The 2016 Pro Bowl kicks off this Sunday at 7:00 PM ET when teams crafted by two of the league’s greatest wide receivers — Michael Irvin and Jerry Rice — will square off in Hawaii. For the third consecutive year, the NFL has eschewed the traditional AFC vs. NFC format in favor of this fantasy draft style format.
The Pro Bowl rosters were completed on Wednesday night after an intensive draft process. Devonta Freeman and Geno Atkins were selected as the captains for Team Irvin, and they drafted Russell Wilson with the first overall pick. Odell Beckham and Aaron Donald were selected as the captains for Team Rice, and they selected Beckham’s teammate Eli Manning with the second overall pick. Bettors can view full rosters here.
Perhaps the most fascinating storyline for this game is the number of players who have declined invitations. According to ESPN, the number of players who were either voted to the Pro Bowl or added as an alternate had reached 133 as or Tuesday afternoon. As a result, Jameis Winston (the eighth alternative at his position) and Adam “Pacman” Jones (the seventh alternative at his position) have been added to the roster.
This game opened as a pick ’em at CRIS and, in early betting, 64% of spread bets were placed on Team Irvin. This one-sided public betting caused the line to move from a pick to Team Irvin -1. Although these trends are fairly mundane, there has been some interesting line movement on the over/under.
The 2016 Pro Bowl total opened at 75 and, at the time of publication, public betting was extremely even with 51% of bettors taking the over. Despite this even split, the total has dropped 3.5-points from 75 to 71.5. There was also a reverse line movement alert triggered on the under, indicating that sharp bettors have been hammering the under.
Historically there have been two main schools of thought for Pro Bowl bettors: take the underdog on the moneyline and pound the over. The reasoning is simple enough — neither team plays defense which leads to high-scoring games and unpredictability. This erratic scoring disproportionately favors the underdog since bettors would be receiving plus money.
As you can see from the screenshot below, betting the underdog on the moneyline would have resulted in a 7-4 record with +6.19 units won since 2004. The 2011 Pro Bowl is not listed because the game closed as a pick ’em at Pinnacle.
While taking moneyline underdogs continues to be a sound betting strategy for Pro Bowl bettors, we were curious whether betting the over was legitimately profitable. Since 2004, the over has gone just 6-6 which including two straight losses. Part of that is due to oddsmakers steadily increasing the closing total. From 2010-2014, the total increased 32 points — an average of eight points per year.
With scoring getting out of control during the Pro Bowl, there were a number of new rules implemented to help both defenses:
- The addition of a two-minute warning after the first and third quarters.
- The clock will now stop if the offense fails to gain at least 1 yard.
- The game clock will start after an incomplete pass except inside the final two minutes of the first half and the final five minutes of the second half.
- Defenses will be allowed to play cover two and press coverage (In past years only man-to-man coverage was allowed).
- In an attempt to force teams to operate their two-minute drill, both teams will be forced to change possession at the end of each quarter.
- In an attempt to speed up the pace of the game, the play clock will be changed from 40 seconds to 35 seconds.
- Kickoffs have been eliminated and each team will start with the ball on their own 25-yard line.
These changes, along with the low scoring output in the 2014 Pro Bowl, caused oddsmakers to decrease the total by 20.5-points (from 89 to 68.5) for last year’s Pro Bowl. The screenshot below displays the closing total and final score for the past 12 years.
These numbers are subject to change before kickoff, so bettors should be sure to visit our free NFL odds page for the latest lines, injuries, public betting trends and more.
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David Solar is the Content Manager for Sports Insights and can be reached directly at David@SportsInsights.com.
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