Before we can truly enter into the whimsy of the week leading up to the Super Bowl, there is one more piece of unfinished business: The Pro Bowl. While this game is often unfairly dismissed as one of the worse all star games in professional sports, let’s not forget that these football players are the best of the best, those who have made the previous 20 weeks of football worth watching. The talent in this game is staggering and even overwhelming, and definitely deserves to be watched, even if it simply serves to whet the appetite of fans in preparation for the big game. Both teams are bursting with talent, so let’s take a closer look at some of the ‘star’ positions to figure out who’s got the edge in this one.
For the AFC, their quarterback triumvirate is pretty tough to top: Philip Rivers, Peyton Manning and Matt Cassel. Of course, Tom Brady originally had a starting spot, but has since been removed due to injury. This is a pretty big blow for the AFC, but when you can all back on the likes of Rivers and Manning, it’s hard to feel too bad for them. Rivers will get the start, and deservedly so. For much of the season he was throwing to practice squad scrubs and second stringers, and still managed to engineer a late season comeback for the Chargers that just fell short. Still, Rivers threw for 4710 yards and 30 touchdowns, and ended the season with a 101.8 quarterback rating. While Manning had something of a down season by his standards, for most other quarterbacks he was outstanding. Manning threw for 4700 yards and had 33 touchdowns, although the 17 interceptions are a little un-Peyton like. Cassel is also a deserving injury replacement, as he had one of the best turnaround years in the NFL this year, discovering a fantastic connection with Dwayne Bowe that helped lead the Chiefs to a division title. However, the NFC boasts a possibly even more impressive trio of quarterbacks in Michael Vick, Drew Brees and Matt Ryan. One can only postulate as to the numbers Vick would have attained had he been healthy all year, but even with missing a chunk of the year, still managed to throw for 21 touchdowns and run for another 9. Brees is reminiscent of Manning in a lot of ways. They both made it to the Super Bowl last year only to be eliminated in the first round of the playoffs this year. They were also both far more erratic than the past year, although still managed to put up what would be fantastic numbers for almost any other quarterback in the league. Brees finished with 33 touchdowns to 22 interceptions, and threw for 4620 yards. Matt Ryan rounds out the NFC quarterbacks, and he orchestrated a fantastic year for his Falcons, leading them to the number one seed in the conference. Ryan threw for 28 touchdowns to only 9 interceptions, and padded his stats as one of the best quarterbacks at home in recent memory.
Of course, the quarterbacks aren’t the only stars of this game, and the Pro Bowl is loaded with talent at other positions, none moreso than at running back and wide receiver. Although the AFC will be missing Maurice Jones-Drew, who is out with an injury, they still boast some of the best runners in the game, as their backfield consists of Arian Foster, Jamaal Charles and Chris Johnson. Foster led the league in rushing yards with 1616; no other running back even hit 1500. He also managed 16 rushing touchdowns to go along with 2 receiving. Needless to say, Foster appears to be a large part of the Texans’ offensive plans going forward. Charles had himself a monster year, especially when you consider the fact that he was ostensibly playing in a timeshare with Thomas Jones. If he was given the workload of someone like Rashard Mendenhall or the aforementioned Foster, there is no telling what his numbers could have been. Rounding out the trio is Chris Johnson, who still managed 1364 in a ‘down’ year. The AFC will be difficult if not impossible to stop on the ground. The NFC has some impressive names of their own at the running back position, with Michael Turner, Steven Jackson and Adrian Peterson lining up. Turner was sensational, reaching 1371 rushing yards and running for 12 touchdowns. It was his ferociousness as a runner that helped make Atlanta such an offensive juggernaut. Jackson had his usual solid season for the Rams, and his lack of touchdowns is understandable given the offensive he is working in (although it should improve as Sam Bradford matures). Peterson was the glue for the Vikings as they dealt with all sorts of quarterback and coaching issues, amassing 1298 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground. In the air, all the receivers in the game have the potential to make some circus catches and will be of great benefit to the quarterbacks hoping to pad their Pro Bowl stats. The AFC boasts Reggie Wayne, Brandon Lloyd, Dwayne Bowe and Wes Welker, while the NFC will have Roddy White, Larry Fitzgerald, Calvin Johnson and Miles Austin. Both are obviously fantastic foursomes, but the NFC gets the slight nod here, almost on the merit of White and Johnson alone.
AFC vs NFC Spread, Line and Betting Odds:
AFC pick’em (-110)
@ NFC pick’em (-110)
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AFC vs NFC Betting Predictions/Picks for the Pro Bowl
Spread Prediction (Top Play): Choosing a winner in the Pro Bowl is never easy. It is hard to know how hard certain players will be trying, and how aggressive the defenses will be. Still, a look at some of the talent should help to eliminate some of the guess work. The biggest blow for the AFC is the loss of Tom Brady. Had Brady been able to play, it is unlikely that the NFC would be favored, even if it is just by one. Michael Vick is poised to be the breakout player in this game, as he is the player all the fans want to see shine. The quarterback advantage goes to the NFC, as Matt Cassel, despite his great year, isn’t quite in the class of the other five guys just yet. At running back, the edge goes back to the AFC, even without Jones-Drew. Still though, it is about as close as it gets with all six men being sensational runners. As previously mentioned, the NFC gets the nod at wide receiver, as no man has compared to Roddy White this year. Considering he will have his teammate Matt Ryan throwing to him for some of the game, White is a pretty good bet for at least a touchdown and around 100 yards. The other offensive positions are a toss up, all the men in the game are among the top at their craft. On defense, the AFC is probably slightly superior, but who knows just how hard any of them will be tackling. For what it’s worth, the NFC has won 2 of the last 3 years. On the strength of their quarterback advantage, look for the NFC to win in a shootout in Honolulu.
Pick: NFC to win (-110) @ Bodog.com <- $1000 free on first deposit
Game Total Prediction: The over/under is set to almost double what some of the playoff matchups were, which should tell you a lot about the way in which this game is played. With that said, 66.5 still seems a trifle high, when you consider that 4 of the last 5 games have not hit that magic number. This is just about the best benchmark we have when looking at the Pro Bowl, so although its not very much fun to root for the under in an all-star game, that does seem to be where the smart money is. Yes, these are the best offensive players in the league, but don’t forget, they are also the best defensive ones too, and they want a chance to show off as well. It is hard to imagine Darrelle Revis letting Larry Fitzgerald or whoever he is covering get away with too much, meaningless game or not.
Pick: Under 66.5 (-110) @ Bookmaker.com <– $500 Super Bowl Bonus.. click to check it out