Super Bowl week kicks off in Honolulu on Sunday when the NFL's best square off in the annual AFC-NFC Pro Bowl at Aloha Stadium.
This marks the fourth consecutive year in which the Pro Bowl will be held one week prior to the Super Bowl, thereby removing members of the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens, who will meet in Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans on Feb. 3.
The NFC has been hit particularly hard by the absence of San Francisco players since a conference-high nine 49ers were picked to play in Hawaii, marking nearly 21 percent of the conference's 43-man roster. That list included projected starters Joe Staley and Mike Iupati on the offensive line and Justin Smith, Aldon Smith, Patrick Willis, Dashon Goldson and Donte Whitner from San Francisco's imposing defense. Running back Frank Gore and linebacker NaVorro Bowman also needed to be replaced.
Over in the AFC, six Ravens were tabbed for the contest: veteran safety Ed Reed and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata from Dean Pees' defense, running back Ray Rice, his lead blocker Vonta Leach and guard Marshal Yanda from the offense, along with return specialist Jacoby Jones.
There is still plenty of star power, however, including the two leading candidates for MFL MVP, Denver quarterback Peyton Manning and Minnesota running back Adrian Paterson.
"It's a tremendous honor and I am very humbled to receive this recognition," said Manning, whose 12 Pro Bowl selections are the most for a quarterback in history. "Being voted to the Pro Bowl by your opponents, their coaches and of course the fans means a great deal to me, especially when you consider how many other quarterbacks in the AFC had outstanding seasons."
The NFL is the only professional sports league that combines voting by fans, coaches and players in determining its All-Star teams. The consensus vote of each group counts one-third towards the total.
The 43-man teams are comprised of 21 offensive and 17 defensive players plus five specialists, including a long snapper. The AFC stars will be coached by John Fox and his staff from the Broncos while Mike McCarthy and the Green Bay Packers' coaching staff will guide the NFC Pro Bowl squad for the second consecutive year.
The game of football, however, really doesn't lend itself to an All-Star format and many observers have politicked for the game's removal from the NFL schedule.
Last year, the AFC set a single-game Pro Bowl scoring record by defeating the NFC, 59-41. Then-Miami Dolphins wide receiver Brandon Marshall had six catches for 176 yards with a Pro Bowl-record four touchdowns and was named the MVP of the game.
"The past two years, the play in this game has been unacceptable," Manning told NFL.com. "If it was a walkthrough, your coach would say it was a bad walkthrough. And that's why (the league) could try to cancel this game."
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has gone on record decrying that the current quality of the game doesn't meet the league's high standards.
"It's simple," Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey, also a 12-time selection, told NFL.com. "Just play hard. Like you do on a Sunday. If you do that, the rest will take care of itself."
The game does remain a success as a television vehicle, with last year's encounter being watched by an average of 12.5 million viewers, making it the most-watched All-Star game in American sports for the third consecutive year.
Marshall was selected again this season as a member of the Chicago Bears but had to bow out due to injury, being replaced by Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald, a seven-time Pro Bowl selection.
Overall 16 players declined invitations, citing injury -- eight from both sides, including all three NFC quarterbacks -- the Packers' Aaron Rodgers, Atlanta's Matt Ryan and Washington's Robert Griffin III. The Saints' Drew Brees, New York's Eli Manning and Seattle rookie Russell Wilson stepped up as replacements for McCarthy.
Over in the AFC, Manning will be joined by rookie Andrew Luck of Indianapolis, a replacement of the injured Tom Brady, and Matt Schaub of Houston.
Wilson and Luck are among 30 players making their debut in the 2013 version of the Pro Bowl, which is the 43rd meeting between the AFC and NFC All-Stars with the all-time series deadlocked, 21-21.
Each player on the winning Pro Bowl team receives $50,000, while each on the losing end earns $25,000.
This will be the 33nd time in the past 34 years in which the Pro Bowl will be held at Aloha Stadium, with the 2010 edition having taken place at Miami's Sun Life Stadium.
Prior to the AFL-NFL merger, the leagues held separate All-Star games after the season from 1961-69. The NFL had its own Pro Bowl from 1951-60, while the league champion competed against an assembled group of top players between 1938-42.
McCarthy will be leading the NFC team for the third time in his career, having coached the conference to a 42-30 triumph in the 2008 Pro Bowl along with last year's loss, while Fox will be taking his second turn as a Pro Bowl mentor, having led the NFC to a 23-17 victory in 2005 when he was the head man in Carolina.
PRO BOWL PRIMER
-For the second time in Pro Bowl history -- and the second time in as many years -- this year's game will features two rookie quarterbacks, Luck and Wilson. Luck threw for an NFL-rookie record 4,374 yards this season, surpassing Cam Newton's mark of 4,051 set last year. Wilson, meanwhile, had 26 touchdown passes in 2012, tying Peyton Manning's rookie record from 1998. In 2012, Newton and Cincinnati's Andy Dalton became the first pair of rookie QBs to play in the same Pro Bowl.
-High scores have been a recent trend at the Pro Bowl. In fact, the nine highest combined scores in Pro Bowl history have all occurred since 2000, including 100 points last year, the second-highest in history.
-Bailey will match Hall of Famer Randall McDaniel of Minnesota and former Kansas City guard Will Shields for the most All-Star appearances in the history of the AFC-NFC Pro Bowl with 12.
-Georgia, Miami and Tennessee earned college bragging rights this year. Six players from each of those universities are on the 2013 Pro Bowl roster.
Georgia - DT Geno Atkins (Cincinnati), Bailey, WR A.J. Green (Cincinnati, LB Justin Houston (Kansas City), CB Tim Jennings (Chicago), K Blair Walsh (Minnesota).
Miami (FL) - Gore, WR Andre Johnson (Houston), C Chris Myers (Houston), Reed, WR Reggie Wayne (Indianapolis), DT Vince Wilfork (New England)-injured.
Tennessee - S Eric Berry (Kansas City), P Dustin Colquitt (Kansas City), RB Arian Foster (Houston), Peyton Manning, LB Jerod Mayo (New England), TE Jason Witten (Dallas).
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: NFC 40, AFC 34