarding air pressure in footballs do you believe?


Discuss (Total votes: 8,219)

“Now, we all know that air pressure is a function of the atmospheric conditions, it’s a function of that. So, if there’s activity in the ball relative to the rubbing process, I think that explains why when we gave them to the officials and the officials put it at 12.5 [PSI] if that’s in fact what they did, that once the ball reached its equilibrium state, it probably was closer to 11.5 [PSI]. ... So the atmospheric conditions as well as the true equilibrium of the football is critical to the measurement.”

Asked further about his research, Belichick invited others to replicate his experiment.

“The situation is the preparation of the ball caused the ball to I would say be artificially high in PSI when it was set at the regulated level and it reached its equilibrium at some point later on, an hour or two hours into the game whatever it was,” he said. “That level was below what it was set in this climatic condition. I think that’s exactly what happened. And I think anybody that wants to do those experiments should go ahead and do them themselves. Don’t take my word for it. I’m telling you, we are trying to get to an answer to this and that’s what we have.”

Appearing on “Good Morning America,” Bill Nye “The Science Guy” expressed skepticism, saying Belichick's explanation didn't make any sense.

“Rubbing the football, I don't think you can change the pressure,” Nye said. “To really change the pressure, you need one of these -- the inflation needle.”
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Indianapolis kicker Adam Vinatieri knew he was stating the obvious: Narrower uprights will be harder to kick through.

But that’s the challenge he and Philadelphia’s Cody Parkey, the two Pro Bowl kickers, will be facing Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium. The NFL will experiment in the game by moving the uprights in by 2 feet on each side, reducing the kickers’ target area from 18 feet wide to 14 feet.

If the league wanted the kickers to be more challenged, it might just get its wish.

“They think the kickers have gotten too good, maybe,” Vinatieri said. “Extra points are almost guaranteed. Now, all of a sudden, they’re trying to do things to make it more difficult for us and I understand that.

“I just want them to understand and realize that if they do this next year, two years, four years down the road, field goal percentages will go down. And if that’s what they’re looking for, then great.”

But, Vinatieri warned, don’t expect a last-second, 50-yard field goal in the blistering cold with snow blowing sideways to be made. Actually, he said, don’t expect it to even be attempted.

“You just have to know what you’re getting yourself into,” Vinatieri added.

Kickers made 83.9 percent of all field goals in 2014, including 77.4 percent from 40 to 49 yards and 61 percent of field goals 50 yards or longer.

Parkey admitted that if the NFL had narrowed the uprights in 2014, he would’ve missed at least couple field goals that barely snuck in.

“Those kicks that you would make, unfortunately, you don’t make anymore, so obviously your accuracy is going to do down,” he said.

Parkey doesn’t want the NFL to implement narrower uprights full-time in the coming seasons.

If the uprights are narrowed, it may lead to tougher decisions facing coaches, especially on third and fourth down.

“Say you’re playing on a windy day or something like that," Vinatieri said, "now all of a sudden your margin of error has shrunk quite a bit, so there might be times where you’re going for it or you’re punting instead of kicking field goals.”
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick publicly lauded his players on Saturday, saying, "The team was the best team in the AFC in the regular season. We won two games in the playoffs against two good football teams. The best team in the postseason, that's what this team is. I know that because I've been with them every day and I'm proud of this team.”

For those curious if the players heard those words, the answer is a resounding yes.

"It’s always nice to hear your coach talk with that amount of passion and pride about our unit," Patriots receiver Julian Edelman relayed Sunday before the team's fourth practice.

At the same time, Edelman noted this isn't the time to be happy with receiving verbal bouquets.

"We still have other things to accomplish," he said. "We could talk about how Coach felt and all of that stuff after this week because it doesn’t really mean anything unless you go out and you finish it."

As for finishing it, Edelman described practices in recent days as "high tempo" while pointing out that "guys are focused."

Part of Edelman's preparation has been studying a Seattle defensive backfield that has some of the biggest players in the NFL -- cornerbacks Richard Sherman (6-3, 195), Byron Maxwell (6-1, 207) and Tharold Simon (6-3, 202) and safety Kam Chancellor (6-3, 232) among them.

"They’re a little different because they’re all big. They’re all big, strong, ferocious players," Edelman said. "They play in their scheme. They’re well coached. They play hard. We certainly have some guys that are big, but this a completely different group. [We’ve] got to take these next few days [to] prepare [and] get ready for them and try to bring out the A game."

