With several of the league’s best players biding their time for Super Bowl LII, the best of the rest will be on the field to showcase their talent today, as part of the annual NFL Pro Bowl (3 PM ET Sunday on ESPN).
For the most part, the Pro Bowl is nothing more than a fun pick-up game between two teams, each representing both of football’s conferences, the NFC and AFC. It is the NFL’s all-star for lack of a better word, as the top players in both conferences are voted in to participate. It is worth noting that the players are selected via fan vote, with replacements added due to injuries, drop-outs and the Super Bowl itself, as players are ineligible to play in the Pro Bowl if their team is in the championship game.
The history of the Pro Bowl dates back to 1970 and from then up until 2013, it was billed as a game to decide the better conference. This changed for a few years between 2014-16 as the teams were chosen, not based on conference affiliation, but rather by Hall of Famers who served as team captains. While the draft was a fun addition to the game, which for many, has gotten stale, the NFL opted to return to its traditional format last season.
In a surprisingly low-scoring affair that saw both teams put up a combined 33 points, the AFC emerged victorious. While it is very difficult to handicap a game of this nature given the makeup of both teams and the proclivity to “play it safe” defensively, trends do suggest that the Pro Bowl is unlikely to see a repeat winner. The last time a team went back-to-back under the AFC vs NFC format was during the 2007-08 seasons. It was the only time since 2003 that there was a repeat winner in the contest.
That would mean that smart money is on the NFC to rebound from their disappointing showing last year. The top American oddsmakers agree, as the NFC are three point favorites in the game. This could simply be a result of the alternating trend or it could be because at least on paper, the NFC looks to have a slightly better roster.
Wilson, Saints Runningbacks, Fitzgerald Highlight NFC Selections
With a full season of play in the books, most players are probably nursing some kind of injury at this point. Either that or they just don’t want to risk it, especially those that are a little bit older. Part of the Pro Bowl’s problem is a lot of top players don’t seem to want to play and this year, that’s no exception. A combination of injuries and replacements tell the story as on the side of the NFC, 16 players rostered for today’s game were not originally voted in.
Russell Wilson, starting QB for the Seattle Seahawks, was voted in, following a fantastic season. Wilson is one of the favorites to win the NFL MVP as he tied his career high in touchdowns with 34 and threw for a career second-best 3,983 yards. He added another almost 600 yards on the ground with three more touchdowns. Overall, his 37 touchdowns is a career high.
Wilson will have a strong group of receivers to throw to, all but one of whom is an injury replacement. That includes second-year receiver from the New Orleans Saints, Michael Thomas, and this year’s standout at the position, Adam Thielen, who had career bests in receiving yards, 1,276, which was also good enough for fifth highest in the NFL. Veteran Larry Fitzgerald, now in his 14th year, will be making his 12th appearance in the all-star game. Coming off his ninth 1,000+ yard season, Fitzgerald has shown little signs of slowing down.
Two of Wilson’s other weapons are the rare Pro Bowl runningback duo of Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram. For the first time since 1975, two of the game’s runningbacks will come from the same team. Ingram and Kamara are considered the best backfield duo in the NFL, combining for 2,756 yards from scrimmage and 23 touchdowns. Ingram led all NFL backs with his 11 rushing scores, and Kamara added 12 more, both through the air and on the ground. With Saints head coach Sean Payton running the NFC, there will be no shortage of his two stars this afternoon.
Roethlisberger, Green and Kelce Highlight AFC Selections
It’s the Pro Bowl so it’s not like either team is made up of slouches. The AFC boasts an incredible roster as well, led by an NFL-high eight Pittsburgh Steelers, as well as a handful of talented offensive weapons from around the conference.
Leading the way is Ben Roethlisberger, the starting quarterback for the Steelers. Roethlisberger ranked fifth in the NFL in touchdowns with 28 and yards with 4,251. He was also 10th in completion percentage. In a year where Roethlisberger mulled retirement, those kind of numbers were great to see, especially for Steelers fans. He led his team to a great season, just barely missing out on making the AFC Championship game.
Like Wilson, Roethlisberger has no shortage of weapons to turn to, including tight end Travis Kelce, who has been one of the best at his position for several years. Kelce had 83 receptions, over 1,000 yards and eight touchdowns, which ranked him eighth in receptions among all pass catchers. Roethlisberger will also have AJ Green, who had 75 receptions, 1,000-plus yards and eight touchdowns as well.
Our Betting Preview’s NFL Pro Bowl Predictions & Picks
As mentioned in this AFC vs NFC All-Stars preview, handicapping the Pro Bowl is tough. So that’s why we turn to the trends. The fact that there has only been one back-to-back winner over the last 15 games is pretty suggestive of how this one might go given the AFC’s victory last year. While trends can only take you so far, it helps that the NFC have the stronger selection of players.
- My Pro Bowl prediction and advice is to take the NFC to cover the three-point spread @ -110 with Bovada, Bookmaker, Intertops or BetOnline.
- As for the total points, last year was a bit of an aberration given that five of the past seven Pro Bowls have seen the final score hit above the 70 point mark. This year, the total is set between 62pts and 62.5pts. Look for the offense to get back on the right track. The pick is to bet over 62pts @ -110 with Intertops.