The NFL will be planting its flag in Las Vegas for the Pro Bowl this week. And there will be even more flags for the annual game itself.
The NFL announced back in September some long-expected changes to its all-star event, including changing the non-competitive Sunday football game to a flag football competition between teams from the AFC and NFC. The game, which will take place Feb. 5 -- a week before Super Bowl LVII -- is seeing its biggest overhaul after years of tweaks.
The league worked in the offseason to improve the Pro Bowl, talking with players and executives on how it can make the game and week more exciting. Flag football has been a key part of the league's global expansion, making its debut at The World Games this past summer with an eye on eventually becoming an Olympic sport in years to come.
The Pro Bowl has taken different forms in recent years as the NFL has tried to figure out ways to re-imagine it. For three Pro Bowls beginning in 2014, the NFL abandoned the AFC vs. NFC format and instead held a fantasy draft captained by Pro Football Hall of Famers like Jerry Rice, Michael Irvin, Cris Carter and Deion Sanders.
The event has also been a training ground for potential rules changes. Last year the league introduced the "spot-and-choose" method to start halves and featured a shorter play clock.
This year's Pro Bowl week, which is now branded as The Pro Bowl Games, will still feature skills competitions for the star players beginning on Feb. 2 (7 p.m.-8:30 p.m. ET) and continuing on Feb. 5 (3 p.m. ET).
The skills competition will take place at the Las Vegas Raiders' headquarters and practice facility (Intermountain Healthcare Performance Center) on Thursday and home of the Raiders, Allegiant Stadium, on Sunday.
There are numerous skills categories that players will participate in and will have a cumulative score leading up to the flag football games. The conference that wins each skills competition will get three points added to its team's overall score. In total, 24 points are up for grabs.
Here is a look at the skills categories, along with explanations and when the competition will take place:
Thursday, Feb. 2
- Epic Pro Bowl Dodgeball: This will be a multi-round tournament featuring four teams of five players. It will begin with the offenses and defenses from the conferences and will end with a game between the AFC and NFC winners of each game.
- Lightning Round: This is a new category this year and will feature 16 players selected by each conference in a three-part elimination challenge. In the end, only one will be left standing.
- The first event is a "Lightning Round -- Splash Catch," where pairs from each conference will throw water balloons to each other, as the distance between them increases. Those who catch all tosses from their partner will advance.
- The second event will be "Lightning Round -- High Stakes," where those who advance will catch punts from a JUGS machine.
- The final event will be the "Lightning Round -- Thrill of the Spill," where the players left from each conference will aim at targets attached to a bucket hanging above the head of an opposing conference's coach. The first team that dumps the bucket on the coach earns three points for the conference.
- Longest Drive: Four players from each conference will compete in this challenge, seeing who can drive a golf ball the furthest distance off a tee. The players participating will get three swings each and the one who drives it the furthest within the boundaries gets three points for their conference.
- Precision Passing: The three quarterbacks from each conference will compete in a one-minute accuracy competition. The goal is to accumulate points by hitting as many targets as possible, totaling 10 static and moving targets. The targets range from one to five points, as well as a Long Toss Bucket 60 yards away worth 10 points. The QB who ends with the highest score gets three points for their conference.
- Best Catch (First Round): This competition will feature two players from each conference as they show off their creativity, inventiveness and talent in catching the ball. Fans will vote online to determine the best catch by a player in each conference and the one with the most votes will compete in the finals on Sunday.
Sunday, Feb. 5
- Best Catch (Finale): The top voted players from each conference will go head-to-head, performing in front of celebrity judges. The one who gets the highest score will be named the winner.
- Gridiron Gauntlet: Six players from each conference will compete to earn three points for the team. The four-part gauntlet will showcase strength, speed and agility in segments 40 yards in length. There will be breakaway wills, a competition of climbing over walls and under tables, a tire run and a blocking sled carrying a coach across the finish line.
- Kick Tac Toe: Each team's kicker, punter and long snapper will compete to complete a connecting line of three squares or hit five squares total. The first to complete the challenge will be awarded three points for their conference.
- Move The Chains: Two teams from each conference will compete side by side, pulling a weighted wall 10 yards as quickly as possible using first down chains. The best of three in the competition aimed to showcase strength, speed and ingenuity will get three points for their conference.