Edelman described himself as "more focused" for this Super Bowl, a result of having played in one following the 2011 season.

"Any kid who played Pop Warner or high school football, this is the ultimate stage," he said. "When you’re 12 years old, you used to dream about getting this opportunity to go out and play against a really good opponent who’s the defending Super Bowl champs. It doesn’t get any better than that."

W2W4: New York Jets in the Pro Bowl

January, 25, 2015
Jan 25
If you need a football fix, a bridge from the conference championship games to Super Bowl XLIX, check out the Pro Bowl at 8 p.m. Sunday (ESPN) from Glendale, Arizona. No, it's not overflowing with players from the New York Jets -- welcome to the 4-12 reality -- but it's one last opportunity this season to watch two of their best, center Nick Mangold and defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson.

A few Jets-related thoughts on the game:
  • Mangold and Richardson are teammates on Team Irvin, coached by Jason Garrett of the Dallas Cowboys. Mangold and Richardson have been seeing stars all week -- meaning the Cowboys' helmets -- as they have seven Dallas players on their team.
  • I'm curious to see how Richardson approaches his first Pro Bowl. He was bitterly disappointed that he didn't make the initial roster -- he made it as an alternate -- so he could try to use the game as a stage to show everyone he belongs with the best of the best. One of his linemates is St. Louis Rams rookie Aaron Donald, whom former Jets coach Rex Ryan felt undeservedly was selected over Richardson. We all know Richardson plays with a chip on his shoulder; don't be surprised if he plays this one at regular-season speed.
  • This will feel like an AFC East game for Mangold. Team Carter includes three defensive linemen from the Buffalo Bills -- Mario Williams, Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus. This is supposed to be a fun event, but the presence of the Buffalo trio will remind Mangold of two brutal losses from the season. By the way, this will be Mangold's sixth Pro Bowl.
  • We all know that free-agent recruiting happens at the Pro Bowl. Mangold and Richardson are teammates with Green Bay Packers wide receiver Randall Cobb, who will be one of the marquee free agents. Think Mangold and Richardson might drop a few positive words on the Jets' behalf? Maybe. Arizona Cardinals cornerback Antonio Cromartie also is eligible for free agency, and it probably won't take much arm-twisting to make him consider a return to the Jets. He speaks highly of new coach Todd Bowles, his former Arizona defensive coordinator.
  • Could the Jets have more than two representatives next year? Absolutely. Defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson has been on the cusp of the Pro Bowl for two years. A sleeper could be linebacker Demario Davis, who enters a contract year and should thrive in Bowles' attacking defense. Nose tackle Damon Harrison, too, could be a Pro Bowl possibility. Next year could be a defensive resurgence for the Jets.
With an opening still available to run the team’s defense, new Denver Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak is still attempting to hire Cincinnati Bengals secondary coach Vance Joseph for the job.

To this point, according to multiple team sources, the Bengals have blocked Joseph’s attempt to take the job because he is under contract with the team. The Broncos interviewed Joseph earlier this month for the team’s head-coaching job, two days before team officials met with Kubiak in Houston.

However, the Broncos have continued their efforts with the Bengals to hire Joseph in recent days, and now there is a feeling within the Broncos’ front office that if the Bengals believe they can find a replacement on their defensive staff for Joseph, they would be more inclined to let Joseph take the promotion with the Broncos.

One name that has surfaced in the league for the Bengals is former New York Giants defense coordinator Perry Fewell. Fewell, who was fired by the Giants shortly after the season, interviewed with the San Francisco 49ers this past week to be the defensive backs coach.

The Broncos believe that until Fewell is hired somewhere he will be considered by the Bengals as well, and that if hired by Cincinnati it would free Joseph to run the Broncos’ defense. By league rules the only time an assistant coach under contract cannot be prevented from taking a new job is if the move is from coordinator to head coach.

The Broncos have tried to prepare themselves if they can’t secure Joseph, a former assistant coach on Kubiak’s staff with the Houston Texans from 2011-13, and the team reached out to former Broncos head coach and defensive coordinator Wade Phillips last week.

Phillips took over as Texans interim head coach 13 games into the 2013 season after Kubiak was fired. The Texans were 30th in total defense, 29th in scoring defense and last in the league in pass defense in 2010 when Kubiak looked to Phillips to repair the unit.

