NFC Favored in Sunday’s Pro Bowl

By Alex H.

Before the hyperbole and hoopla that surrounds the Super Bowl climbs into a higher gear next week, the NFL hosts its annual Pro Bowl game on Sunday.

The game takes place at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu, Hawaii, with kickoff scheduled for 7:00 PM ET.

Whilst most (sensible) bettors shy away from the exhibition game, a hardcore bunch still scours the trends and handicaps looking for an advantage one way or another. Whether they ever find such an advantage is the thing of legend.

For those that feel the need to know, the NFC side opened as the favorite, with the spread at 1.5.

The NFC will start Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers under center. Rodgers led the Packers to an 11-5 regular season record, throwing for 4,295 yards with a 67.2 percent completion rate. He passed for 39 touchdowns and gave up just eight interceptions. During the playoffs, Rodgers led the Packers to an opening round victory over Minnesota before coming up short against eventual Super Bowl representatives San Francisco in the divisional round.

Backing up Rodgers will be Matt Ryan of the Atlanta Falcons. Ryan led the Falcons to an NFC best 13-3 regular season record before recording the side’s first playoff win since 2004. The Falcons also came up short against San Francisco. Ryan threw for 4,719 yards with a completion rate of 68.6 percent, a career best. He passed for 32 touchdowns and was intercepted 14 times.

The third quarterback on the NFC roster is New Orleans’ triggerman, Drew Brees. In a controversial season for the Saints, Brees led the side to a 7-9 record, missing out on the postseason for the first time since the end of the 2007 season. Brees recorded 5,177 yards on 63 percent passing, tallying 43 touchdowns and 19 interceptions.

The NFC’s quarterback-loaded roster also includes Eli Manning and Russell Wilson.

Manning led the New York Giants to a 9-7 record, completing 59.9 percent of his passes for 3,948 yards, 26 touchdowns, and 15 interceptions.

Wilson went 11-5 with the Seattle Seahawks, taking the side to the divisional round of the playoffs. The rookie quarterback threw for 3,118 yards and 26 touchdowns on 64.1 percent passing. He threw just 10 interceptions on the season.

The quintet will be up against the AFC’s Peyton Manning (Denver), Matt Schaub (Houston), and rookie Andrew Luck (Indianapolis). New England quarterback Tom Brady pulled out of the game with injury, freeing up the spot for Luck.

The NFC’s roster will also include Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson, who came up just eight yards shy of the single-season record for most rushing yards. Peterson’s 2,097 yards fell short of the 2,105 amassed by Eric Dickerson of the Los Angeles Rams in 1984.

Marshawn Lynch (Seattle) and Doug Martin (Tampa Bay) will back up Peterson.

The side will start Julio Jones of the Atlanta Falcons and Victor Cruz of the New York Giants at wide receiver, with Larry Fitzgerald (Arizona) and Vincent Jackson (Tampa Bay) as reserves.

The NFC squad will be without the following players due to injury: Robert Griffin III (WAS), Calvin Johnson (DET), Brandon Marshall (CHI), Tony Gonzalez (ATL), Trent Williams (WAS), DeMarcus Ware DAL), and Clay Matthews (GB).

San Francisco’s sextet of RB Frank Gore, SS Donte Whitner, LB Patrick Willis, LB NaVorro Bowman, LB Aldon Smith, and DL Justin Smith all received Pro Bowl selections but will obviously miss the trip to Hawaii in favor of the Super Bowl.

The NFC has won the past three Pro Bowl games and four of the last five. Prior to that streak, the AFC had won four straight and eight of 10.

Since the Pro Bowl adapted the NFC vs. AFC format – following the AFL-NFL merger in 1970 – both sides have won 21 games. It doesn’t get any closer than that.

The total on this year’s game opened at 85 points. Historically, the NFC has averaged 23.9 points per game while the AFC has averaged 23.8 points per game. Again, it doesn’t get much closer than that. Were those numbers to hold true, the under would be a sensible bet.

However, scores have been much higher than the average of late. Last year’s game ended 59-41, while the previous season saw the game finish 55-41. Both would have smashed this season’s total. So the over is the smart choice, right?

Bettors should be warned; following last year’s game, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell expressed his dissatisfaction at the level of defense played, and suggested that the future of the Pro Bowl would be dependent on the level of effort put in by players in the game.

With no future Pro Bowl scheduled at this time, players will be playing for the future of this particular all-star game. However, will the players be playing to keep the game or to see the back of it? Considered a farce by many, there’s a chance that players are simply done with the Pro Bowl altogether. If that’s the case, the over might make a very good bet.

And now for something completely ridiculous…

In years when the NFC has won the Pro Bowl… the NFC has won the Super Bowl on 11 occasions (52%) and the AFC on 10 occasions (48%).

In years when the AFC has won the Pro Bowl… the NFC has won the Super Bowl on 12 occasions (57%) and the AFC on nine occasions (43%).

If you’re crazy enough to base your Super Bowl bet on the outcome of the Pro Bowl, that’s about as good as you’re going to get. Here’s how that breaks down in overall percentages:

  • AFC wins Pro Bowl and Super Bowl 21% of the time.
  • NFC wins Pro Bowl and Super Bowl 26% of the time.
  • AFC wins Pro Bowl and NFC wins Super Bowl 21% of the time.
  • NFC wins Pro Bowl and AFC wins Super Bowl 24% of the time.

Even enough for you?

Of course, only the past three Pro Bowl games have been held prior to the Super Bowl so you can pretty much throw those statistics out of the window. Especially considering that in those instances, the NFC has gone on to win the Super Bowl each season regardless of the result of the Pro Bowl (2-1 in favor of the AFC for the record).