The team drafted defensive end J.J. Watt in the first round of the 2011 draft and Phillips pushed the improved unit to No. 2 in total defense and No. 4 in scoring defense in 2011. The Texans were No. 7 in total defense in 2012 and were also No. 7 in total defense in 2013 even as the team finished 2-14.

Phillips was the Broncos' head coach in 1993 and 1994 and was fired after a 7-9 finish in 1994, when Broncos owner Pat Bowlen hired Mike Shanahan. Phillips was 16-16 in his two seasons, with a loss in the wild-card round following the 1993 season.

Phillips had been the Broncos’ defensive coordinator from 1989-1992.

Kubiak has hired Bill Kollar, another former Texans assistant, to be Denver's defensive line coach, and Broncos linebackers coach Richard Smith is expected to be retained in the same job.

With Kubiak having already filled out the team’s offensive staff -- with Rick Dennison as offensive coordinator, as well as Joe DeCamillis as special-teams coordinator -- that leaves the defensive coordinator spot and defensive backs coach as the only two major openings that remain.

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- It may not be as warm as Hawaii or have an ocean for players to frolic in, but Arizona will host this year’s Pro Bowl, marking the second time since 1980 that the game won't be played offshore.

While most of the attention this week has been paid to the deflation controversy, there have been plenty of Pro Bowl storylines in the desert leading up to the 8 p.m. ET kickoff Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium (ESPN). For the second consecutive year, the game won’t feature an AFC vs. NFC format. This year’s teams will be led by a pair of Hall of Fame wide receivers: Michael Irvin and Cris Carter.

Here are five things you need to know about this year’s Pro Bowl:

Watt could win offensive and defensive MVPs: While there may not be an official line on whether the Houston Texans' J.J. Watt wins the defensive MVP, he is the perceived favorite. Watt may also be the most versatile player at this year’s game. He had the second-most sacks in the NFL this season with 20.5 and scored two defensive touchdowns. But he also scored three offensive touchdowns, and there’s this: Watt kicked at least one field goal during Friday’s Pro Bowl practice. He was also seen catching passes in the end zone.

Kickers will have to be more precise: One of the more significant changes at this year’s Pro Bowl will make both kickers -- the Philadelphia Eagles' Cody Parkey and the Indianapolis Colts' Adam Vinatieri -- work harder. The NFL narrowed the uprights from 18 feet wide to 14 feet wide for the game. The goal is to make extra points and field goals more challenging since kickers made about 84 percent of their field goal attempts this season. And as the NFL did during the first two weeks of the preseason, it is moving the extra point back to the 15-yard line, making it a 33-yard attempt instead of a 20-yard kick.

Pro Bowl is the NFL’s laboratory: Not only will the league experiment with the goalposts and extra points, the NFL will also implement changes for instant replay. Instead of going under the hood to review plays, the referee will watch replays on a Microsoft Surface, the same tablet teams have been using all season to review plays. The replays will be streamed to the tablet.

QBs will see familiar WRs: Of the six quarterbacks at the Pro Bowl, four will have a teammate lining up at wide receiver or tight end on their team. The Dallas Cowboys' Tony Romo will throw to Jason Witten and the Detroit Lions' Matthew Stafford will have Golden Tate as one of his receivers for Team Irvin. On Team Carter, the Colts' Andrew Luck will have T.Y. Hilton, while late addition Andy Dalton of the Cincinnati Bengals will have A.J. Green. The four quarterback-receiver tandems combined for 22 touchdowns this season, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Luck and Hilton had the most with seven, followed by Dalton and Green with six, Stafford and Tate with five, and Romo and Witten with four.

Stats and facts: Of the 115 players selected for the Pro Bowl this season, 88 will play. This is the sixth consecutive season 100 or more players were chosen. ... Last year, Team Rice beat Team Sanders 22-21 with the fewest points scored by a winning Pro Bowl team since 1996. ... Members of the winning team, including coaches, earn $55,000; those on the losing team get $28,000. ... Each team has the same number of AFC and NFC players this season. ... The Denver Broncos had the most Pro Bowl selections with 11, while three teams -- the Tennessee Titans, Jacksonville Jaguars and Minnesota Vikings -- didn’t have a selection. ... There are 36 first-time Pro Bowl selections this year. ... Five rookies will play in the game: New York Giants WR Odell Beckham Jr., Cowboys G Zack Martin, St. Louis Rams DT Aaron Donald, Baltimore Ravens LB C.J. Mosley and Eagles K Cody Parkey.